In delivering the opinion of the court on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito states: “Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views.” On June 24th of 2022, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade.
On the topic of abortion, people divide themselves into three categories. The extremely conservative types believe, much like how scientists consider single cell organisms on Mars as “life,” that life begins at conception and thus the termination of the fertilized egg at any point after conception would be the equivalent of killing a living person. Opponents to this very pro-life view, who tend to be on the left side of the political aisle on social issues, argue that since conception only takes place in a woman’s body, the decision to carry through or terminate the pregnancy is entirely up to the woman, for regulating abortion in any way would be to violate a woman’s fundamental human right. The third group believes that abortion is ok only under certain circumstances – it should be noted that opinions on what constitute the proper circumstances for abortion vary largely.
In a report published by Pew Research Center on July 6th 2022, the month following the overturning of Roe, it was found that “a majority of Americans disapprove of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling overturning the Roe v. Wade decision, which had guaranteed a constitutional right to an abortion for nearly 50 years,” as 62% of Americans say that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. In the same report, a diagram highlights the disapproval ratings of women and liberals in the immediate aftermath of the court’s decision, with 47% of women and 82% of liberals strongly disagreeing with the overturning. The polarization on abortion continues. As of July of 2022, 84% of democrats believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, whereas only 38% of republicans believe the same.
Before sharing my view on the overturning of Roe, I’d like to discuss a similar topic to the discussion of the legality of abortion, namely, the legality of the death sentence. In 2021, the death penalty is legal in 24 states, illegal in the other 23 states, with the remaining 3 states having a governor-imposed moratorium on capital punishment – there is no federal mandate on the legality of the death sentence. The discussion of the legality of the death sentence is a direct parallel to the discussion of the legality of abortion – people divide themselves up into three groups. There are avid activists against the death penalty who say that killing of any kind is bad, even if it is punishment. On the other hand, there are those who firmly believe that some criminals do deserve to be executed as the proper punishment for their crimes. The remainder of the people believe that the death sentence is appropriate only under certain circumstances – just like abortion, opinions on what constitute the proper circumstances for assigning someone the death sentence vary.
Choose any topic, and people will have diverging opinions. So long as people differ in their values and beliefs, which we always will, the preferences of some will inevitably be overruled in a democratic system. That said, local statutes have to adhere to city statutes, city statutes have to adhere to state statutes, and state statutes have to adhere to federal laws. There is a hierarchy of values in law, with federal laws being at the top of the hierarchy and applicable to all who live in the United States regardless of the state and city one resides in.
The question boils down to this: should the legality of abortion be determined on a federal or state level? For liberals and those on the left, most of them want abortion to be handled at a federal level, as attested by the outcry in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe. For I believe that abortion is an issue that should be decided on a state to state basis, the overturning of Roe V. Wade has accomplished the rightful return of the jurisdiction on abortion back to the states – this decision is a pro-democratic ruling in returning the power back to the people through letting states decide freely on this issue.
To take another segment of Justice Alito’s deliverance, “at the time of Roe, 30 States still prohibited abortion at all stages. In the years prior to that decision, about a third of the States had liberalized their laws, but Roe abruptly ended that political process.” If the legality of the death sentence, the legal age of driving, the legality of owning certain firearms, and many other social policies are constantly debated and decided on a state level, why exactly should abortion be the exception to the rule? One could easily argue that both the legal age of driving and the legality of owning certain automatic firearms are topics of equal, or of more, significance in comparison to the discussion of the legality of abortion insofar as there are substantial consequences to gun policies and the different legal driving age by state. By urging the federal government to apply the same standard across the board on social issues instead of letting people in each state decide what is good for them, is this not the antithesis of democracy?
In hindsight, regardless of the morality of a social issue, returning the decision making power back to the states is a step forward towards promoting democratic processes in a more local and representative manner.