Few topics are as politically polarizing as the issue of abortion. Those of us who are middle aged and younger have always known the abortion debate divided between the political right and left, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats.
But that has not always been the case.
In fact, it was mostly Republican-nominated Supreme Court Justices who made the case for choice in 1973.
Roe vs. Wade was decided with a 7-2 vote, and not along partisan lines. Those who ruled in favor were as follows, with the president who nominated them and the party of that president indicated in parentheses:
- Harry Blackmun (Nixon, R)
- Lewis Powell (Nixon, R)
- Warren Burger (Nixon, R)
- William Brennan (Eisenhower, R)
- Potter Stewart (Eisenhower, R)
- Thurgood Marshall (LBJ, D)
- William Douglas (FDR, D)
Those who dissented on Roe vs. Wade:
- Byron White (Kennedy, D)
- William Rehnquist (Nixon, R)
So five Republican-nominated justices and two Democrat-nominated justices ruled for choice, while one Republican and one Democrat-nominated justice ruled against.
A lifelong Republican justice, Harry Blackmun, wrote the majority opinion in the case, which basically stated that state laws that unduly restrict abortion were unconstitutional—not specifically because a woman had a right to choose to have an abortion, but because of a the right to privacy under the 14th amendment.
When viewed as a private medical decision, the fact that the party-of-less-government-interference Republicans ruled that way makes perfect sense. It has always struck me as odd that the party who advocates for less government regulation and less government interference in our lives would be the one to push for the government to stick its nose into people's personal medical decisions. It turns out, they've only pushed that argument during my adult lifetime.
There are, of course, debates to be had about when a person should be considered a person with full rights and protections under the law, and people are free to debate the moral questions that come with the personal and/or medical reasons people choose to abort a pregnancy. But there's no question that abortion is a medical decision, which automatically makes it an issue of privacy. That has not changed since 1973. That has not changed since Republicans ruled in favor of choice.
It's only since the religious right aligned itself with the Republican party in a direct way (and vice versa) that making abortion illegal became a Republican stance.
Interestingly, that relationship—and the corruption that inevitably results in when religious ideology slips into bed with politics—even played out in the life of "Jane Roe" herself. The woman in the landmark case who pushed for choice, whose real name was Norma McCorvey, ended up publicly changing her stance and pushing an anti-abortion message for decades.
Then, in her dying days, she confessed that it was all an act—that she had been paid by anti-abortion activists to put out that messaging.
AKA Jane Roe | Deathbed Confession Highlight | FX www.youtube.com
Despite how passionate some people's anti-abortion stances are today—and how politicians use that passion to garner support—abortion has not always been a big, controversial political issue. For much of Western history, abortion was viewed as a private matter between a woman and a doctor, and history also shows that making abortion illegal doesn't make abortions not happen.
Since the only things proven to reduce abortion rates are comprehensive sex education, easy and affordable access to birth control, and access to healthcare in general; since choice was originally a Republican-led stance as evidenced by the Roe vs. Wade ruling; and since abortion rates have fallen consistently for the past four decades—more drastically under Democrat administrations than Republican, oddly enough—and are currently at record lows, overturning Roe vs. Wade in an attempt to end abortion seems like a strange goal to pin one's partisan hat on.
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