After addressing a large secular assembly on issues of moral controversy, I turned and faced a woman who urgently wanted to ask me a question: “Why won’t the abortion issue just go away?”
I knew exactly what she was asking. I often meet abortion rights advocates who honestly thought that the national controversy over abortion would simply melt away within a few years of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973.
That was clearly the hope of the Supreme Court majority that signed onto the opinion written by Associate Justice Harry Blackmun. In a note he wrote to himself as he drafted the final opinion and looked to its aftermath, Blackmun revealed a rather optimistic assumption: “It will be an unsettled period for a while.”
Surely, he didn’t mean for that “while” to extend four decades.
Next Tuesday will mark the 40th anniversary of the decision, and the abortion question is anything but settled. Just look at the crowds gathering in Washington next week for the annual March for Life.
In fact, America has been unsettled ever since Roe. Abortion has become a central issue of political conflict, debate and division. If the court had hoped to calm the waters, it failed spectacularly.