Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade in 1973, the abortion philosophy has sunk deeply into the American psyche. A generation of young American women has known abortion only as a legal right, not as a crime or desperate act. The task of restoring the sanctity of all life, fetal included, may seem impossible.
We should understand, however, that even with the appointment of antiabortion justices, Roe is not likely to be reversed overnight. To avoid illusions, and thus encourage true and realistic hope, Christians who struggle to end abortion on demand need to know the answers to such questions as these:
- How, exactly, can the current legal situation be changed?
- What is involved in overturning a constitutional ruling?
- How long might it take?
- Is there a legal strategy that prolifers should keep in mind?
Possibilities for ending abortion on demand
When the Supreme Court makes a decision regarding constitutional law, it can be changed in only two ways: by a constitutional amendment, or by the Court reversing itself. Amending the Constitution is a lengthy and rarely used process. (Only 26 amendments have been added to the Constitution.) More frequently, the Court will change its mind in a later case or, gradually, in a number of cases.
In our 200 years of history, the Court has explicitly overruled its earlier constitutional interpretations more than 100 times, an average of once every two years. Although a few decisions have been reversed a year or two after the original case, the average "life" of a constitutional mistake has been calculated as 24 years. (See "Abandoning Error," by John T. Noonan, Jr., in Reversing Roe v. Wade.)
Reversal requires either that enough justices change their minds about the original ...