What does Roberts really think about abortion?

The guessing game continues, while commentators envision a U.S. without constitutional abortion rights.

Published July 27, 2005 4:16PM (EDT)

Most Americans would like to know what the Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' position on abortion actually is, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University. After all, we all already know what his wife thinks about it.

But, for now, the tea-leaf reading continues. Tuesday, abortion-rights advocates interpreted some remarks by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez as indicative of Roberts' real position on abortion. And they didn't like what they heard. But Republicans brushed those comments off as a mere civics lesson about how the American court system works.

Meanwhile, commentators are weighing in with their predictions about what a Roe-less U.S. might look like. Cartoonist and commentator Ted Rall writes: "Now is a superb time to get that abortion you've been putting off." (In these fractious times, War Room admires a guy who can make a joke about abortion that's actually funny.) "The world won't end with Roe," Rall prognosticates. "Female residents of the blue states and those with carfare will be able to terminate their pregnancies long after the realization of the Bush Right's babes-behind-burqas 'Handmaid's Tale'-style fantasy world. And in the red states? Sympathetic doctors with burdensome mortgages will provide discreet coathanger-free procedures for rich teenagers unable to work a condom-vending machine."

But a piece in USA Today by Laura Vanderkam suggests that without Roe the U.S. won't really be that much different than it is now. Her argument: the states most likely to actually outlaw abortion, already have remarkably few abortion providers: "In Mississippi, Kentucky and the Dakotas, 98% of counties have no abortion providers; in Missouri and Nebraska, 97% lack them. In these Roe-unfriendly states, women already have to travel hours to obtain abortions; in a post-Roe world of crossing state lines, that story wouldn't change," she writes. Oh, great. So, losing Roe won't matter, because in the most conservative places the anti-choice forces have already effectively won.

Not so fast. The Nation's Katha Pollitt, in a piece reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle, takes a dimmer view of a Roe-free future: "It would be a repeat of 1970-73, when women who could get to New York -- but only they -- could have a safe, legal version of the operation that was killing and maiming their poorer sisters back home. The blatant class and racial unfairness of this disparity, in fact, was one of the arguments that pushed the court to declare abortion a constitutional right. If Roe goes, that same disparity will reappear, relabeled as local democracy."

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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