George Bush has been publicly praying for Roe vs. Wade to be overturned ever since he became the vice presidential nominee in 1980. Today, on the 19th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe decision stating that women have a constitutional right to certain abortions, the president may be worried that his prayers are about to be answered -- in the middle of his 1992 presidential re-election campaign.
The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to review a case from Pennsylvania which restricts but does not overturn the abortion-rights gained through Roe. The Supreme Court's order granting review appears to forecast only a limited decision this time, but you never know.
We say a strong anti-abortion decision could be unwelcome to the president because it would energize in the wrong direction some of the very elements of his political coalition that he will need most in November -- those youngish suburbanites who are moderate to conservative on all social and economic questions except abortion, which they support.
These voters are increasingly influential in Republican politics. For example, in the present Republican contest for the United States Senate nomination in conservative Georgia, the two leading candidates are both pro-choice. Nationwide, a poll last fall for NBC and the Wall Street Journal found voters more than twice as likely to oppose an anti-abortion candidate (65 percent) than to oppose an abortion-rights candidate (26 percent).
Politics aside, the Supreme Court's decision to hear the Pennsylvania case is dismaying because of what it says about this court's disdain for letting settled issues stay settled. This used to be important to conservatives. But the Pennsylvania laws in question, which require informed consent by the woman, her parents and her spouse, the publicizing of certain records and standards of care more expensive than medically indicated, were enacted after the Supreme Court ruled that very similar Pennsylvania laws were unconstitutional. That was less than six years ago.
Has legal or medical or philosophical thought changed drastically in so short a time? Such changes are usually the preconditions for Supreme Court reversals. The answer is "no." But the Supreme Court personnel has changed in this brief period. Three of the five justices who voted to overturn the Pennsylvania laws in June, 1986 -- Lewis Powell, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall -- have retired. They have been replaced by Ronald Reagan's William Kennedy and George Bush's David Souter and Clarence Thomas, all believed to be anti-Roe.
Justices who oppose Roe and want it overturned have been very open in inviting states such as Pennsylvania to keep re-writing harsh laws that were long thought to be unacceptable. Sooner or later, George Bush is going to get his prayers answered. Perhaps too soon.