- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2005

When T.S. Eliot wrote “humankind cannot bear very much reality,” he could have been talking about the abortion debate. As abortion-rights advocates try to make their case against the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, they have abandoned fact-checking in favor of myth-making.

The myths in this case are two. The first is that Judge Roberts is a frothing extremist on the subject of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision creating a constitutional right to abortion. The second is that the American people — the “pro-choice majority” — staunchly support that ruling and everything it stands for.

The evidence that the nominee is a wing nut stems from positions he took during his years in the White House under Ronald Reagan and the Justice Department under George H.W. Bush. In one 1990 case, Judge Roberts signed a brief arguing, “The court’s conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion … finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution.” Another time, he noted a “serious problem in the current exercise of judicial power,” as illustrated “by what is broadly perceived to be the unprincipled jurisprudence of Roe v. Wade.”

We are told only an ultraconservative, anti-feminist zealot could say things like that. In fact, you don’t have to venture into the right-wing fever swamps to encounter such criticism. You can find plenty of it without leaving impeccably liberal precincts.

Former Watergate prosecutor and Harvard law professor Archibald Cox once wrote, “Neither historian, nor layman, nor lawyer will be persuaded that all the prescriptions of Justice Blackmun are part of the Constitution.” The late Stanford law school dean John Hart Ely said the opinion “is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.”

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, who argued Al Gore’s postelection case before the Supreme Court in 2000, has said of Roe that “behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.” Even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointed by Bill Clinton, criticized Roe v. Wade before joining the court. In 1985, she called it an act of “heavy-handed judicial intervention” that “ventured too far.”

What’s striking is how many supporters of legal abortion have trouble justifying the way the court addressed the issue. So when Judge Roberts faults the court for its overbearing presumption and lame reasoning, he is not on the fringes of the debate — he’s smack in the middle.

The same can’t be said of abortion-rights advocates. They not only insist Roe is sacrosanct but pretend the public agrees with them. NARAL Pro-Choice America says “surveys show that 65 percent of Americans support upholding Roe v. Wade.”

That statement manages to be factual without exactly being true. If you ask people if they would like to see the decision overturned, a majority says no. But the main conclusion you can draw from that finding is that a lot of citizens are hazy on what the court did in that ruling.

Most people equate overturning Roe with banning all abortions. In fact, a reversal of the decision would simply allow states to decide for themselves whether to ban all abortions, some abortions, or no abortions.

At the same time they indicate support for Roe, Americans favor definite limits on this procedure — including some the Supreme Court has forbidden. “They don’t want all abortions to be illegal,” says public opinion analyst Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute, “but they’re still willing to add considerable restrictions.”

Most Americans, for example, favor waiting periods and parental consent for minors — which abortion-rights groups cannot tolerate. More important, most Americans think abortion should be banned after the first trimester.

In a 2003 Gallup Poll, 68 percent of Americans said abortion “should be generally illegal” in the second trimester, and 84 percent said it should be barred in the third trimester. Under Roe, however, the government has to permit almost all abortions, no matter when they occur.

There’s no way to know if Judge Roberts would vote to junk the 1973 decision. But if the court were to do so, it would merely let the electorate put its conflicting feelings about abortion into law in a way they can live with. Allowing the American people to have their way on a subject that is not mentioned in the Constitution is not extremism. It’s democracy.

Steve Chapman is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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