I'm here in St. Louis at the St. Louis University School of Law, where I'm a panelist responding to a lecture given by lawprof Richard Fallon on the subject of what things would be like if Roe v. Wade were overturned. He's speaking now, so let me keep you informed.
Fallon says he's never taken a position on whether Roe should be overturned, and his point here is to examine the various legal problems that would arise if it were overturned. He identifies four fallacies about overruling Roe:
1. There's a belief that overruling Roe would wipe the slate clean. In fact, there are old statutes on the books of the various states outlawing abortion. Would these statutes spring back into effect? Could these statutes be enforced retroactively?
2. There's a belief that overruling Roe would necessarily return the question to the states, but there's "almost no doubt" that Congress has the power under the Commerce Clause to pass laws that trump whatever the states might want to do.
3. There's a belief that overruling Roe would extract courts from the abortion controversy -- "get out of the abortion umpiring business," as Justice Scalia once put it. But really, the courts will just have to deal with a new set of abortion-related questions. What if a state outlawed abortion even where it was needed to save a woman's life? Don't women have some right to defend themselves at the constitutional level, quite aside from whether there's a broader right to abortion? And then there would be all sorts of questions about the scope of that right that would haunt the courts endlessly. And what if some states tried to restrict their citizens as they sought to travel to other states to obtain abortions? Complicated legal questions would arise here too.
4. There's a belief that Roe v Wade could be overruled without having much effect on the rest of constitutional law. What would be the ground for overruling the case? Even if the Court took a "modest" approach to the overruling and merely found no fundamental right to abortion, it would represent a triumph of "popular constitutionalism," and this might inspire new political efforts to exert pressure on the Court to change things to respond to political pressure.
Now, the commenters. Panel 1 is up. I'm on Panel 2, after lunch. Susan Appleton of Washington University Law School is speaking now. Also on this panel: Stephen Gardbaum (UCLA School of Law), Michael Greve (American Enterprise Institute), and Mark Rosen (Chicago-Kent College of Law).
FINALLY FINISHING THIS POST: Panel 2 was Anthony J. Bellia, Jr. (Notre Dame Law School), Alan Howard (Saint Louis University School of Law), and me. I said I thought that to collect all the possible post-Roe legal troubles is, implicitly, to make an argument against overruling Roe. Overruling Roe would create a new set of problems, and it is natural (and conservative) to prefer to the known problems to the unknown, but I think those who like Roe have a motive to underestimate the problems we have now and to exaggerate what the new problems would be. I support preserving Roe myself, but I don't think those who support overruling it should or will be pushed back with hypertechnical legalistic puzzles that essentially say: this is all too complex for you to fathom, so you really aren't competent to have an opinion here.
At the end of the first panel, a woman asked: If there really are all these problems without Roe, why didn't we see them before Roe? Afterwards, I said to one of the other law professors, that was a great question, do you know who that woman was? Answer: Phyllis Schafly's daughter.