News last month that the state of South Dakota had passed into law a comprehensive prohibition on elective abortion sent shock-waves of different kinds around the country. Pro-choice advocates leapt to defend their understanding of women's rights. Pro-lifers started to fight, embarrassingly publicly, over the wisdom of their friends in South Dakota. Supporters of the South Dakota move embraced those who have all along disliked the incremental strategy that has dominated pro-life politics, and others who think this is the strategic moment to keep up the pressure. Just why pro-life opponents of the South Dakota move chose to be so public in their criticism is hard to see. It may be good tactics to keep the other side wondering what we will do next; it is hardly sensible to tell them we are too busy fighting each other to worry about tactics at all.

Ironically, perhaps, the South Dakota move reminds us afresh of the problems that lie ahead. Should the Supreme Court choose at some time to overturn Roe v. Wade, a goal that has occupied vast political efforts for a whole generation, it will not usher in a golden age. It will merely return abortion politics to the place where it used to be, the legislature. The likely next step, as old laws are dusted off and new ones put in place, will be a patchwork of laws, with some states going the way of South Dakota, others writing something very like Roe into state law, and still others taking one of the middle ground positions that are common (for example) in continental Europe. It is hard to deny that this would be a much healthier situation for democracy. It could have dramatic effects on national politics, by downgrading the appeal (and disappeal) of the major parties' positions on abortion. ...

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Life Matters
Nigel M. de S. Cameron is now president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies. His "Life Matters" column, a commentary on bioethics issues, ran from 2005 to 2006.
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