The Poisonous Legacy of Roe v. Wade

Barb Wire

Last month, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36) passed in the US House of Representative by a vote of 242-184. This bill would prohibit anyone from performing an abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases where the life of the pregnant woman is in danger or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Individuals who violate the act can be subject to fines and up to five years imprisonment. However, the bill bars the possibility of prosecuting the woman upon whom the abortion is performed.

The bill was recently introduced in the Senate where it will most likely die in a filibuster. This is completely absurd since it is a very modest piece of legislation.

In order to appreciate how moderate this bill it is, it is necessary to understand how extreme America’s abortion laws are. The anomaly of our nation’s current abortion laws becomes clear once we contrast them with the laws of other countries or examine their discrepancy with public opinion.

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Though it may come as a surprise to some, America’s abortion laws are actually among the most permissive in the world. Only a small handful of other countries have more liberal abortion laws, including China, North Korea, and Canada.

The vast majority of abortions performed in the US are elective, meaning they are done without strict medical justification. Elective abortion is sometimes referred to as abortion on-demand and it remains the main source of controversy surrounding this issue.

This situation is the result of the fact that these laws were not determined through the legislative process but were imposed on the nation through judicial fiat.

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion, established that the procedure can be performed for health reasons right up until birth. However, it also established that elective abortions could be banned only after the point of “viability.”

Viability refers to the point of development at which the child can survive outside the uterus. It has no precise legal or medical definition but it has typically been understood to mean 24 weeks of pregnancy, though recent medical improvements have expanded this window.

Hence, while abortion laws vary slightly state by state, there is no national ban on elective abortions prior to 24 weeks. The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would change that by reducing it to 20 weeks.

Now let’s compare this with Europe, where a total of sixteen countries outlaw elective abortion after 12 weeks gestation. These include the nations of France, Austria, Denmark and Italy.

Germany bans abortion at 12 weeks and requires women to undergo counseling in which they must be informed that the unborn have a right to life. Sweden, one of the most liberal nations on earth, bans elective abortion after 18 weeks.

In Ireland, abortion is completely illegal except where medically necessary. Only the United Kingdom and Finland allow elective abortion up to 24 weeks.

These European restrictions put the proposed 20-week ban in perspective. They also reflect what abortion in America would look like if our laws accurately represented public opinion.

A 2013 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 56 percent of Americans prefer restrictions on abortion after 20 weeks. An additional 10 percent volunteered that they preferred a smaller window or abortion banned entirely, and only 27 percent of respondents favored the status-quo.

This means roughly two-thirds would support the proposed law.

Meanwhile, a Quinnipiac poll showed 55 percent in favor of the 20-week ban, while another 7 percent volunteered that abortion should always be illegal. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll found 59 percent wanted the 20-week ban. And a 2015 Marist poll showed that 84 percent of Americans believe abortion should be restricted to the first five months of pregnancy.

Furthermore, women are more likely than men to favor restrictions after 20 weeks. In the Washington Post/ABC poll, women were 7 points more likely to support the 20-week ban. The Quinnipiac poll showed 60 percent of women preferred capping abortion at 20 weeks, and only 25 percent of women were opposed to that restriction.

But a Democrat-led filibuster will probably prevent the Child Protection Act from becoming law. This is because left-wing special-interest groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL are committed to an absolutist position of abortion on-demand right up until birth.

These groups promote the radical philosophy of modern liberalism, which is the belief that liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence.

Senate Democrats will justify their opposition through scare-mongering and self-righteous political theater. They will accuse Republicans of waging a “war on women” even though this bill would make the law more closely align with public opinion and with the laws of other civilized nations.

Ironically, this will serve the Republicans just fine because then they can use the defeat of the bill as a rallying cry with pro-life voters in the next election.

Such political paralysis is the inevitable legacy of judicial activism. When the court started reading the Constitution as a “living document” forty years ago they did lasting damage to the foundation of our republic.

If the court continues down this path and decides to impose homosexual marriage on the whole country the consequences will be chilling—and irreversible. The only solution left for us will be some form of citizen resistance.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Christopher Ziegler
Christopher Ziegler is a poet and writer from Princeton, New Jersey. He studied philosophy at the University of Scranton and Blackfriars, Oxford. A recovering liberal, he contributes frequently to the blog Christ's Faithful Witness (

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