MANKATO — Forty years ago this week, the Supreme Court in its landmark Roe vs. Wade decision ruled that women nationwide have a right to have abortions.
The ruling was profoundly divisive then and remains so four decades later, with pro-choice and pro-life factions finding little common ground.
Poll after poll has shown no significant shifts on either side of the abortion issue, though anti-abortion activism has resulted in various state legislatures in the past two years passing more than 130 bills aimed at reducing access to abortions.
That said, a new Pew Research Center poll finds 63 percent of U.S. adults are opposed to overturning Roe vs. Wade, compared to 60 percent in 1992.
But within those figures lie shades of gray.
The latest Gallup poll on the topic show 52 percent of Americans saying abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, 25 percent wanting it legal in all cases, and 20 percent wanting it outlawed in all cases. These percentages are roughly the same breakdown as in the 1970s.
All of which begs the question: Will the high court’s decision stand indefinitely, or do those working against it have enough critical mass to overturn it someday?
Kyle Jaeger, for one, says he and other pro-life proponents see Roe falling by the wayside.
“In another 40 years I think it will be overturned,” said the development director of St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center in Mankato.
“I do believe there’s a very strong pro-life initiative growing on a national, state and Mankato level, and it’s growing very rapidly.”
But Katie Stack, a recent Minnesota State University graduate working at an Ohio abortion clinic, thinks otherwise.
“I don’t see Roe vs. Wade ever being overturned. Challenged, yes, but not overturned. For all the rhetoric thrown around, at the end of the day people in America want abortion to remain legal. They don’t like it, but they want it to remain legal. “
Since Roe vs. Wade about 55 million women have had abortions. In the post-Roe era it’s estimated that about one-third of adult women have had at least one in their lifetimes.
According to state data, since 1975 doctors in Minnesota have performed more than 560,000 abortions, though they’ve been on the decline over the past three decades.
Jaeger says Roe will be overturned because people are increasingly _“seeing the light” and changing their views.
“You see people going from pro-choice to pro-life, but never the other way around.”
Jaeger said in the 10 years he’s been involved in the pro-life movement he’s never seen anyone’s view from pro-life to pro-choice.
Stack takes issue with that.
“The anti-abortion side likes to publicize when people ‘change.’ But people who go from pro-life to pro-choice aren’t going to go around yelling about it.”
Stack, raised a Catholic, said her view on abortion used to be this: “I thought it should remain legal, but I would never have one.”
Then she became pregnant and had one. She says she did so for reasons relating to her own health.
Ultimately, the fate of Roe vs. Wade figures to rest with those in their 20s and 30s, whose lives post-date the era when abortion was illegal.
For them, according to polls, the abortion issue isn’t much of an issue to them at all. Jaeger sees that as a vital challenge to pro-life efforts.
“I think youths today are becoming more relativistic. They don’t get passionate about either side. (They think) there’s no right or wrong; you invent your own truth.”
Then how does one go about changing that outlook?
“You get in front of their face and teach them the basics of life,” Jaeger says.
This article contains information from the Associated Press