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February 18, 2005

Why Public Opinion Matters more than the Courts

To return to the debate on how court decisions like Roe v. Wade undermine progressive politics, I do want to emphasize that I think the damage of "backlash" - mobilizing rightwing opponents - is far less than the damage of demobilizing advocates. What is astonishing in American history is that the outpouring of feminist organizing in the late 60s and early 70s accomplished a revolution in thinking about abortion.

Contemplate this statistic: in 1968, a Gallup poll found that only 15% of Americans favored liberalizing abortion laws. By 1972, 64% favored doing so.

It's hard for me to think of any area of public opinion where such a radical shift was accomplished in such a short time. And it was due to the mass organizing and agitation of abortion advocates. What worries me most is that the existence of Roe makes abortion advocates complaisant, even as the religious right are out there propagandizing to the population. I have a similar concern on issues of secularism, which is why I oppose the court decisions protecting teaching evolution in the schools. I think we need the discipline of having to fight these battles out in the legislatures to keep fighting to change public opinion. Winning on policy isn't enough; winning "hearts and minds" is far more important in the long term.

Posted by Nathan at February 18, 2005 08:57 AM