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With Roe Struck Down, What Now?

This isn’t over.
This isn’t over. (Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America)

The Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that for nearly half a century had guaranteed a right to abortion nationwide, is the most significant setback for women’s rights in generations. It is also a call to action.

The court’s decision dwells at length on Roe’s constitutional deficiencies, a remarkable turnaround for justices who had little to say about those deficiencies during their Senate confirmation hearings. But whatever the ruling’s flaws, summarily overturning it after all these years amounts to a radicalism in its own right: In effect, the court is revoking a fundamental right that generations of American women have taken for granted. A more explosive decision is hard to imagine.

Where does the country go from here?

An effort in the Senate last month to codify Roe into federal law failed, largely because the bill’s legal protections went beyond Roe. Lawmakers should not give up on the matter. They should continue working to find common ground on a bill that would unite Congress’s pro-choice majority, including accepting some restrictions that pro-choice Republicans favor. Such a law will of course face a constitutional challenge, but that should not preclude Congress from acting to save elements of a right that American women have counted on for 49 years.

Absent federal action, the fight will now head to the states. Here, supporters of abortion rights can count on some advantages. With Roe in place, state lawmakers have long been free to advance severe restrictions — including banning abortion in cases of rape and incest — with little fear of real-world consequences for women or political consequences for their careers. Now that Roe has been rescinded, they’re likely to find that such bans are far harder to defend in the face of angry voters.

The fact is, the court has overturned a half-century of constitutional protections for individual rights, an unprecedented retreat that could endanger women’s health and lives. History is unlikely to look favorably on this decision. For now, it should serve as a rallying point for the majority of Americans who opposed overturning Roe — and the nearly 90 percent of American citizens who oppose total bans on abortions.

That will require pro-choice activists to create coalitions, build political support and convince their opponents that personal opposition to abortion does not preclude support for abortion rights. As they do so, they’ll need to accept that the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. Even securing limited access in conservative states is better than no access at all.

As the shock of this decision wears off, pro-choice Americans should see it as a challenge to elect people who will see reason, to hold current officeholders accountable, and to continue the fight to secure fundamental rights nationwide. Future generations are counting on them.

More From Bloomberg Opinion:

• A Conservative Plan to Help Families, Post-Roe: Ramesh Ponnuru

• Yellen Is Right About Costs of Roe Reversal: Julianna Goldman

• Reversing Roe Will Make US Democracy Harder to Fix: Clive Crook

The Editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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