Indiana University

Skip to:

  1. Search
  2. Breadcrumb Navigation
  3. Content
  4. Browse by Topic
  5. Services & Resources
  6. Additional Resources
  7. Multimedia News

Media Contacts

Diane Brown
IU Communications

Steve Hinnefeld
IU Communications

Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2013

Roe v. Wade at 40: Indiana University experts comment

Jan. 18, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on Jan. 22, 1973, 40 years ago next Tuesday. Indiana University experts comment on the anniversary and the changing nature of abortion as an issue in American public life.

Abortion still a flashpoint for political reasons

David Orentlicher

David Orentlicher

Print-Quality Photo

Abortion remains a political flashpoint in the United States because many elected officials prefer it to be so, said David Orentlicher, professor of law at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

"Many elected officials are not interested in finding common ground on divisive social issues like abortion," Orentlicher said. "Indeed, candidates and public officials often prefer to exploit such controversies for electoral gain. By running on wedge issues, candidates can attract voters who ordinarily would identify with the opposition."

For example, from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, those opposed to abortion were more likely to vote Democratic and abortion rights advocates more likely to vote Republican in presidential elections. By adopting strong anti-abortion positions, Republican candidates have been able to attract voters who previously aligned themselves with the Democratic Party.

Abortion remains a dominant political issue because it involves a clash between what is often thought of as two irreconcilable positions: either the rights of the unborn must trump the rights of pregnant women, or the rights of pregnant women must trump the rights of the unborn. However, that is not the case, according to Orentlicher, an attorney who is also a physician.

"As constitutional law and human rights expert Mary Ann Glendon has observed, political leaders in other countries fashioned compromise positions that have brought a much greater stability to abortion law," Orentlicher said. "In France, for example, the public was once as bitterly divided over abortion policy as in the United States. In response, the government developed a workable body of law that subjects abortion to greater regulation than is permitted under Roe and the more recent Casey case, but that also provides greater financial assistance for birth control, abortion, and child care."

Orentlicher is the Samuel R. Rosen Professor of Law at IU Robert McKinney School of Law, and co-director of the William S. and Christine S. Hall Center for Law and Health, a unit of the McKinney School of Law, which is on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Orentlicher holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is an adjunct professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine, also at IUPUI.

To reach Orentlicher for interviews, call 317-658-1674 or email

Declining importance as an election issue

Marjorie Hershey

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Marjorie Hershey

Print-Quality Photo

The anti-abortion movement in the United States has evolved in the 40 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, said Indiana University Bloomington political scientist Marjorie Hershey.

While the movement once focused on passing laws to limit abortion rights, it has moved on to restricting the availability of abortions -- for example, by imposing restrictions on clinics that administer abortions and creating conditions that require women to go to greater lengths to have an abortion. At the same time, Hershey said, abortion has declined as an issue in U.S. elections.

"In this past election," she said, "economic issues made a much greater difference than so-called values issues. But even in that latter category, questions involving same-sex marriage and immigration and broader questions of the appropriate role of religious values in public life seem to have taken on the importance that abortion used to have."

Hershey is a professor in the Department of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. Her research and teaching interests focus on political parties, campaigns and elections. She teaches courses on political parties, interest groups, environmental policy and issues in American politics. She can be reached at For assistance, contact Steve Hinnefeld at 812-856-3488 or