Through most of the 1990s and until recently, the Supreme Court had a solid 6-3 majority in favor of upholding the right of a woman to choose abortion. But the margin has shrunk to one, now that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is retired and has been replaced by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. And Justice John Paul Stevens, a leader of the narrow majority for abortion rights, is 88.In fact, John McCain has said that he expects to have three seats on the Supreme Court to fill during his Presidency — and "Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned." But despite the fact that 54 percent of Americans think abortion should remain legal, it's not the biggest issue in the election and neither candidate tends to talk about it a lot on the campaign trail. Which is not to say that there hasn't been incremental change, or that there won't continue to be incremental changes. As a former clerk to Clarence Thomas and right-wing judicial activist Wendy Long points out, "I think the consensus is Roe will fall slowly and incrementally, not in one decision." They expect to win, and given that their strategy has been a long-term one (instead of a Chicken Little "the sky is falling" one), they have a decent chance of doing so. In favor of the pro-choice movement, though, the Supreme Court can't just wake up next January and decide to overturn the decision; it has to have a case by which to do it. That's why you see the anti-abortion movement pursuing late term abortion bans in some states, and fetal recognition referendums in states like Colorado and complete bans in states like South Dakota (both of those are on the ballot this year). They're looking to get a case before the Supreme Court right about the time they have a majority in the Court that is skeptical of Roe in the first place. And, true, in most states, abortion would not be immediately illegal — if by "most," you mean "30." Four states have trigger laws that will make abortion illegal when Roe is overturned, another 12 have never actually changed their abortion laws since Roe, and four allow abortion only to the "extent permissable" by the Supreme Court's decisions. By comparison, only 7 have law which protects the right of women in those states to have abortions regardless of the decisions of the Supreme Court. So, thy sky might not have fallen yet and the pro-choice movement has been ginning people up to give money and get active for years claiming that it's imminent, and the ability to have a safe and legal abortion might not end the day McCain gives his inaugural speech. But, he is set on making sure that the conservatives on the Supreme Court have the tools (i.e., conservative justices) they need to further erode women's rights, and sometimes the law is much more about luck and timing than it is about the law... or even what's right. This Time, Roe v. Wade Really Could Hang In The Balance [LA Times] Is McCain the Nostradamus of the Supreme Court? [CBS News] Abortion Policy in the Absence of Roe [Guttmacher Institute]
The lesson of the tale of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" is clear: if you cause people to unduly worry too soon, by the time they should be scared, they won't be. And, as the LA Times points out, now's the time we ought to be a leetle worried about Roe v. Wade, but since the pro-choice movement has been sounding the alarm for so long, people are sort of tuning it out. And they probably ought not to be.