A couple of days ago, Gerald Seib made what has become the conventional argument about abortion in establishment circles. If only we could stop arguing about Roe v. Wade we could do something constructive:
The volume on the abortion debate, relatively low throughout this campaign year, is about to go up. Indeed, a leading abortion-rights group already is using the Palin nomination to raise money from its supporters.
And all that, in turn, means frustration for those activists on both sides of the partisan divide who would like to lower the heat in the long-running national argument on the legality of abortion. These people would like to turn instead to a calmer discussion about something on which both sides might agree: practical steps to make abortion less common.
But doesn’t that miss the degree to which Roe itself has caused the problem. By taking the right to regulate abortion away from the people, the Supreme Court has put us in a situation where we can only shout at each other, and shout about absolutes. Were we allowed to pass laws, in our states, towns, etc., then we could actually make all kinds of laws that reflected various opinions about abortion. To be sure, there would still be serious arguments. On the other hand, our political system was designed to contain precisely such arguments. By taking from the people the right to make diverse laws on a subject that is properly above the pay grade of both courts and Presidents, the Supreme Court caused, or at least exacerbated the culture war.
Thirty five years after Roe, returning power to the people would probably not undo all the damage, but it probably would ease some of the tension.