The Nation‘s editorial on the Roe v. Wade decision (February 5, 1973) seems curiously averse to discussion of the actual debate about abortion, busying itself with trivialities surrounding the tactics the pro-choice side used in winning its appeal to the Supreme Court. Previous articles in our pages, like “The Abortion Racket: Product of Laggard Law,” by Edwin M. Schur (March 5, 1955), had long argued for legalization of abortion, but largely on the grounds that women would seek more dangerous, illicit abortions anyway, and not necessarily on the grounds of a constitutional right to privacy, or empowerment or liberation for women. It is impossible not to cringe when reading the editors’ suggestion that progress comes only when “time, acting through men, has done its work.” Nonetheless, the thrust of the editorial—the importance of racial and class-based undertones in the abortion debate—remains pertinent today, as initiatives in the states seek to roll back the rights secured in Roe v. Wade.

Before the courts can change, the mores must change. A new consciousness must emerge. It may take decades, generations. It may never appear at all; on the other hand, it can come with amazing speed when time, acting through men, has done its work. Some aspects of this process are mysterious, others can be discerned without much difficulty—for instance, exchange of experience from one generation to the next. Judges have sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, and are often informed of developments of which they do not formally take “judicial knowledge.” In the abortion controversy, it became clear, also, that gross discrimination was involved: the rich had no problem, the poor did, and more particularly the black poor on welfare. Even more than health care generally, the right to abortion depended on the economic status of those who desired it.

January 22, 1973

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.