From the Weekly Conversation Between New York Times Columnists Gail Collins and Bret Stephens: What about the imminent demise of Roe v. Wade?

From the weekly conversation between New York Times columnists Gail Collins and Bret Stephens headlined “Sometimes, History Goes Backward”:

Bret Stephens:  Your thoughts on what appears to be the imminent demise of Roe v. Wade?

Gail Collins: I have multitudinous thoughts, some of them philosophical and derived from my Catholic upbringing. Although I certainly don’t agree with it, I understand the philosophical conviction that life begins at conception.

Bret: As a Jew, I believe that life begins when the kids move out of the house.

Gail: But I find it totally shocking that people want to impose that conviction on the Americans who believe otherwise — while simultaneously refusing to help underprivileged young women obtain birth control.

Bret: Agree.

Gail: So we have a Supreme Court that’s imposing the religious beliefs of one segment of the country on everybody else. Which is deeply, deeply unconstitutional.

You agree with that part, right?

Bret: Not entirely.

I’ve always thought it was possible to oppose Roe v. Wade on Constitutional grounds, irrespective of religious beliefs, on the view that it was wiser to let voters rather than unelected judges decide the matter. But that was at the time the case was decided in 1973.

Right now, I think it’s appalling to overturn Roe — after it’s been the law of the land for nearly 50 years; after it’s been repeatedly affirmed by the Supreme Court; after tens of millions of American women over multiple generations have come of age with the expectation that choice is a fundamental right; after we thought the back-alley abortion was a dark chapter of bygone years; after we had come to believe that we were long past the point where it should not make a fundamental difference in the way we exercise our rights as Americans whether we live in one state or another.

Gail: If we’re going to have courts, can’t think of many things more basic for them to protect than control of your own body. But we’ve gotten to the same place, more or less. Continue.

Bret: I’m also not buying the favorite argument-by-analogy of some conservatives that stare decisis doesn’t matter, because certain longstanding precedents — like the Plessy v. Ferguson decision that enshrined segregation for 58 years until it was finally overturned in Brown v. Board of Ed. in 1954 — clearly deserved to be overturned. Plessy withdrew a right that was later restored, while Roe granted a right that might now be rescinded.

I guess the question now is how this will play politically. Will it energize Democrats to fight for choice at the state level or stop the Republicans in the midterms?

Gail: Democrats sure needed to be energized somehow. This isn’t the way I’d have chosen, but it’s a powerful reminder of what life would be like under total Republican control.

Bret: Ending the right to choose when it comes to abortion seems to be of a piece with ending the right to choose when it comes to the election.

Gail: And sort of ironic that overturning Roe may be one of Donald Trump’s biggest, long-term impacts on American life. I guarantee you that ending abortion rights ranks around No. 200 on his personal list of priorities.

Bret: Ha!

Gail: When you talk about your vision of America, it’s always struck me as a place with limited government but strong individual rights. Would you vote for a Democratic Congress that would pass a legislative version of Roe? Or a Republican Congress that blows kisses to Justice Alito?

Bret: I’ll swallow my abundant objections to Democratic policy ideas if that would mean Congressional legislation affirming the substance of Roe as the law of the land. Some things are just more important than others.

Gail: Bret, I bow to your awesomeness.

Bret: Minimum sanity isn’t awesomeness, but thanks! Then again, Democrats could really help themselves if they didn’t keep fumbling the political ball. Like on immigration. And inflation. And crime. And parental rights in kids’ schooling. And all the stupid agita about Elon Musk buying Twitter. If you were advising Democrats to shift a little toward the center on one issue, what would it be?

Gail: I dispute your bottom line, which is that the Democrats’ problem is being too liberal. The Democrats’ problem is not getting things done.

Bret: Not getting things done because they’re too liberal. Sorry, go on ….

Gail: In a perfect world I’d want them to impose a windfall profits tax on the energy companies, which are making out like bandits, and use the money to give tax rebates to lower income families. While also helping ease inflation by suspending the gas tax. Temporarily.

Bret: “Temporarily” in the sense of the next decade or so.

Gail: In the real world, suspending the gas tax is probably the quickest fix to ease average family finance. Although let me say I hate, hate, hate the idea. Not gonna go into a rant about global warming right now, but reserving it for the future.

What’s your recommendation?

Bret: Extend Title 42 immediately to avoid a summer migration crisis at the southern border. Covid cases are rising again so there’s good epidemiological justification. Restart the Keystone XL pipeline: We should be getting more of our energy from Canada, not begging the Saudis to pump more oil. Cut taxes not just for gasoline but also urge the 13 states that have sales taxes on groceries to suspend them: It helps families struggling with exploding food bills. Push for additional infrastructure spending, including energy infrastructure, and call it the Joe Manchin Is the Man Act or whatever other flattery is required to get his vote. And try to reprise a version of President Biden’s 1994 crime bill to put more cops on the streets as a way of showing the administration supports the police and takes law-and-order issues seriously.

I’m guessing you’re loving this?

Gail: Wow, so much to fight about. Let me just quickly say that “more cops on the street” is a slogan rather than a plan. Our police do need more support, and there are two critical ways to help. One is to create family crisis teams to deal with domestic conflicts that could escalate into violence. The other is to get the damned guns off the street and off the internet, where they’re now being sold at a hair-raising clip.

Bret: Well, cops have been stepping off the force in droves in recent years, so numbers are a problem, in large part because of morale issues. It makes a big difference if police know their mayors and D.A.s have their backs, and whether they can do their jobs effectively. That’s been absent in cities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to Seattle. I’m all for getting guns off the streets, but progressive efforts such as easy bail, or trying to ban the use of Stop, Question and Frisk, or getting rid of the plainclothes police units, have a lot to do with the new gun-violence wave.

Gail: About the Keystone pipeline — you would be referring to Oil Spill Waiting to Happen? And the answer to our energy problems can’t be pumping more oil, unless we want to deed the families of the future a toxic, mega-warming planet. Let’s spend our money on wind and solar energy.

Bret: Right now Canadian energy is being shipped, often by train, and sometimes those trains derail and blow up.

Gail: Totally against trains derailing. Once again, less oil in general, however it’s transported.

But now, let’s talk politics. Next week is the Pennsylvania primary — very big deal. On the Republican side, Trump is fighting hard for his man, the dreaded Mehmet Oz. Any predictions?

Bret: Full disclosure: Oz played a key role in a life-threatening medical emergency in my family. I know a lot of people love to hate him. But he’s always going to be good in my books, I’m not going to comment on him other than that, and our readers should know the personal reason why.

However, if you want to talk about that yutz J.D. Vance winning in Ohio, I can be quite voluble ….

Gail: Feel free. And does that mean you’ll be rooting for the Democrat Tim Ryan to win the Ohio Senate seat in November? He’s a moderate, but still supports the general party agenda.

Bret: I like Ryan, and not just because he’s not J.D. Vance. I generally like any politician capable of sometimes rebelling against his or her own party’s orthodoxies, whether that’s Kyrsten Sinema or Lisa Murkowski.

As for Vance, he’s just another example of an increasingly common type: the opportunistic, self-abasing, intellectually dishonest, morally situational former NeverTrumper who saw Trump for exactly what he was until he won and then traded principles and clarity for a shot at gaining power. After Jan. 6, 2021, there was even less of an excuse to seek Trump’s favor, and still less after Russia’s second invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Democracy: You’re either for it or against it. In Kyiv or Columbus, Vance is on the wrong side.

Gail: Whoa, take that, J.D.

Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist and a former member of the editorial board, and was the first woman to serve as the Times editorial page editor, from 2001 to 2007.

Bret Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.


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