It is no secret that Mitt Romney and his running-mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, are opponents of abortion rights. When Ryan was asked at last week's debate whether voters who support abortion rights should be worried if the Romney-Ryan ticket were elected, he essentially said yes.
They would depart slightly from the extremist Republican Party platform by allowing narrow exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the woman. Beyond that, they would move to take away a fundamental right that American women have had for nearly 40 years.
Romney has called for overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that recognized a woman's constitutional right to make her own childbearing decisions and to legalized abortion nationwide. He has said that the issue should be thrown back to state legislatures. The actual impact of that radical rights rollback is worth considering.
It would not take much to overturn the Roe decision. With four of the nine members of the Supreme Court over 70 years old, the next occupant of the White House could have the opportunity to appoint one or more new justices. If say, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the oldest member, retired and Romney named a replacement hostile to abortion rights, the basic right to abortion might well not survive.
The result would turn back the clock to the days before Roe v. Wade when abortion was legal only in some states but not in others. There is every indication that about half the states would make abortion illegal within a year of Roe's being struck down, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenges abortion restrictions around the country, puts the number at 30 states. For one thing, abortion bans already on the books in some states would suddenly kick in. And some Republican-controlled state legislatures would outlaw abortion immediately.
Even with Roe and subsequent decisions upholding abortion rights, more than half the states have enacted barriers like mandatory waiting periods; "counseling" sessions lacking a real medical justification; parental consent or notification laws; and onerous clinic "safety" rules intended to drive clinics out of business.
Romney is a vocal supporter of this continuing drive in the states and in Congress to limit the constitutional right, even without overturning Roe. To a large degree, the anti-abortion forces have succeeded. In 1982, there were about 2,900 providers nationwide; as of 2008, there were fewer than 1,800. In 97 percent of the counties that are outside metropolitan areas, there are no abortion providers at all.
We do not need to guess about the brutal consequences of overturning Roe. We know from our own country's pre-Roe history and from the experience around the world. Women desperate to end a pregnancy would find a way to do so. Well-to-do women living in places where abortion is illegal would travel to other states where it is legal to obtain the procedure. Women lacking the resources would be forced by the government and politicians to go through with an unwanted or risky pregnancy, attempt to self-abort or turn to an illegal -- and potentially unsafe -- provider for help. Women's health, privacy and equality would suffer. Some women would die.
Romney knows this, or at least he used to. Running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 1994 against Edward Kennedy, Romney spoke of a young woman, a close relative, who died years before as result of complications from an illegal abortion to underscore his now-extinct support for Roe v. Wade.
In a report in Salon last year, Justin Elliott, a reporter for ProPublica, found that when the young woman passed away, her parents requested that donations be made in her honor to Planned Parenthood. That's the same invaluable family-planning group that Romney has pledged to defund once in the White House.