Where We're at, 40 Years After Roe v. Wade: Many More Right Wingers Have Abortion as Single Issue, Than Do Liberals
Forty years ago today, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Roe v Wade (and in a less heralded decision, Doe v Bolton, which struck down Georgia's highly restrictive aboriton law). The 7-2 decision established that the right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman's choice to terminate a pregnancy, but that the right also had to be balanced against states' legitimate interest in regulating the procedure.
Roe certainly didn't settle the matter, as four decades of political agitation -- and no small number of violent incidents -- have demonstrated.
On Roe's 40th birthday, Tracy Weitz, a medical sociologist at UC Berkeley's Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, spoke to AlterNet about the state of reproductive rights in the U.S. Below is an edited transcript of our interview.
Joshua Holland: ...In 1992, again according to Pew, 60 percent of Americans said that they did not want Roe overturned. Eleven years later in 2003, it was 62 percent. Now, 10 years after that, it’s 63 percent. So it’s creeping up, support for Roe, but it’s pretty stable.
Now, just 29 percent of the American population favor overturning Roe, the rest are unsure, or didn’t answer. We hear so much about the forced childbirth movement, or anti-choicers if you prefer. It seems like most of society has moved past this. How do they get so much noise from that small community?
TW: I think they got a lot of noise in part because they have been able to mobilize single-issue voters and single-issue donors to, in a sense, require that Republican candidates take a very strong stance against abortion, whether or not they actually personally believe that. There is a lot of power in electoral politics around abortion that doesn’t translate from an interest of the general public, but it does translate from what are very clearly single-issue voters and single-issue donors. I think that’s why there is this disproportionate relationship between the power they have in government and the power they have in public opinion, or in general life.
JH: According to NARAL, which is an abortion rights organization, there are many more single-issue anti-choice voters than there are single-issue pro-choice voters. Your typical pro-choice voter is going to make her decision based on a number of different issues.
TW: It’s what’s been called the "intensity gap."
What is the state of abortion access in this country today, 40 years after Roe? It seems the new strategy is to kind of regulate away abortion clinics, in conservative states anyway. And it’s harder to get people motivated over regulation, than say laws banning abortion. Your view?
TW: Yeah, I think that's right on the money. In 1992, the Supreme Court allowed states to begin to regulate abortion and in doing so to explicitly express their disapproval of abortion. Since then, they have implemented hundreds of abortion laws that are anything from requiring women to wait 24 to 48 hours before having an abortion, to requiring a facility to have ceilings that are so high and hallways that are so wide and those are particularly hard. To most people, they may sound reasonable, so you have to spend a lot of time explaining to people why that may not be reasonable and that’s a hard place when you are trying to get people to care about things that aren’t on their daily agenda.
JH: You know a great example of that is, in states where they have an abortion clinic but no providers and have to fly in providers, they will put in a regulation that a doctor has to have admitting privileges at the local hospital. On its face, this seems rational -- why shouldn’t states require that doctors be able to admit patients when things go badly? It is an attempt to legislate away abortion through a back door, a great example of your point.