“When Roe Falls…”: The 2006 LLDF Banquet

Anthony Wynne

LLDF held its thirteenth Annual Banquet on November 18, 2006. The venue was the elegant and historic Bellevue Club in Oakland overlooking the moonlit waters of Lake Merritt. Built as an exclusive private city club for women in 1926, the Bellevue Club maintains the look and feel of that era.

LLDF President John Streett welcomed the guests and served as master of ceremonies with his usual grace and wit. Following an invocation by Rev. Lawrence Goode and a pledge of allegiance to the flag led by Col. Ronald Maxson, a live (and lively) auction commenced. Auctioneer — and LLDF attorney — Bruce Miroglio’s humor and persistence brought LLDF top dollar for the donated auction items, which included vacation getaways, rare wines and even a pro golf lesson.

The featured speaker of the evening was Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at National Review magazine and author of The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts and the Disregard for Human Life. Comparing Roe v. Wade to a “crumbling castle”, Mr. Ponnuru discussed its defenses and, more importantly, its weaknesses. While clearly a partisan, he nevertheless presented a dispassionate and rational analysis of an issue about which it is easy to become passionate, in part because so many on the pro-abortion side seem to be impervious to reason.

Crediting Notre Dame Law School Professor Gerard V. Bradley with first using the castle analogy, Mr. Ponnuru pointed out that Roe continues to stand because it enjoys both legal and political fortifications. But those fortifications are weak, said Mr. Ponnuru, and “each covers the weaknesses of the other.” Roe’s status as law is shaky. Wrongly decided to begin with, and considered even by abortion proponents to be bad constitutional law, it must make up what it lacks in intellectual honesty by an appeal to its status as judicial precedent. Roe’s political strength, said Mr. Ponnuru, lies in the polls (i.e., public opinion). Mr. Ponnuru gave a comprehensive summary of polling data in this country on abortion in general and on Roe in particular. NARAL and its allies have succeeded in establishing a conventional wisdom that there is a “pro-choice majority” in this country. “But that pro-choice majority,” asserted Mr. Ponnuru, “is based on a highly selective reading of the polls.” In fact, “[i]t is undeniable that the public supports a legal regime that is more protective of life than we have now… The abortion lobby has good reason to keep the issue in the courts: It never could count on the public being in its corner.”

One indication of the progress the pro-life movement has made is the fact that politicians, as well as the abortion lobby itself, have distanced themselves from the word. In 2003, the leading pro-abortion group actually took the word out of its official name, “NARAL Pro-Choice America”. “Abortion” observed Mr. Ponnuru wryly, “is the right that dare not speak its name.”

Mr. Ponnuru called attention to a shift in emphasis from efforts at sweeping change (i.e., the Human Life Amendment) to a more incrementalist approach, beginning with the campaign against partial birth abortion. Acknowledging the controversial nature of the incremental strategy among pro-lifers, Mr. Ponnuru observed that it has nevertheless proven successful. Victories in state legislatures have driven down the number of abortions, and more voters are identifying themselves as “pro-life”.

So what would happen if Roe were overturned? Many people would find it unsettling, and nominally pro-life politicians would panic and possibly flip their positions, having lost the cover that Roe has provided them. Given the split in Congress on the issue, not to mention its desire to avoid the issue altogether, any attempts at compromise on the federal level would probably end in a stalemate. Much of the debate over abortion would shift from Washington, D.C. and the Supreme Court to the state legislatures.

Mr. Ponnuru put it succinctly: “The end of Roe would not hand pro-lifers victory in all the political debates over abortion policy. It would give them the right to have those debates in the first place.”

Again, Mr. Ponnuru emphasized, we would have no place to go but up: “It is inconceivable that Americans will support unrestricted abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy from sea to shining sea. There is a reason that pro-choicers have invested so heavily in keeping this issue in the courtroom. Outside it, they can only lose ground.”

Mr. Ponnuru gave the banquet guests a vision of what the new political and cultural landscape in this country might be when Roe v. Wade is finally overturned—not to mention reason to trust that the day when Roe falls is indeed coming.