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Scott P. Richert

Will Roe v. Wade Ever Be Overturned?

By January 22, 2009

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On the 36th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, striking down the laws of 46 states and the District of Columbia restricting or outlawing abortion, the situation looks pretty grim for the cause of life. Barack Obama is the most pro-abortion politician ever elected President, and the official White House website declares that he "will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority in his Adminstration."

Yet those of us who recognize abortion as the destruction of unborn human life need to ask ourselves: Is the situation that much different from what it has been over the past 36 years? For 20 out of those 36 years, the White House has been occupied by Republican presidents who declared themselves to be pro-life (though George H.W. Bush's conversion on the question did not come until 1987, as he geared up to run for the Republican nomination for President in 1988). For six out of the past eight years, George W. Bush had a majority in both houses of Congress. Yet the number of abortions nationwide every year has held relatively steady, at around 1.3 million, no matter who occupied the White House or which party controlled Congress.

Both parties have treated abortion as a political issue--as a tool for winning elections. Once in office, they have essentially governed the same, with some differences concerning federal funding and partial-birth abortion--questions that concern, at most, a few thousand abortions per year (a fraction of one percent of all abortions performed in the United States).

The biggest difference between the two parties on abortion has been on the question of Supreme Court nominations, yet even there, Republican nominees were responsible for Roe v. Wade in the first place, and more recent Republican nominees, such as David Souter and Anthony Kennedy, have shown little interest in restricting Roe, much less overturning it.

Meanwhile, the culture continues to change. For many people of Barack Obama's age and younger (he was 11 when Roe was handed down), their commitment to abortion is as much a cultural question as an ideological one. Abortion has been part of the cultural landscape their entire lives. It has been framed, even by pro-lifers, as a civil-rights question--and in the process, the horrifying reality of the act has been lost.

By the time that Barack Obama finishes his first term, Roe v. Wade will be within days of its 40th anniversary. Two generations of Americans will have grown up as he did, with abortion an accepted reality. That's a cultural force that will be very hard to combat--and it won't be defeated simply by overturning Roe.

Yes, Roe should be overturned, and the question returned to the states, where homicide law is handled in the United States. But that possibility grows more remote every day--and even if Roe were somehow overturned, most states would keep abortion legal. So what should those of us who understand what is at stake in abortion do now?

We should regard the next four years as an opportunity to refocus our efforts. We know that no advances will be made on the national level, so our primary focus will need to be on the states and localities. But we should also consider that perhaps that’s where our focus should have been all along. While we often mention the aggregate number of children who are killed every year in this nation by abortion, what we’re really talking about is the number of children killed in my town and your town and hundreds of other towns across the country.

Abortion isn't an amorphous force, striking the nation as a whole; it's always focused on this child, in this place, right now. It's time for pro-lifers to do the same. Support the crisis pregnancy center in your town, or help found one if there isn't one; put pressure on local politicians to keep abortionists out of your town, or apply political and social pressure to make it clear that those who are currently operating there aren't welcome.

At the family, parish, and diocesan level, we need to be looking constantly for ways to live out our beliefs. We need to provide aid--private aid, not governmental--to unwed mothers and to families suffering in this economy who might see abortion as their only option.

We can begin to turn the culture around from the ground up, in a way that overturning Roe would never, by itself, do. This is how Christians, down through the centuries, have converted their fellow men. This is how they have taken entire societies, starting with the Roman empire, off of the way of death and put them on the way of life.

Even if it were to happen, overturning Roe v. Wade would not be a magic bullet that would bring about the end of abortion in the United States. But Christian action, informed and sustained by prayer, might be.

January 22, 2009 at 9:10 am
(1) SM says:

Scott, you wrote, “put pressure on local politicians to keep abortionists out of your town,” implying that abortion can be locally regulated.

What local regulations have been put in place (and where), and which have withstood court challenge?

January 22, 2009 at 10:19 am
(2) Scott P. Richert says:

SM, you’re right that regulations on abortion itself might not withstand legal challenge, though any locality that is willing to defend itself against a court case can indeed try to regulate abortion.

But there’s another option, and that’s regulation of the abortion clinic itself. I don’t have the details in front of me at the moment, but over the years I have read of a number of towns that have successfully used zoning regulations to keep clinics out of their towns, or to force clinics in their towns to relocate to an undesirable part of town (in which case they often simply close shop).

Another approach is medical regulation of the clinics. On December 5, 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments in Turnock v. Ragsdale, a case that came out of Rockford, Illinois, where I live. Richard Ragsdale was the abortionist at the Northern Illinois Women’s Clinic, housed in a former public school. He had filed suit against the state of Illinois to overturn a law that required standalone abortion clinics to have operating rooms that meet hospital standards. The Supreme Court was widely expected to use the case as an opportunity to revisit Roe, or at least to clarify questions raised earlier in 1989 in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, which had upheld a Missouri law imposing state restrictions on abortion.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know what the Supreme Court might have done in Turnock v. Ragsdale, because the state of Illinois, under a Republican governor, settled out of court with Ragsdale and created a new class of lightly regulated abortion clinics, of which Ragsdale’s was one.

There are political actions that can be taken, even at the local level–we just need to have the political will to carry them out.

January 25, 2009 at 6:03 pm
(3) lorenz says:

Great point and idea, from ground up, people need to understand and see reality from what it is, and is our mission to show and explain truth not just to impose (that has been the problem of religion in history) it to all levels of society.

March 31, 2009 at 9:20 pm
(4) Rebecca says:

Roe will stand.

So-called devout Catholic women seek the service at a higher rate than their non-Catholic sisters.


March 31, 2009 at 9:27 pm
(5) Rebecca says:

Contraception and abortion are legal in Italy.
Italian women will not be bullied by the Vatican into having children ~ where one child is the norm.

Then again, the beautiful cathedrals therein remain silent and empty save for weddings, baptisms and funerals.

If Italians do not buy into the Vatican, whatever makes you think that the world at large will?

April 27, 2009 at 11:34 pm
(6) Rebecca says:

Why have you failed to answer my plain and simple questions?

Do tell …

WHY is abortion legal in ITALY?

April 28, 2009 at 12:29 am
(7) Scott P. Richert says:

Rebecca, I’m not sure what you’re suggesting. Do you think that the Catholic Church rules Italy?

Abortion was legalized in Italy in May 1978, under the rule of a radical left-wing government. As in most places where abortion has been legalized, certain restrictions were later placed on it, but it has not been outlawed.

Your own comments indict your view. What a sad, sad sight it is to walk down the streets of Milan or Rome, and to see very few children! What a disgrace it is to see Italy abandoning the Catholic Faith that she nurtured for the better part of two millennia!

As for your first comment, “so-called devout Catholic women” do not seek abortion (not your euphemistic “service”) at a higher rate than non-Catholics. Women who self-identify as Catholic do; but the numbers drop off rapidly when those women are asked whether they attend Mass. Among weekly Mass-goers, the percentage of Catholic women who have had an abortion is low.

None of this, I’m afraid, will make any difference to you; anyone who thinks that the only reason a woman would have a child is because she was “bullied into” it is not likely to be persuaded by reason, or data, or history.

May 1, 2009 at 9:43 pm
(8) Rebecca says:

Thank you for your well-thought-out response.

Surely, I do not, for a moment, believe that the Vatican rules Italy.

Ratz, however, has voiced his extreme displeasure with Italians who simply refuse to comply with “the regulations.”

And no one is listening. Why?

As a recovering catholic & former abortion clinic worker, I’ve spent years studying this issue. As I’m sure you have!

Have you discussed these issues with Catholics for Choice?

Their statistics on devout catholic women are different than yours.

And the pope has just indicated that he is unsure if condoms can alleviate the spread of HIV.

His word is INFALLIBLE?

Tell me, Scott….

As a practicing Episcopalian, I know that family planning and contraception are encouraged & abortion is ok.

Is there a special place in the afterlife for non-compliant catholics?

Are the devout that choose to use artificial contraception and (gasp!) seek abortion services doomed to a unique hell reserved just for them?

I drove past our community catholic church yesterday & viewed a huge RESPECT LIFE poster on the lawn.

Which lives are they interested in respecting?

The unborn?

Or the already born child victims of priest pedophiles?

As Cardinal Law once said to his attorney’s; “Can’t you just talk to them…?”

May 1, 2009 at 11:16 pm
(9) Rebecca says:

BTW ~ I am happily married mom to four children.

Two planned and two unplanned.

All welcomed lovingly into my life.

May 1, 2009 at 11:18 pm
(10) Rebecca says:

Blows your theory that women only give birth when bullied into it, no?

December 22, 2009 at 6:29 pm
(11) califnan says:

Please, I am involved in a discussion re: roe v wade Although I always argue that we are waiting for a conservative Supreme Court, it is always argued that we have had opportunity to bring Abortion to the court … Please what is the reason why we have not been able to overturn roe v wade and to save the babies in these 36+ years ..

December 22, 2009 at 6:42 pm
(12) Scott P. Richert says:

califnan, I’m not sure what more to add to what I wrote in the column above: “Both parties have treated abortion as a political issue–as a tool for winning elections.” If the Republican Party was serious about overturning Roe v. Wade, it would have happened already. The Bush administration had the opportunity to bypass the Supreme Court altogether and remove state abortion laws from review by the federal courts (a move that they used to protect the Pledge of Allegiance), but they chose not to, because they wanted to maintain abortion as an electoral issue.

December 24, 2009 at 7:50 am
(13) Saddened says:

The issue of Roe v. Wade is about a woman’s right to her body, to decide to allow another life to use her body. You might not like it, but there it is. Catholics see this issue as the fetus having a soul, but not everyone agrees on humans having souls.

The part that saddens me is that it sounds like you want to return to days when women found other means for having an abortion – it is not just when there is legalized abortion that women seek this out. Women historically have had “accidents”, “fallen” down stairs, done strenuous exercises, all in the hopes of a miscarriage. Others find back-alley practitioners, sometimes getting botched or killed in the process. Some women who can’t even find that sum go to the bathtub with a coat hanger. Even in a country where abortion is legal, there is incidence of infanticide, what will it be without abortion?

For the rich, the situation is different. They may be able to pay a gynecologist to perform a procedure that is not technically abortion, but will do the same thing. Or, they can easily travel.

You may feel really good about yourselves for blocking abortion, but you’re just making the problem into a different issue.

October 22, 2011 at 12:37 pm
(14) ali says:

Your argument is that killing children is far easier and less cumbersome an ‘issue’ than accountability. The issue of accountability has not even begun to be addressed, since abortion takes accountability off the table. Abortion is done with such ease that 50 million children have been aborted in America since Roe vs Wade took effect – 82% for convenience (per government statistics). How are those other ‘issues’ coming along? The issues to which you speak will exist unchanged as long as people are encouraged to act irresponsibly toward pregnancy as if it were not the ‘taking of life’ but simply a procedure done to ensure a woman’s right to be rid of her cumbersome ‘issue’.

February 1, 2010 at 12:01 am
(15) Concerned Christian says:

I never knew that the Republican Party had the opportunity. I feel very angry and betrayed; I supported them for years primarily because of that issue. Thank you for opening my eyes. keep up the good work.

March 19, 2010 at 10:26 am
(16) barb says:

So tell me, if abortion becomes illegal, what would the punishment be for women who get them?

Just like Prohibition, making something illegal will not stop it from happening; it will just be done more dangerously, more desperately, more secretively, and with more risk to the woman’s health.

January 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm
(17) Jennifer taylor-Foley says:

“The issue of Roe v. Wade is about a woman’s right to her body, to decide to allow another life to use her body” – this is the most stupid of statements. It is not up to us to decide to “allow” another life to use our body! You’re speaking as if the child is a parasite! The right you have is to decide whether to have sex or not, thus bringing about the chance to get pregnant. If you do not want to have a baby, either don’t have sex or use contraception. It’s not rocket science. If you get pregnant, that’s LIFE. Deal with it. If you can’t care for your child, give it up for adoption. Has everybody forgotten the sheer amount of couples who are trying to adopt because they can’t get pregnant? Let’s give them more of a chance. Let’s not kill our children. Let’s give them a chance! Let someone else give them a good life if we can’t.
If we put some of the money pumped into abortion clinics towards setting up a support system for pregnant girls and women who wish to choose adoption, that would be a much more positive thing, wouldn’t it? Something we could all be proud of. Nobody can be proud of having an abortion. No woman wants to have one really. Let’s not kid ourselves, ladies. Real feminism and the real right of women is the right to have their babies. Not to feel that we have to have an abortion… Abortion is anything BUT pro-woman.

August 7, 2011 at 9:45 pm
(18) Rebecca says:

Such places are already in place, known as Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

They continue to struggle with the dilemma of trying to force unwanted childbirth on unwilling woman.

Do you think it’s a good idea to deny legal abortion to women requesting the service?

How should that be accomplished?

Should we lock them up for seven+ months & force them into
unwanted childbirth to provide a newborn for infertile couples?

August 7, 2011 at 9:54 pm
(19) Rebecca says:

Are you in a position to decide how other people choose to live their lives?

Are you in a position to say that NO WOMEN WANTS TO HAVE ONE REALLY?

How do you really know this?

Have you actually discussed this with a woman who has had an abortion?

I have ~ 100% GUILT FREE.

Let’s talk.

October 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm
(20) isak says:

Abortion is wrong on either end of the argument. God did not create us so that we cld kill his own creatin. Babies are precious and they are a life in living progress and that baby isnt just a creature its a beimg that can learn 2 do so many things in life and what authority do we have to take that away from them? Mothers think that just becayse it is their child that they can decide whether it lives or not. If u didnt want to bring a baby into this world then dont have sex thats the bottom line. If you are pregnant then you should let they baby kive because what position do have to decide whether they live or die?

January 27, 2011 at 8:33 am
(21) Misha says:

You said in a previous comment: “The Bush administration had the opportunity to bypass the Supreme Court altogether and remove state abortion laws from review by the federal courts (a move that they used to protect the Pledge of Allegiance), but they chose not to, because they wanted to maintain abortion as an electoral issue.” I was trying to find more information on this but have not been coming up with anything… Can you tell me a little bit more about this? I seem to be having a hard time remembering my American Government class… Also, couldn’t Roe v Wade have been overturned any time there was a Republican president as well as a republican controlled congress- if they had really wanted to do it?

October 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm
(22) ali says:

Very well written, focused, accurate and empowering article. Since Roe vs Wade, America has aborted 50,000,000 babies and throw the term ‘women’s rights’ around regarding abortion as if it was a normal, natural and indisputable process without consequence to any life beyond ‘her’ own. We must revisit this discussion at the local level to bring it to the national level. We must regain our conscience regarding this death sentence on children at the whim of a woman who 80%+ of the time says ‘not convenient’. ‘Abort’. Roe vs Wade was based on a case where the plaintiff never even had an abortion, rather gave birth to her child and gave it up for adoption. Pro-life is a must for a free society.

January 27, 2012 at 1:07 pm
(23) deny says:

We do not have a money problem, we have a moral problem, I was too smart for my own good, a long long time ago I thought abortion to be okey, until I got married, i would never knowingly contribute to an abortion!!!
And the reason we have , a money problem as a nation is because we have a moral problem, we do babies in by having abortions, but abortions will do us in as a nation if we continue down this path, as we unravel as a nation, i guarantee it, you say, you have no guilt, if you keep it up you may have no country either, respectfully deny…

February 21, 2012 at 10:41 am
(24) Janet says:

Guess what sinful men would have to wear condoms to reduce the rate of pregnancy. It that such a bad thing? Probably would reduce rape as well now that fathers can be identified through DNA testing. Besides it would be quite difficult to rape someone if you had to first put on a condom! Condoms will reduce the spread of HIV and other STD’s. We need civil rights for the unborn and Roe versus Wade needs to be overturned. And if married folks want a planned family, most have the brains to figure out how without aborting the child.

April 11, 2012 at 9:03 pm
(25) Shelley says:

The problem is that we have extreme thinking on both sides. We cannot reduce the number of abortions this way. It really should be a medical issue between a woman and her doctor. I do not beleive in abortion for convience but a women with a proven medical conditon has to protect her life if need be. Instead it has all become about trends and politics. Also, there is no birth control that is 100% effective. Regarding Italy Ihave heard most support very early abortions and life threating condtions to the mother, but late term abortion, like obama supports is very prohibited.

June 4, 2012 at 9:02 pm
(26) Kevin Morrow says:

I have always hated abortion, but I long gave up on seeking a political solution. Frankly, I think evangelicals and other pro-lifers have been played for suckers for 40 years with the empty promise that a vote for a conservative president would give us conservative Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade at last. What a crock! People, don’t let the Republican Party keep playing you to get your votes. They have no intention of working to end abortion. If they did, abortion would have ended years ago. Seek other means to end abortion, I say, and work to change the disposable human culture we’ve created for ourselves, in which we consider absolute freedom from the consequences of our immoral behavior a God-given right. Seek to create a different culture that will ultimately reject abortion as a solution to anything.

October 3, 2012 at 9:52 am
(27) Joe H says:

Why do opponents of Roe v Wade insist on calling proponents PRO-abortion. Don’t they realise the sensitivity around this very personal issue. I have never met anyone in my life who is PRO-abortion. To most pro-choice folks it is a private and personal issue. To others it is a pursuit of happiness (Constitutional) issue. I agree.

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