How To Argue About Roe

One of the most common complaints directed at pro-lifers is that they are trying to overturn a Supreme Court decision that is popular with the American public. In one respect, this is a fair point. Roughly sixty percent of the country, when asked, says that they would not support overturning Roe. At the same time, roughly 2/3 of people say they would prefer the type of ‘stricter limits’ on abortion that are barred by Roe and Casey.

Noting this disconnect, Peter Suderman recently suggested that pro-lifers should focus on framing Roe as a barrier to compromise on abortion.

From the pro-life perspective, polling is beside the point; a moral evil does not become less objectionable by being popular. Nevertheless, in the U.S. it is necessary to appeal to the mushy (if often intellectually incoherent) middle. It seems to me that framing Roe as a barrier to compromise has two major benefits. The first is that it would help educate voters, to the extent possible, about what Roe/Casey really means. The second is that it might help highlight the fact that support for the Roe/Casey regime (in practice) is a minority position, which is hard to appreciate at times because it is the status quo. Any thoughts?

3 Responses to How To Argue About Roe

  • Ryan Harkins says:

    This coming right after “How Obama Got Elected” keeps a particular theme going. People hear names, have a vague idea (if that) of what the names mean, and know very little about any content. People think of Roe v Wade as maybe a victory in the matter of civil rights, as oppose to fervent protection of abortion. Phrasing the issue properly has always been a political matter. Consider the election: Obama continually phrased the issue of a McCain presidency as four more years of Bush, four more years of “failed” economic policies. Or consider Prop 8 in California. You can phrase that as either “protecting the sanctity of marriage” or as “a fundamentalist Christian attempt to deny civil rights to United States citizens.” Which message takes hold will influence people, regardless of the actual content of the candidate or bill.

    It reminds me of the petition spread around to ban “dihydrogen monoxide” because of all the adverse affects it has. Because it was phrased as petition to fight against a grave danger, people signed onto it without any consideration of what the petition was actually about–banning water.

    Ah, our sound-bite culture. Please don’t make an issue last for more than thirty-seconds, because that’s all the thought we can put into it.

  • John Henry says:

    You make a good point Ryan. Our culture being what it is, I think we need to try and make a more forceful 30 second sound-bite. For a long time, we have emphasized the humanity of fetuses (which is the central point to emphasize). However, ideally I think we would have a two-part argument: 1) Abortion is wrong, 2) Our current abortion laws are a barrier to compromise. The second point is hard for pro-lifers to say because, honestly, this is a human rights issue so compromises are unsatisfactory.

    That said, if we are going to move the opinion poll numbers (and thus politicians) against Roe, we need to emphasize more the extreme nature of Roe, rather than being too easily written off as extremists ourselves. I think this is a difficult balance to strike in practice, though.

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