- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2005

President Bush’s recent re-election has caused great excitement in pro-life circles about the prospect of overturning Roe vs. Wade. For more than 32 years, many pro-life advocates have worked tirelessly to relegate Roe to the judicial junk heap.

This outcome now appears to be within reach if certain critical Supreme Court nominations can be made in the next four years. Of the nine sitting justices, three have previously issued or joined opinions expressing views that Roe should be overturned. If two of the six other justices are replaced with judges who favor overturning Roe, the scales will be tipped.

In the face of the possible reversal of Roe, we must work to educate the public about the true relationship between Roe vs. Wade and the work of pregnancy resource centers.

There are two commonly held beliefs that distort this understanding. First, many American “value voters” wrongly believe overturning Roe will promptly end abortion on demand in the United States. And, second, many of them wrongly think the primary role of pro-life pregnancy centers is to serve as a stop-gap measure to address the abortion problem until new legal restrictions are re-enacted across the country. Pregnancy centers provide women facing unplanned pregnancies with free and confidential services, including pregnancy tests, information about abortion and positive alternatives, resources, and, at some locations, limited medical services, such as ultrasound, STD testing, and prenatal care.

If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, the regulation of abortion will revert to the 50 individual states. Those who envision reversal of Roe as a great panacea for ending the abortion tragedy will be sadly disappointed. There will be no automatic legal protection granted to unborn children by a reversal of Roe.

Even the most conservative Supreme Court justices have refused to recognize that unborn children are persons within the meaning of the 14th Amendment. Nor is it likely that strict abortion prohibitions will suddenly re-emerge. Instead, in a post-Roe era, the political landscape involving abortion across the United States will be far more complicated.

In many key states, we should sadly but realistically expect abortion laws to remain unchanged. These states have adopted public policies through legislation and judicial rulings that evidence a strong commitment to uphold legalized abortion on demand regardless of the disposition of Roe vs. Wade. Two of such states are New York and California, in which nearly 400,000 abortions are performed yearly. This represents almost 40 percent of all annual abortions in the United States.

New York is one of four states that repealed all abortion restrictions before Roe was even decided. California is one of several states in which the highest state court has declared the state constitution grants abortion rights beyond those of Roe.

Not only will states like New York and California continue offering abortion on demand to their own citizens, they will become magnets for women seeking abortions from states where restrictions are enacted.

In more conservative states, it is realistic to expect legislative efforts to enact new abortion restrictions. However, even in these states, it is not realistic to predict the new laws will be as restrictive as their pre-1973 versions.

Before Roe, many states had already moved to modify abortion prohibitions. By 1973, four states had totally repealed their anti-abortion laws. Thirteen states had adopted the “Model Penal Code on Abortion” proposed by the American Law Institute (ALI). This Model Penal Code, drafted in 1962, provided abortion should remain legal whenever the woman’s life or health is at risk, when pregnancy resulted from rape or incest or when the fetus had a severe defect. By 1973, all but five states had either amended their abortion laws or had pending legislation to do so.

And what will the effect be on pro-life pregnancy centers in those states where new abortion restrictions are enacted? For many years, abortion advocates have argued the reversal of Roe and new state restrictions would once again force tens of thousands of women to seek “back alley” abortions. This claim, however, relies much more on fear than on fact.

Even before Roe vs. Wade was decided, the incidence of “back alley” abortions in the United States had become relatively rare. But more importantly, unlike the era before Roe, there now are more than 2,000 pregnancy resource centers across the United States that provide a substantial safety net for women facing unplanned pregnancies. Women who reside in states where new abortion restrictions are enacted will be able to find the practical and emotional support they need to choose positive alternatives. Therefore, not only will pregnancy centers remain relevant after Roe is overturned, the need for effective pregnancy center services will be greatest in those states where new abortion restrictions are enacted.

As the anticipation for overturning Roe grows, we must work to ensure that the value of pregnancy centers is never forgotten. With or without Roe, the compassionate support offered to women through these centers remains the best and greatest hope for stopping abortion in America.



Care Net (care-net.org). (Care Net supports 800 pregnancy centers in the U.S. and Canada).

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