Roe and Public Opinion

The Washington Post published a poll this morning showing that a significant majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade and do not think the Supreme Court should overturn it. That says something about the intrinsic tensions of rights talk at the Court. If broad majorities support access to abortion, there is no reason for the Supreme Court to intervene. Those majorities would be reflected in legislation. The truth, of course, is more complicated: Public opinion varies notably by state.

More important, the stark choices the poll offers–which distill to whether abortion should be legal or illegal–do not pick up the nuances of whether Americans would support, for example, European-style regimes of restrictions that tighten as pregnancy proceeds. The holding in Roe prohibits the kinds of compromises that would likely resolve the issue to a reasonable degree of acceptance. That could go a long way toward freeing Americans who oppose abortion to vote based on a variety of other issues. When the Court freezes the public’s ability to resolve disagreements on intense issues, it encourages polarization.

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