Rehnquist's triumph

May 28, 1991

The Supreme Court's abortion decision rendered last Thursday is widely viewed as a setback for the right of women to safely terminate unwanted pregnancies, and, in a limited sense, that's true. For a time, no doubt, poor women in particular will be denied their constitutional right to obtain an abortion, and that is tragic.

But we stress "for a time," because we are confident that this heartless decision will once more energize the nation to compel Congress to override the Supreme Court decision and the anticipated veto by President Bush as well.

What cannot be remedied so easily, however, is the profound change that this decision signifies. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the abortion decision is a watershed event which signals the triumph of the Rehnquist Court.

It almost defies belief that the Supreme Court would uphold the power of a government bureaucrat, purporting to act on the authority of the president, to tell a doctor what kind of medical advice to give to a patient. Not for medical reasons, mind you, but for political, religious and ideological reasons. Yet that is precisely what the Supreme Court has done.

Those who see this only as a victory for the anti-abortion movement are shortsighted indeed. Mark it well, this vast enlargement of presidential power can be applied in limitless ways by future presidents in areas that have nothing to do with abortion. If one president today can tell doctors they must advise women not to seek abortions, couldn't another president tomorrow order doctors to advise women that they should seek abortions?

As far as the immediate controversy is concerned, we should not be surprised if many doctors, outraged over this judicially sanctioned throttling of their right to practice medicine as their professional judgment dictates, will simply defy the regulations. xTC This would in the most forceful way exert the requisite political pressure on Congress to nullify both the regulations and the decision which upheld them.

What will be immeasurably more difficult, however, will be action to remedy the incalculable damage that Chief Justice William Rehnquist and his Reagan-Bush colleagues are doing to the mechanism of justice in the United States. It should now be clear beyond question that Rehnquist, while posing as a conservative, is in fact pursuing one of the most activist agendas of any chief justice in history, and that agenda is to change the character of the United States Supreme Court from the branch of government which protects the politically powerless into an institution which simply dutifully enlarges the capacity of the powerful to run roughshod over the weak and defenseless.

The abortion decision will prove to be only a temporary setback in the right of women to obtain abortions; but the setback for justice in America will be much harder to overcome.

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