The 1973 Roe decision did not end the debate over abortion. In many ways, the decision actually intensified the debate, making it a
national issue rather than a state issue. Abortion is an extremely
controversial issue that involves people’s strongly held beliefs about
religion, morality, life, the role of the government, and the right to
bodily integrity and privacy. Each year, on the anniversary of the
decision (January 22, 1973), pro-life and pro-choice supporters stage
protest rallies in front of the Supreme Court.
Abortion has become an important issue in elections and in judicial
nominations. Depending on who is president and which party controls
Congress, abortion counseling at federally funded clinics has sometimes
been permitted and sometimes been prohibited. In congressional
districts and U.S. Senate elections where the public is closely divided
on this issue, candidates are often reluctant to take a strong stand
either for or against abortion rights for fear of alienating an
important segment of voters. And as long as the public believes that
the U.S. Supreme Court is closely divided over abortion issues, advocacy
groups on both sides will closely monitor presidential nominations to
the Supreme Court and even to lower federal courts.
In addition to political arenas, confrontations over abortions take
place on a regular basis in many communities outside of clinics that
offer abortion services. Those who are against abortion often stage
protests outside of clinics and those who support abortion rights
volunteer to escort patients who might otherwise be discouraged from
entering the clinics as a result of protests. Some extreme opponents of
abortion feel so strongly that abortion is wrong that they advocate the
killing of doctors who perform abortions. On the other side, some
advocates of abortion rights argue that abortion opponents who threaten
women or their doctors should be treated like terrorists because they
advocate violence and attempt to intimidate people from exercising their
Questions to Consider
In your own words, why do you believe that abortion is such a controversial issue?
More than 30 years after Roe v. Wade, some
argue that this case should not have been decided by the Court and that
the decision belongs in state legislatures. What are the strengths and
weaknesses of this state-by-state legislative approach?
No case in recent constitutional history has stirred deeper emotions than Roe v. Wade.
Organizations have been founded with the primary purpose of either
protecting the judicially created right to an abortion or seeking to
have this right overturned. Using the internet, find one organization
on each side of this debate and explain its mission.
When people feel strongly on both sides of such an important
issue, can a compromise be reached? Are there are ways to lessen the
hostilities between the two sides?