Abortion in America: Ten Cautious Forecasts

Article excerpt

When historians a century from now look back on the major domestic controversies that challenged America in the 1990s, they are likely to designate the abortion fight as the most divisive, revealing, and costly "war" of all. Lowering the abortion rate is one of the few goals common to both sides of the battle, byt only a 6% drop was achieved between 1980 and 1987. Not surprisingly, therefore, this volatile "clash of absolutes" tries our craft as contemporary forecasters more than most other domestic policy issues. Both sides recognize that the 1989 decision of the Supreme Court in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, Inc., put the United States at a policy-making crossroads. A woman's federally guaranteed right to request an abortion -- a bitterly contested grant since its 1973 inception -- is now more problematic than at any other time since the Court's enabling decision in Roe v. Wade.

What sort of future are we likely to make for ourselves in this regard? Why? And with what consequences? What are our choices, and what are their most likely resolution?

Ten interrelated forecasts are offered below in order of their seeming likelihood: Those most likely to occur in the near future (circa 1991-2006) appear earliest in the scenario.

Taken together, the 10 forecasts suggest that we are likely to shape a future without clear-cut resolution of the abortion war, a future without an emphatic one-sided or total victory for either side. Instead, the years ahead are likely to accommodate compromises that both pro-choice and anti-abortion forces may resent, but may be favored by a large proportion of Americans. The years ahead are also likely to witness major gains in contraception, though possibly at a cost of widening the gap in well-being between poor and well-off women. Finally, the scenario suggests that it will require extraordinary effort to achieve reform options; for instance, there is little chance for enactment of such reform options as a K-12 sex-education curriculum or a more-responsible role for males in the abortion drama.

1. Abortion is likely to be available, although only in liberal locales.

Many Supreme Court watchers expect President George Bush soon to replace at least one retiring justice, and possibly two, with conservative-leaning jurists like David Souter. If elected to a second term, Bush may get to designate as many as four new members of the Court -- a prospect that would understandably cheer those seeking the nationwide outlawing of abortion.

A strong likelihood exists that an increasingly conservative Supreme Court will soon withdraw support from its own creation, the privacy principle first enunciated in 1973 in the Roe v. Wade decision. In its place, as hinted at in the 1989 Webster decision, the Court may permit each state to decide its own legal framework concerning the willful termination of a pregnancy. States such as Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming are likely to rush to deny access (82% of all U.S. counties are already without a single abortion provider). Congress, in turn, is unlikely to pass a proposed bill (the Freedom of Choice Act) to prevent such anti-abortion gains, and even if somehow approved on the Hill, the bill would likely succumb to a White House veto.

Abortion-on-request, however, will remain available in other, more-liberal states, such as those on both coasts and north of the Mason-Dixon line, containing over 40% of the U.S. population. Futurist Marvin Cetron contends that "abortion is too much a part of the American scene to be discarded. . . . By the turn of the century it will have had ten more years in which to become business as usual."

2. Clashes are likely to persist, though less often at clinic sites.

Along with expectations of continued choice (albeit restricted to liberal states) is the related forecast of continued clashes between two irreconcilable and often mutually contemptuous forces. …