As we prepare to get into our bunkers before the next nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court, I urge you to jump back into last week's waves of coverage and read a fine Los Angeles Times piece by David G. Savage about the roots of all this controversy, which is, of course, about abortion, abortion and abortion. The Savage piece was titled "Roe Ruling: More Than Its Author Intended." The big idea of this story is that, as a new justice on the court, Harry A. Blackmun's goal was to produce a ruling that would allow compromise on the subject of abortion.
Note -- his goal was to allow compromise, through what he claimed would be a reform of laws affecting this issue. But this was not what he would produce. Thus, Roe v. Wade would turn into a story with a completely different ending. Here is Savage:
It is the story of a rookie justice, unsure of himself and his abilities, who set out to write a narrow ruling that would reform abortion laws, not repeal them. It is also the story of a sometimes rudderless court led by Chief Justice Warren Burger. On the day the ruling was announced, Burger said, "Plainly, the court today rejects any claim that the Constitution requires abortion on demand."
Blackmun proposed to issue a news release to accompany the decision, issued Jan. 22, 1973. "I fear what the headlines may be," he wrote in a memo. His statement, never issued, emphasized that the court was not giving women "an absolute right to abortion," nor was it saying that the "Constitution compels abortion on demand."
In reality, the court did just that.
Instead, Roe became a legal earthquake that, in addition to warping both major political parties, effectively vetoed any attempts by any legislature anywhere to produce any political compromise that would forbid any abortions. Today, the small percentage of Americans who want abortion on demand claim that even a ban on late third-trimester abortions would be a complete loss of the rights protected by Roe.
So this raises a question, one that I have raised before here at GetReligion. Will Roe have to fall in order for a bipartisan coalition to produce compromise legislation on abortion that would actually represent the viewpoints of most Americans? Let me repeat what I have written before, because the MSM will determine how this is debated:
If opposing abortion on demand is the stance of radical conservatives who are out of the mainstream (even if they are Democrats) and defending abortion on demand is the stance of moderates (and even of sane conservatives), then what is the stance of liberals and progressives on this complex issue?
I ask this because it is very hard to find political compromises on this kind of hot-button issue when the principalities and powers of public discourse -- that would be the MSM -- have already decided that the middle ground is occupied.
Savage's piece is a rare example of mainstream journalism that actually gets the facts right on this.
Roe made compromise impossible. What the majority of Americans want is compromise. Thus, Roe must fall in order for compromise to take place. Roe must fall for the moderate center to get its muddled and inconsistent way. That's America.
Will the left be happy about that? Will the right be happy about that? Savage has the numbers straight.
Today, as in the early 1970s, the American public appears to have decidedly mixed views on abortion. In a Gallup poll in May, for instance, only 23% of those surveyed said abortion should be "legal under any circumstances," the rule set by Roe vs. Wade. Only 22% said abortion should be "illegal in all circumstances," the rule that could take effect in many states if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
The largest group -- 53% -- said abortion should be "legal only under certain circumstances."
Think about those numbers as the nuclear explosions begin (let a thousand fundraising letters bloom) next week inside the Beltway.