Editorials

Abortion is the wrong test for the next Supreme Court justice

President Donald Trump on Tuesday will announce his nominee to fill a vacant seat on the US Supreme Court -- a crucial decision that could shift the court's balance on major issues such as abortion.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday will announce his nominee to fill a vacant seat on the US Supreme Court -- a crucial decision that could shift the court's balance on major issues such as abortion. AFP/Getty Images

President Trump is scheduled to announce his Supreme Court nominee Tuesday evening. The name is unknown, but the nominee’s stand on abortion we already know. He or she will be willing to overturn Roe V. Wade.

Trump likely won the presidency on this issue. His promise to nominate justices willing to overturn the landmark decision legalizing abortion was Trump’s main appeal – perhaps his only appeal – to white evangelicals who were otherwise skeptical of the thrice-married New Yorker who once had been pro-choice.

Trump acknowledged as much at a July campaign rally in Ceder Rapids, Iowa, where he said, “If you really like Donald Trump – that’s great – but if you don’t you have to vote for me anyway – you know why? Supreme Court judges! Supreme Court judges!”

It’s a shame that the president would compound the unfairness of a nomination stolen from President Obama by basing his choice on a single and divisive issue. But it’s also confounding because the push to reduce abortions is already making great gains.

The rate of abortions in the United States has been falling steadily for years. The rate is now at its lowest level since 1973 – the year of the Roe v. Wade ruling, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

The steep decline may partially reflect state legislation that has reduced the availability of abortion, but the downward trend began long before conservatives began a push to limit abortion access in 2011. A main driver behind fewer abortions is a decline in unintended pregnancies because of more affordable and longer lasting contraceptives. A Guttmacher Institute study found that the use of long-acting reversible contraceptive methods — the IUD and the implant — increased 130 percent between 2007 and 2009. The use of long-term contraception continues to rise, though at a slower rate.

Despite these gains against abortion, conservatives have pushed for employer exemptions from covering contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act and sought to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a major provider of contraception.

Rather than shaping the Supreme Court around overturning Roe v. Wade, conservatives should be supporting trends that reduce unintended pregnancies.

President Trump will announce a Supreme Court nominee Tuesday night who passes a litmus test on abortion. But reducing access to abortion – and contraception – only limits the rights of women while ignoring what is already sharply reducing the nation’s abortion rate.

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