For most Americans, Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land regarding abortion. Handed down in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court, the ruling placed the federal government firmly in charge of regulating whether and in what circumstances women can have their pregnancies terminated.
But for the nearly half-century since the decision, some have been troubled by it — and not solely because it seemed to affirm what some believe, that abortion is a right.
Now, the Supreme Court may be forced to revisit Roe v. Wade and other federal court decisions on the matter. That is because several states have enacted so-called “heartbeat” laws, banning abortion for any reason after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That can be as early as six weeks into gestation.
Other states, meanwhile, have gone in a diametrically opposite direction. They have abandoned virtually all limits on abortions, to the point that concern has been voiced over the possibility of allowing babies born alive during abortion procedures to perish.
Abortion may be the most emotionally charged issue of our time. Proponents for liberal laws insist they are a matter of a woman’s right to control her own body. Opponents counter that abortion is murdering babies.
To be sure, Supreme Court justices in 1973 were flying blind in scientific knowledge about abortion, at least in comparison to now. Much more has been learned since then.
So revisiting abortion law may result in a whole new high court outlook based solely on the science.
But another question, one with which the Supreme Court may feel more comfortable, needs to be settled, too. It is whether the federal government has constitutional authority over abortions. Some of those behind new state laws restricting the practice believe the power to do so lies solely with the states. Based on the position of the nation’s founders, that federal authority should be restricted, that may be a valid argument.
Supreme Court justices have two paths they can take in dealing with appeals on important issues. They can issue very limited decisions based on technical aspects of cases — or they can dive headfirst into comprehensive examinations of them.
On abortion, the high court needs to take the latter course. It is long past time for us as a nation to revisit the controversy.