What is the legacy of Roe v. Wade 40 years later? To someone who has grown up in a post-Roe world, with friends and family members on both sides of the abortion debate, it seems to me that in the last 40 years our nation has grown more sharply divided, more deeply distrustful, and farther than ever from really helping the two types of people that most of us—pro-life and pro-choice—are most concerned about: poor women and poor children.
Abortion has always been a divisive issue, and considering our country’s history, it’s no wonder that abortion has been particularly divisive here. The way I see it, the abortion issue was like an open wound on the body of America, but one that was mostly hidden from view. Roe v. Wade shined a bright light on that wound, but instead of coming together to do our best to fix the wound, we’ve spent the past 40 years scratching it raw, rubbing salt in it, and doing whatever we can to turn that wound into a festering, infected, smelly mess.
Why? Because we’ve focused on the one question that we can’t agree on—the question of when life begins—instead of focusing on the two values that we share: compassion for women and compassion for children. Sure, we legislate, adjudicate, advocate and protest the issue. But we don’t stop there. We use our disagreement on the “when does life begin” question as an excuse to criticize each other, demonize each other, and dehumanize each other.
The truth is that there are losers in this fight. I’m not talking about who might ultimately lose the Great Abortion Debate: the pro-choicers or the pro-lifers. I’m talking about the vulnerable women and children who are our neighbors and most need our help: the poor, the victims of violence, the uneducated. These women and children need the passion and activism that we pour so whole-heartedly (and vindictively) into the abortion debate. If we could work together to support these women and children instead of tearing each other down by endless battles over abortion legislation—one year the pendulum swinging this way, the next year swinging the next—we could accomplish much.
If you’re caught up in the rhetoric and surrounded by like-minded friends, you may not be able to see any common ground at first. But it’s there. We are all interested in improving prenatal health, in reducing domestic violence, and in providing support to poor children, for a start. In order to work together, we’ll need to get our knee-jerk distrust under control. We’ll need to stop name-calling. We’ll need to make friends with people who don’t agree with us. But by building these bridges, we can start to heal this wound, and help strengthen our nation. Wouldn’t it be great if that was the legacy of Roe?
Guest contributor Eileen Youens teaches and advises local governments and government contractors about public contracting, public construction, and conflicts of interest. She also puts her litigation training to good use in negotiating with her two-year-old daughter. Eileen tweets at @eyouens and blogs at youensconsulting.com.