As he did on many things, Bill Clinton had the best take on abortion. He said it should be “safe, legal and rare.”
And, in fact, it has become more rare in the decades since Clinton was president. In the six years between 2011 and 2017, abortion declined in any way you want to measure it, whether in total numbers or as a percentage of pregnancies or compared to live births. During that period the raw number of abortions declined by almost 200,000 and almost 20%.
And, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, virtually none of that decline had to do with state abortion restrictions. Now, of course, that cuts both ways. On the one hand, you can argue that the restrictions are just a fool’s errand by abortion opponents. But on the other hand, you might say that concerns of abortion advocates are over-blown.
But when the restrictions in Texas amount to a de facto ban on abortions and what amounts to a direct reversal of abortion rights in Roe v. Wade, I would say advocates have every reason to worry. That worry only deepened yesterday when the Supreme Court refused to intervene and left those restrictions in place. That could signal that the conservative majority is ready to overturn Roe, if not explicitly, then in practice.
It’s not especially reassuring that the four dissenters to that decision all filed separate opinions saying emphatically that the court’s decision did not mean that it was upholding the constitutionality of the Texas law. That’s not reassuring because the five justices in the majority said nothing, giving no such assurances.
Even for abortion foes, overturning Roe was never a good strategy. It just means that some states will allow abortion while others will outlaw it and still others will restrict it to varying degrees. Abortion will not go away.
It would have been so much better if, decades ago, advocates and opponents of abortion could have gotten together around the shared idea that every child should be wanted. I have never understood why abortion opponents aren’t the biggest supporters of Planned Parenthood, whose mission is precisely that.
Given that abortion is already declining on its own, there is nothing good about what just happened in Texas or at the Supreme Court. Public opinion on abortion has been remarkably stable for the last half century, with about 60% of Americans saying it should remain legal subject to some basic restrictions. Overturning Roe will only tear open a wound in a country that is already badly divided.
Welcome to the 197th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading.