First, let's make it clear what today's decision is not. It is not a keystone towards overturning Roe v. Wade. It is not a first step down the "slippery slope" to banning all abortions based on this precedent. Unless you're Peter Singer, the boundary line it sets up--exit from the womb, or birth--is wholly in line with the limits the pro-choice movement itself sets up, if only by default.
It does not even make sense in the larger picture of the abortion debate. There is one, and only one, good justification for any kind of restriction on abortion of any kind--and it is exactly the same as that for banning abortion of any kind.
That is not, however, to say that the ban is wholly without worth. The editors of National Review Online spell out the necessity of a partial-birth abortion ban in their reaction to today's decision:
Partial-birth abortions are not really worse than other methods of late-term abortion. There is indeed something irrational about concluding that a method of killing a seven-month-old fetus should depend on the location of his foot. But just who is responsible for making a fetish of location in the first place? It is the Supreme Court itself that has declared — with no support in the Constitution — that what distinguishes a fetus with no claim to legal protection from an infant with such a claim is whether it is in the womb. The child’s stage of development does not really matter in this jurisprudence: A premature baby has more legal protections than a full-term fetus. In an earlier abortion case, Justice Stevens himself has suggested that a “9-month-gestated, fully sentient fetus on the eve of birth” is not “a human being.”
Legislators seeking to ban partial-birth abortion are, therefore, trying to work around the irrational policy the Supreme Court, with the blessing of these dissenters, has created. They are trying to mark an outer limit to that policy: If children within the womb are not going to be protected, then at least children partway outside it should be.
This may be the furthest progress the pro-life movement has managed in the 30-some years since Roe, but it is hardly a momentous or a landmark victory.
It is nothing more than damage control. Necessary damage control, yes, and perhaps even an essential first step--but damage control, nonetheless.
What needs to be pointed out, though, is that at this point, it may not be reasonable to expect to accomplish any more than damage control.
It may be hard to remember with how deeply entrenched its advantage is today, but the pro-choice movement did not spring up overnight. It first emerged near the turn of the 20th century--and even given the setback created by its early affiliation with the eugenics movement (which was then discredited by its affiliation with the Nazis) it still took the better part of three generations to accomplish its major goals.
Given that the pro-life movement, unlike the pro-choice movement, is arguing for forcing women to forgo an action that, though oppression of the worst kind, is still an action with no discernible effects on anyone other than those same women--if only because the victims can't speak for themselves--it will likely take two or three times that long to reverse the trend...and we are barely halfway into the second generation since Roe.
As long as the pro-life movement does not give up, there will be an end to legal abortion, eventually...but I, at age 28, do not expect to see it in my lifetime.
But again, this should hardly be a surprise. Christians, especially, should have been expecting this, because history and the Bible alike tell us this is how God works: One person tills...another sows...another tends...and still another reaps. Only God is present through the whole process.
We have barely begun to till. It is essential work, and more importantly, it is our work--but we are not the reapers.
And we should not expect to be.