Challenging Roe’s Legacy

by Carl A. Anderson
Restricting abortion is the right thing to do, and most Americans support it.

As we mark the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we see that the American people are increasingly uncomfortable with abortion, and those who would protect Roe’s legacy of abortion on demand are increasingly losing support — even with their base.

Today, more than eight in ten Americans want significant restrictions on abortion. So do almost six in ten of those who identify as “strongly pro-choice,” according to a new Knights of Columbus/Marist poll.

In the four decades since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, conventional wisdom in the media and among many lawmakers and judges has usually declared the matter settled, with nearly unrestricted abortion sacrosanct.

Now the American people themselves are challenging that viewpoint. Four decades of legality hasn’t brought widespread support for abortion. Instead, Americans want restrictions.

There are undoubtedly many reasons for this, and first among these would be America’s conscience. No amount of salesmanship has been able to convince the majority that the taking of innocent human life is just. And so today, 62 percent of Americans believe that abortion is morally wrong.

There’s a second reason, hinted at by the polling. Almost six in ten (57 percent) say that abortion does a woman more harm than good in the long run. Why? Because nearly one in three women has had an abortion, if the statistics from the Guttmacher Institute are accurate. Sadly, in today’s America, almost everyone knows someone who has had an abortion. They have seen the consequences in a very personal and real way.

And contrary to the message of the abortion industry’s marketing, many women deeply regret their abortions, as is highlighted by the exponential growth of organizations such as Project Rachel, which helps women cope with the grief caused by their abortions.

The polling also reveals a third reason for Americans’ strong desire for abortion restrictions. Most Americans (53 percent) say life begins at conception. And science and technology have reinforced this. Knowledge that an unborn child has his or her own DNA, and increasing access to high-resolution ultrasound images of children in utero, which allow mothers to see their unborn children, are undoubtedly shaping this viewpoint.

Every year since 2008, our Knights of Columbus/Marist poll has found that while Americans are divided on whether they identify as “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” about eight in ten (this year 84 percent) think abortion should be significantly limited: allowed, at most, during the first three months of pregnancy or in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Three-quarters (74 percent) would restrict abortion after 20 weeks or five months except to save the life of the mother. And a solid majority of all Americans (57 percent) would limit abortion to — at most — cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

The political and judicial orthodoxy that for years has protected abortion from almost any restriction doesn’t have the support of the vast majority of Americans, nor does it have the support of a majority of those who think of themselves as “strongly pro-choice.”

Rather than holding onto the belief that restrictions on abortion are largely impossible — legally and practically — our lawmakers at the national and state levels should restart the country’s debate on abortion from the points of consensus among the American people. They should take the first step in doing this by proposing and passing broadly supported restrictions on abortion.

Our courts should be unafraid to allow such restrictions, given the poor legal reasoning of Roe, which has been criticized for various reasons on both sides of the aisle.

Not only would taking significant legislative action to restrict abortion be the right thing to do morally, but such restrictions could be created with the support of the vast majority of Americans — including abortion’s strongest supporters.

There is simply no reason — moral or political — not to take such action.

— Carl Anderson is supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus and a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book is Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street and the Media. Poll results are available at