Cultural Revolutions

Back in the News

Partial-birth abortion is back in the news, and for the first time, there appears to be some hope for the pro-life side. Of all the extraordinary things that the United States Supreme Court has done in the past few decades, none matches its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. Justice Blackmun's majority opinion articulated a rule pulled, if not from one of his bodily orifices, then out of thin air. The states could not prohibit abortions during the first trimester of a pregnancy; they could regulate them to preserve the health of the mother during the second trimester; and they could regulate and even prohibit them during the third trimester, in order to protect the fetus's interest in its "potential life."

The arbitrariness of Roe, which no constitutional scholar could plausibly defend, put the "right to abortion" in some jeopardy. During the late 80's and early 90's, the Supreme Court appeared to be edging toward admitting its mistake and overruling the case. Then, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), a decision which rivals Roe for sheer judicial audacity, the Court, in an unsigned plurality opinion (in which Justices Souter, Kennedy, and O'Connor joined, none having the courage to claim it as his or her own), abandoned Roe's trimester standard, though not the "right to abortion." The Casey plurality declared...

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