Sunday, July 24, 2005

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't
A month after the new Supreme Court term begins in the fall, the court will consider an abortion case that could lead to the weakening or complete overturning of Roe v. Wade. But what does that mean, exactly? It wouldn't lead to an immediate national ban on abortion, as some people believe. Its immediate effect would be to return the abortion situation to its pre-1973 status: legal in some places, illegal in others--in other words, a state matter. (And also to signal the beginning of the grandest political brouhaha the Republic has ever seen, from sea to shining sea.) But for the Republican Party, far from being vindicated in their generation-long quest to re-legislate old-fashioned morality as it used to be, messing with Roe may mean they may end up screwed.

Writing in the Baltimore Sun (and posted at the Smirking Chimp), Michael Hill thinks that the end result of that fight is going to be big political trouble for Republicans.
The problem for Republicans is that it would throw the issue back into the arena of legislators who have to face the voters.

Since the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, anti-abortion politicians have been able to castigate the Supreme Court for allowing the procedure. But they have never had to actually cast a vote outlawing it. And most polls show that in most states, that would be an unpopular vote.

"It would become a wedge issue for Democrats," says Johns Hopkins University political scientist Matthew Crenson.

With Roe as the law of the land, Republican opposition to the decision has been mainly symbolic--garnering the party support from abortion opponents--with little political cost to those not so fervent on the issue.
In other words, pure Bush-style politics: talking a good game but doing nothing of substance. But there's not just danger for the Repugs in doing something--there's also danger in doing nothing. Political experts Hill interviewed say that the Repugs will in trouble even if Roberts doesn't vote to overturn Roe.
[Political science professor Tom] Schaller, who has worked in Democratic campaigns, says Republicans are in a no-win situation.

"If Roberts votes to overturn Roe, there will be wholesale defections from the GOP, especially among white women," he says. "If he votes to uphold Roe, the conservative base will be in an uproar because this is the first nominee of the post-evangelical era. Either way, there will be a Democratic windfall."
Your mouth to God's ear, Professor Schaller. There's an excellent chance that the future of Roe will be at least partially decided by the 2006 elections, when we'd expect to collect the windfall. However, we've heard this sort of thing before: how the extremism of the Repugs will eventually be revealed to even the most obstinate voters through some extreme political event, and it hasn't happened yet. I'll believe it when I see it--but I hope I get to see it.

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