This week’s issue of Time says that Roe v. Wade hobbled the pro-abortion movement. It’s a point that will be familiar to readers of our January issue, in which Jon Shields makes a similar argument:
Roe v. Wade did far more than create a constitutional right to abortion—it crippled the pro-choice and energized the pro-life movement, creating one of the largest campaigns of moral suasion in American history. Even while nationalizing abortion politics, the Supreme Court’s decision also localized and personalized the issue by pushing it almost entirely out of legislatures, giving an unexpected opening to the pro-life movement to affect the culture, and in turn the wider political debate, in ways no one expected.
Before Roe, the pro-choice movement was truly a movement: It organized letter-writing campaigns, subverted restrictive abortion laws through underground networks of clergy and doctors, and eagerly sought opportunities to debate pro-life advocates. After Roe, obviated by its near-total victory, the movement almost collapsed. It has never fully recovered its former strength and energy.
Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who famously argued Roe itself, confessed that she “missed the energy of our pre-Roe crusade.” After Roe, “our energy and contributions sagged and we seemed only to plod forward. . . . When we talked about the importance of organizing and pro-choice voting, people tended to think, ‘Now, really, I’m so busy. And after all, Roe versus Wade decided the matter.’”