As important as reversing Roe v. Wade may be to ending abortion in the United States, overturning the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made the procedure legal throughout the country would probably have a smaller effect than most people realize. Consequently, a much broader political strategy is needed, argues Joseph Wright, a Kellogg Institute visiting fellow.
Contrary to popular perception, Wright writes in a recent paper, a Roe reversal would not result in the nationwide ban many people assume. Instead it would return the legality question to the states for their determination. “People tend to overlook that fact,” he notes.
Since the states most apt to ban the procedure are those where relatively few abortions are now performed, the number likely would not decrease drastically, Wright concludes.
“The public opinion data we have suggests it would be very difficult to pass bans in high population states such as California, as opposed to a state like South Dakota where pro-life sentiment is strong,” he says. In fact, analyzing polling data and abortion rates, Wright estimates that reversal of Roe likely would diminish abortions by 100,000 a year — but in 2007, there were 1.2 million legal abortions performed in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In view of that, he says it is imperative for pro-life advocates to continue to build public support for their position and advance the comprehensive strategy that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has long advocated.
To be most effective, he argues that strategy should include addressing the socioeconomic factors which cause women to seek abortions. Wright says recent research suggests that increasing economic support for low-income families could decrease abortions by as many as 300,000 per year. He points out that in the year 2000, when the economy was strong, there were 300,000 fewer abortions than in 1990.
John Monczunski is an associate editor of Notre Dame Magazine.