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"Supreme Court Settles Abortion Issue"

So wrote The New York Times on that most controversial of decisions handed down by the Supreme Court on this day, 37 years ago. As usual, the Grey Lady was reporting wishfully, rather than prophetically.

Due to the economy, Roe v. Wade is not presently commanding public attention and will not likely play a significant role in November. Abortion presently ranks as the 10th most important issue to Americans, with 41% ranking it as "very important" (I'd wager 5%-10% are single-issue voters). Abortion won't likely emerge again until a Supreme Court seat opens up, and even then will be muted, as Obama will likely swap pro-Roe justices.

However, abortion has established itself as a permanent feature of American politics. The economy will recover and wars will diminish - and abortion will again dominate the headlines. This is unique to the U.S. and provides an insight into a peculiarity of American democracy.

The clamorous and convictional abortion debate which has marked American politics for 40 years owes its persistence to two factors: morality and democracy.

First, Americans have not surrendered morality to the private sector. Europeans consciously eschew hard moral debates in public - having lost the boldness and sense of obligation to battle over profound issues - deferring to the guidance of government agencies. They have abandoned the pursuit of public morality on the grounds that they individually lack the authority, and should reserve the judgement, necessary to enforce personal preferences. Tolerance has triumphed over substantive moral conviction in the hierarchy of virtues. Let others lose their souls, they privately think, who am I to judge?

Secondly, pro-life Americans feel a bitter sense of indignation at the Supreme Court's pre-emption of this moral decision and usurpation of the democratic process. Roe completely altered the nature of the abortion debate in America, introducing a provocational lightning-rod which expanded and came to dominate the debate (protesting Roe v. Wade is now synonymous with opposing abortion).

Like slavery before it, abortion is an issue of moral absolutism marred by legal intrusion which divides the nation along irreconcilable fronts. Its perseverance indicates that Americans are still morally and intellectually alive, full of fight and vigor, devoted to the principles of a just democracy.

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