Abortion and American Politics

Abortion and American Politics

Abortion and American Politics

Abortion and American Politics


"Although it almost certainly won't get much credit for it, this is a near-perfect example of that rara avis, the impartial report on a white-hot public issue. Each chapter is full of meanigful quotation and value-neutral elucidation, and each is written in a rainwater-clear prose that makes the book nonpareil for learning what, in terms of law and public policy, abortion in the U. S. is all about." ALA Booklist


In the years since the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Roe v. Wade, making a woman's decision to have an abortion a constitutionally protected right, the politics of the abortion controversy has affected every branch and every level of American government. Few issues more vividly illustrate how our political institutions actually operate in governing a nation of over 250 million diverse individuals.

Abortion is undeniably a controversial and divisive issue. Those who favor keeping abortion legal discuss the issue in terms of a woman's right to control her own body or as a matter of personal privacy that obtains to the doctor-patient relationship. Those opposed to abortion speak in terms of the rights of the unborn and of murder. There appears to be virtually no room for compromise between these highly emotional extremes. In a political system that depends on bargaining, negotiation, and compromise to create governing majorities, the abortion controversy was bound to be problematic and unyielding.

Many scholars and citizens bemoan the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of our governmental process. It is often hard to prod government into action on critical issues. And once public policies are adopted, it is next to impossible to get government to rescind programs that benefit powerful interests, even when changing circumstances no longer justify those programs. Also, government policies occasionally run in opposite directions at once, providing price supports for tobacco, for example, and at the same time aiming to regulate smoking out of existence. Decisions made in one branch or level of government may be subverted or reversed elsewhere. It is difficult to fix responsibility anywhere because so many actors seem to have a piece of the action. Foot-dragging is all too often the prime rule for politicians. Sometimes it appears that the only actors capable of making decisions are judges. Yet federal judges are unelected and not directly accountable to the people. And even their decisions typically take years and are then reviewable in higher courts or subject to evasion and even reversal by the legislative and executive branches.

The tyranny of the status quo is evident in our political system. Yet . . .

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