It’s time to heal the national rift from Roe vs. Wade

Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Every winter, thousands of Americans make a moral pilgrimage to Washington. They come to mark and mourn the day abortion became a legal right in the United States.

Many will journey for hours on buses with little sleep before arriving in the nation’s capital. Waves of anti-abortion demonstrators will march in the streets, listen to speeches, and resolve to end abortion.

Every Jan. 22, the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, the blanket of humanity filling the National Mall is a striking display of continued national dissent over Roe vs. Wade.

Most in the gathered masses hope the landmark decision on abortion will be overturned. Abortion-rights proponents offer counter protests to protect a woman’s choice, but they are hugely outnumbered by opponents.

Media coverage of the event is limited to a photo, a few lines of an article, and maybe a 30-second video that captures a confrontation. The same details are duly noted year after year.

This makes 41 years. That’s a long time to chronicle the affair or maintain public interest in the war over legalized abortion.

While tireless combatants on both sides steadfastly refuse to concede ground or compromise on conviction, the rest of the country largely has moved on. Abortion is not the raging controversy it once was among most Americans.

Yes, we’re still divided as a nation about whether abortion is morally acceptable or morally wrong. But the procedure to terminate a pregnancy has been the law of the land for more than four decades. Getting rid of it is not a priority on Main Street.

Gallup tracked historical trends in public opinion on abortion with polling taken from 1975 to 2013 (​poll/​1576/​abortion.) The polls show public views about the issue haven’t changed much over the years.

Most Americans believe abortion should remain legal under certain circumstances. Most are split into pro-choice or pro-life camps. Most strongly oppose late-term abortions in the last six months of pregnancy, also known as partial-birth abortions.

Most favor laws that require women to wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion or stipulate that women under 18 years of age get parental consent for the procedure. Most also support laws that require doctors to inform patients about the possible risks of abortion and supply information about alternatives to the procedure.

But most, by consistently large margins, oppose overturning Roe vs. Wade. Years of polling on the controversy suggest that most Americans are willing to settle in a sensible middle about abortion.

Most want to protect access to the legal procedure, but not make it too easy to obtain. And more registered voters now say abortion is one of many important factors in considering a candidate for elected office — but not the only one.

In general, Americans have grown ambivalent about abortion as they struggle with other pressing concerns. There is no massive public outcry demanding new laws to restrict or outlaw abortions.

Yet there is a state-by-state strategy by Republican-controlled legislatures to do just that. The goal — not supported by years of established trends in opinion polling — is to circumvent Roe vs. Wade through incremental laws, such as fetal heartbeat offerings and mandatory ultrasounds.

The rules target women who seek abortions or the clinics that provide them. In GOP-dominated Ohio, lawmakers are pursuing a narrow anti-abortion agenda that arguably does not represent most Ohioans.

Republicans have enacted laws that have forced abortion providers to close and effectively de-funded Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. The legislative tactics are harsh and harmful to Ohio women.

Denying critical resources to those most in need is not the way to change hearts and minds about abortion. I agree that abortion is a stain on our nation’s soul and stand in solidarity with abortion opponents in Washington.

But the way to change public attitudes about abortion and eventually make the procedure obsolete is to facilitate access to preventative health care, family planning education, and alternatives to ending a pregnancy. Why isn’t adoption championed as vigorously as abortion is condemned?

On the next Roe vs. Wade anniversary, let the observance be about more than speeches, signs, and shouting between pro-choice and pro-life warriors. Let it be about healing what still severs the union through proactive — not punitive — measures that best serve the living and the unborn.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

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