If the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision declaring that a woman's constitutional liberty rights protect her from state interference with abortion decisions except in certain narrowly defined situations, then what?
In Maryland, probably nothing. The state legislature passed and the governor signed a law giving women the Roe rights by statute. This was done in anticipation of the Supreme Court's overturning Roe. The Maryland law has been petitioned to referendum this November. But public opinion polls and the overwhelming vote in the General Assembly strongly suggest the voters of Maryland will endorse the law, leaving it on the books.
In other states, different results will ensue. Already, Louisiana and Utah have put harsh new laws on the books. Abortions there have been made criminal acts (as they have on Guam). Roe prevents these laws from being enforced now. But without Roe, who knows how lower court judges would rule on such extreme laws? Who knows how the Supreme Court would ultimately rule on such laws?
Pro-choice and anti-choice leaders both say they foresee political gains if the Supreme Court overturns Roe. (It has been given the opportunity to do so in a Pennsylvania case that was argued Wednesday.) Why anti-choice advocates want Roe overturned is obvious. Pro-choice advocates in the Democratic Party argue that if the court throws the basic abortion right out -- and into the political arena -- this will generate a backlash against the Republican Party and its president.
It is true that polls show more voters are pro-choice than anti-choice, but that does not translate into partisan victory. More Republican voters are pro-choice than anti-choice. But that did not cause them to vote against Ronald Reagan and George Bush, both of whom have been outspokenly anti-abortion in recent years. President Bush got a slight majority of the women's vote in 1988, and President Reagan got a very healthy 56 percent in 1984.
Public preference for choice might lead to a national law similar to Maryland's. Congress seems ready to pass some sort of abortion-rights law if the court makes it necessary. The fact that anti-choice Rep. Beverly Byron was defeated in the Maryland Democratic primary by a pro-choice candidate was not lost on members of the House. Bills that would put Roe-like rights in the U.S. Code are pending in Congress. These have already generated a lot of heated debate.
The condition of confusion, bitterness, unfairness and unhappiness that would result from numerous different state laws in conflict with each other and with a national law, if there were one, is not a happy prospect to contemplate. The Supreme Court would be a lot wiser to just keep modifying Roe vs. Wade than overturning it.