THE BLOG
11/08/2005 09:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What if the Supremes Overturned Roe?

In this quiet time as the left and the right polish their swords, huddle with their strategists, and burnish their armor, in these weeks before Judge Samuel Alito goes before the Senate Judiciary Committe in January (a veritable lifetime away in the ADD world of Beltway affairs), the lines are being drawn, and Roe v. Wade is once again the battleground. The presumption is that Alito is primed to rule against Roe. Whether he would or wouldn’t, the Democrats are prepared to oppose him.

But what if they did something utterly unpredictable? What if the Democrats simply decided to walk away from this particular battle, a tactical retreat that no Republican in their right mind (pun intended) expects? What if, yes, the Democrats decided that to let those proverbial chips fall where they may, and allow for the possibility that the Supreme Court just might overturn Roe and declare that there is no constitutional right to abortion.

The Democrats would be far better off.

To begin with, let’s once again lay to rest a popular canard: overturning Roe would not, repeat would not, make abortion illegal. That simple truth ain’t so simple. In fact, if you stopped ten people on the streets of New York and Los Angeles, where it’s fair to say support for Roe runs high, high, high, seven, eight, or even nine would say that if Supremes overturn Roe, we’re back to the days of dark alleys and wire hangers.

Not true.

If Roe disappears, very little changes - at first. Roe enshrines a federal, constitutional right to privacy, which in turn bars state legislatures from passing laws making abortion illegal. Before Roe, nothing stood in the way of states making abortion legal. Post Roe, nothing would change in the Blue States.

But in many Red states, abortion is already de facto restricted. Try finding an abortion clinic in rural Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia. Abortion is already socially illegal in many parts of the country; mores often matter more than laws.

But if Roe is overturned, suddenly, every state would be forced to discuss and debate, and that would propel the Democrats from defense to offense. Imagine: in Red states where Democrats have been portraying themselves as kinder, gentler Republicans, there would suddenly be an opportunity to debate choice, privacy, state power versus individual freedoms, morality, life, death, and science. Would they win everywhere? Hardly. But they would be central and relevant about issues that engender passion and heated disagreements.

Unfortunately, this issue is a third rail for the left, a cow so sacred that even this mere mention of retreating on Roe triggers, shall we say, sharp reactions. Come Alito time early next year, it looks like abortion will take center stage, and the Democrats once again will be forced on the defensive. The agenda will be set for them, and they will, if form holds, respond by trying to out-shrill their opponents. Alito will be confirmed, and the Democrats will have solidified their base and moved the needle not at all.