Unlike their Democratic opponents, Republican presidential candidate’s hardly ever mention Roe v. Wade (though they do sometimes express their hostility toward judges that legislate from the bench). Instead, they talk in vague terms about creating a “culture of life.” Republicans talk about culture rather than the law because according to public-opinion surveys, a majority of Americans do not want to see the decision overturned.
What these candidates do not seem to know is that surveys also reveal massive ignorance about what Roe means. James Davison Hunter, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, has shown that the vast majority of Americans believe Roe allows more restrictions than it actually does. Such “‘mass legal illiteracy,’” according to Hunter, explains why “Americans want to keep Roe intact, but also favor proposals that would restrict (some severely) what it currently allows, if not undermine it altogether.”
Few Americans realize that Roe and its companion decisions created the most liberal abortion regime in the Western world. It, along with its little-known companion case, Doe v. Bolton, legalized abortion — even in the final trimester — for almost any reason. Most would also be shocked by the number of late-term abortions. According to Hunter, approximately 400 second- and third-trimester abortions are performed every day.
Tonight Palin needs to conquer the GOP’s Roe phobia by making a simple case. She needs to begin with the argument that American voters, not the courts, should set abortion policy — as it’s done in every other Western nation. Abortion is an issue on which reasonable people of good conscience disagree. If it were otherwise — if one side had all the reasonable arguments and good will — a court-imposed, absolute right to abortion or life would be far more justifiable.
As someone with strong pro-life convictions, Palin might add that she appreciates that her personal views on abortion are more conservative than most Americans’. For this reason, she does not even desire the power to impose them on public policy. Rather, in an America without Roe, she hopes that Americans can discuss their disagreements in democratic forums. Both sides can hope for a consensus around their point of view, but neither side will prevail absent a massive shift in public opinion.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Mass Legal Illiteracy on Roe
Two frustrating things for committed pro-lifers is (1) the legal illiteracy regarding Roe v. Wade and things like the Freedom of Choice Act; and (2) the inability of most Republican politicians to argue the case with effectiveness (Huckabee was a notable exception). So I appreciated this article by Jon Shields: