When Will Liberals Figure Out What’s in Roe v. Wade?

Liberals have been shooting themselves in the foot over the abortion issue for years, in part because they remain woefully ignorant of what Roe v. Wade actually established. And now they’re doing it again.

In 1997 Elana Kagan, then a White House adviser, wrote a memo to President Clinton supporting a bill introduced by Sen. Tom Daschle that would have banned all abortions of viable fetuses except when the physical health of the mother was at risk. The memo has come to light, and some lefties are going ballistic about it.

But the truth is that by 1997 elective post-viability abortions already were illegal in most states, and this was not in violation of Roe v. Wade as long as an exception was made for the life and health of the mother.

This gesture on Kagan’s part was not made in a vacuum. In 1997 the Republican Congress was working overtime to pass a bill that banned the intact D&E procedure, or what the Fetus People misnamed “partial-birth abortion.” In their propaganda the FPs were conflating the D&E with “late term” abortions, even though it was mostly a second-trimester procedure.

Some Dems and a few pro-choice Republicans were talking about a simple ban on all elective post-viability abortions, regardless of the procedure used, as a kind of controlled burn to reduce the chance that a federal “partial-birth” law might pass in the future. You know, the way one was passed in 2003 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007.


I am sad to say that many of my fellow liberals are too stupid to understand that being in favor of such a ban in 1997 — or now, for that matter — doesn’t mean one is anti-choice. It means one is thinking strategically. I agree with Jeff Fecke — “when we look at what Kagan actually said in her memo to Clinton, we see someone who was proposing something less than a ban on late-term abortion. Indeed, we see someone who was trying to preserve as many rights for women as possible.”

I thought the ban was a good idea at the time, for the simple reason that it would have deflated many of the FP’s misleading talking points and left intact D&E alone. In fact, I’ve thought since the 1970s that NARAL and NOW and other organizations were idiots for not pushing for a federal law that restated and reinforced what the Roe v. Wade decision established.

Instead, many pro-reproduction rights advocates took the remarkable position that they supported Roe, and supported state laws that followed the Roe guidelines, but a federal law that supported the Roe guidelines was unthinkable. And I don’t think this was because they were closet libertarians.

Yes, Roe established that states may not ban all abortions. However, Roe allows the states to ban some abortions. Specifically, states may ban elective abortions after 23 weeks’ gestation, or the point at which the fetus might be viable. A full-term pregnancy lasts for 38 weeks.

So, since 1973 states have been able to enact bans on abortions in the last 14 weeks of pregnancy, as long as exceptions are made for the life and health of the mother. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 38 states have such a ban in place.

And I understand that physicians won’t perform a third trimester abortion unless there is a medical reason to do so even where it is not specifically illegal. Because terminating a pregnancy becomes much more medically complicated later in the pregnancy, as a practical matter women who are terminating for non-medical reasons should terminate as early as possible. And, in fact, 88 percent of abortions in the U.S. are performed in the first 12 weeks of gestation. Only 8% of all abortion providers in the U.S. offer abortions at 24 weeks.

I understand the one thing the Daschle ban would have changed is to place more restrictions on post-viability abortions done for mental health reasons as opposed to physical health reasons. I explained a couple of years ago that this was not necessarily a problem, as long as the legislation made clear that a pregnancy could be terminated if the fetus was severely compromised and would not long survive after birth.

And I’m going to keep explaining this as long as there’s anyone out there who is confused. Which is pretty much everybody.

12 thoughts on “When Will Liberals Figure Out What’s in Roe v. Wade?

  1. Very much appreciated.

    I’ve gotten the impression for a long time that there is actually a much broader consensus in the U.S. about where abortion should stand than its hot-button status would indicate. The vast majority of “pro-lifers” get squeamish when the radicals start pushing for a complete ban and the vast majority of “pro-choicers” get more uncomfortable with abortions the closer you get to term.

    I’d love to see an end to the sabre-rattling like the Oklahoma laws that were passed a few weeks back and a recognition that most people more or less support the status quo, but I’m not sure what it would take to do that.

  2. As a dude I stay out of this debate, none of my buisness. But this post is why I read the mahablog, you got your shit together. Well done!

  3. Thanks, maha, I learned something. As usual.
    To go back a month or more, when I posted about the ‘good old days,’ when I used to be able to talk about issues with friends of mine on the right and left, I realize that things have changed in the last 15 years even more than I thought.
    Today, I wouldn’t HAVE friends on both left an right. I really don’t have them now.
    We all tend to side one way or the other, with, maybe a few exceptions – but, I’ll be damned if I can name one.
    Everything, and almost everybody, is black and white. Right or left (too often viewed as wrong – but, there I go again).
    Why does it have to be absolute absitence? No contraceptions? No sex-ed? NO abortion, under ANY circumstances?
    It’s all control. And, you know, our side is a bit guilty in this, too.
    Abortion, like damn near EVERYTHING else (Jeez, even torture), is a wedge issue. I do shit to fire up my base, which fires up your base.
    I’m curious to hear from anyone when it was that this happened? Maybe I’m living in some alternate universe, but I really DO remember having discussions, give and take, about important issues. When did that change. THere was always an element of intolerance, but, back in the day, Bircher’s were generally thought of as the wierd Aunt or Uncle in the attic, not someone to be put on the stage.
    Was it Goldwater? Carter? Nixon? Reagan (I doubt it)? Clarence Thomas? Clinton?
    Can anyone help me to see where the great schism was?
    I miss talking to people I disagreed with. Now, there’s no talking, it’s a contest for the first one to scream the loudest.
    Juss’ wonderin’…

  4. Agree with what uncledad says, thank you Maha for the post. Well, thank you for all that you post would be a better thing to write to you I suppose, but you know we all drop by here because your posts are intelligent.

  5. One last point about abortion. I think I wrote about this a few years ago.
    I remember that shortly after Roe v. Wade passed, my father, from the Ukraine, and with generations of Cossack and farmer blood, asked me what I would do if I had lived back in the old country.
    What, he asked me, would I do, back in the day, if I already had very young children and was told that my there was a huge problem with my wifes pregnancy, that I would have to choose between her and the child. What, he asked, would you do?
    Me, being no great fan of abortion, even in my early teens (and I’m still not. Though I will fight for the absolute and total right for it being a womans choice, and the mans obligation to either help pay for the abortion or the support of the child – the ‘it-takes-two-to-tango’ theory), didn’t know what to say.
    I thought about this for some time. Finally, I said, well, the child has never lived and my wife has, so, as much as I loved my wife, I’d chose the child.
    Fine, he said. But, who, when it’s time to sow the crops and collected them, or a war for, or against the Tzar, would feed and take care all of the children? You won’t have time. Who would dress them? Who would feed them? Educate them?
    He said that my choice, though from the heart, may not have been the smart choice given the times. He said that, even when the fetus or child died, and if your wife can’t have others, you still have your existing children. But, you would limit your existing childrens abillity to survive or thrive, if you had to stay home and try to do something which you were not raised to do, and didn’t have the skills to do well. And, who would want to marry a man who couldn’t go to battle, or who’s farm is failing because he spends too much time trying to care for his children instead of the crops that can earn him and his family their living?
    My point is that there are gray areas. People have had to think about abortion since they knew it wasn’t stork’s who brought the kids, or that they weren’t raised in cabbage patch’s. People, throughout time have had to discuss issues. There were always blowhards in our village, but usually you knew them personally. You could say, “Well, listen, Uncle Glenn and Aunt Ann aren’t all there.” And people would know, because they knew them. But now, different mediums put on “experts,” or people who have been hand picked to give their point of view in order to change ours. Sure we knew the old Glenn and Ann (I cant think of a liberal version, maybe because there really isn’t one. Our people, or so it seems to me, deal more in facts, rather than feelings. But, maybe I’m showing my prejudice), but the new ones, we’ve never met, unless they’re signing their book for us at $X a throw. But, they’re experts. Why? Because we’ve been told they are, and we’re willing to suspend disbelief , no matter what crap comes from their mouths.How could they lie? They’re experts with numbers. Why would they lie? (What possible motivation coud they have? cough.. cough…).
    We no longer even bother to talk about issues. Elena Kagan is a perfect example. So is the most recent terrorist suspect, over whom we all had a flame war from Saturday until Sunday with Americaneocon, from whom we no longer hear. We, and I’m as guilty of this as anybody, can’t listen because we’re too busy screaming. Yeah, a lot ot time THEY don’t listen; Hell, a lot of times WE don’t either. Look at the debate over Kagan just on the left, never mind the right.
    I’m sorry, I know I sound like some blogger Broder, but, we really all do need to take a fucking Valium, or smoke a joint, or do something.
    I suggest another blogger panel 🙂
    Oh well. I’ll see you at my next rant against the right.

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  7. Hi Gulag – Darn straight I agree with you. I think communication on the Internet is great, but the fact we are all so anonymous can drive us all to make points we wouldn’t in face to face encounters. I was just talking about how difficult it is to meet people outside of this internet universe with someone the other day. Imagine being a youngish single man (I don’t have to…) trying to talk to a youngish single woman, how long do you have before the woman checks her electronic gadget and subtly tells you to go away? 60 seconds? I’ve found this to be a little sad recently…

    In regards to the actual post: As the others said, men should develop opinions about this when they get pregnant! What’s more, people’s opinions on abortion never seem to change, therefore I find it disturbing that our political process is stalled by issues like this that people’s opinions will never change. If a person is convinced that having an abortion is murder than you or I are probably not going to have a reasoned conversation with them and make them see our point of view! They think its murder! (think the shining – REDRUM….).

    Thanks for letting me have a venue for my idiotic ideas…

  8. cundgulag – I sense an inordinate, inordinate because almost phobic, amount of fear out here. Remembering FDR’s words that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, we would do well to recognize that we are not heeding his advice.

    It’s been accepted that the processing of all things political occurs in the emotional, non-rational side of our brain. Fear, an emotion, seems to have become the determiner of how we process, or don’t process, all matters political these days.

    In talking to conservative friends on issues political, any possible conversing about political, or even social or economic issues no longer happens. My gut tells me that even ‘going’ there for my conservative friends causes upset, even anguish in some cases.

    As an aside and strictly conjectural thought, it has always seemed to me that conservatives find comfort in things being nailed down, predictable, unchanging, everlasting whereas liberals find comfort in their opposites. (As an example, creative types are generally politically and socially liberal because of course to exercise one’s creativity, one has to venture outside the so-called box into the freedom of the no-box.)

  9. felicity,
    I love to act, so I agree with your assessment of conservative v. liberal.

    As for the “… inordinate, inordinate because almost phobic, amount of fear out here,” well, the currency of the land here for years has been fear.
    FDR is long forgotten. Our new hero’s are the moral cowards who ratchet up the fear – see Joe McCarthy, George W., Dick, Rudy, etc. What we perceive as a yellow streak has proven to be pure gold in the voting booth.

  10. I went over to a friend of mines house, and every body was sitting out in the garage, when this guy iknow asked me what i thought about abortion. I told him that i did nt think iwas going to get one. Well everyone got a kick out of that. Then my friend says jack you cant get an abortion you old fool their for women. My point exactly, it aint none of my business, i says, and besides i thought the supreme court settled that years ago, besides i dont have the right to tell agroan person what they can do with their bodies be they man or woman.

  11. But, notice that all the anti-abortion Presidents once in office don’t do anything about it. The right doesn’t want the issue to go away. If it did, it probably lose half of its base.

  12. Thanks for the reality check. I’m old enough to remember when contraception became legal in CT, but had lost sight of the original Roe v Wade decision. It has become such a totem over the years that people read whatever they want into it.

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