Americans have cause to worry if Sam Alito is approved by the Senate (although it is sure that some ultraconservative will be approved eventually, if not him). Now I don't mean to play that game that says Roe v. Wade is all we should care about when it comes to the Supreme Court. Yet it's the issue I want to focus on for a minute.
Here's the rub: The Court will not overturn Roe. As William Saletan so persuasively argues, the case overruling Roe would become the new Roe for liberals and progressives, galvanizing their movement, returning them to political success, destroying the conservative coalition, and embarrasing conservative claims to judicial moderation. Instapundit also points out that such a decision would also be unwise because of what it would say about the court's integrity.
So why should Americans worry about Alito, or anyone else? Because he (they) will do something much more sinister. They will quietly, subtly undermine Roe (as they have begun doing) - leaving it intact in name only, but overruling it in effect. That way, they can hide their work and its results. Already the court has approved numerous restrictions on a woman's right to an abortion, including parental notification (with judicial bypass), 24-hour waiting periods (with information on the "facts" of abortion), reporting requirements, and bans on the use of public funds and facilities for abortions. There have been few victories: women are allowed to obtain abortions without their husbands' consent, when their health is in danger, and using the method called Dilation & Evacuation (and perhaps also Dilation & Extraction).
But even those victories might prove short-lived. The Court will soon hear two cases, one involving a state ban on abortions unless the woman's life is in danger (not just her health), and one involving a federal ban on Dilation & Evacuation. Depending on how those cases go, we may be left with a version of Roe that is actually no Roe at all. Under the ultraconservative Republican regime, as tempered by political reality, only those women with the means, the money, the time, the health, the proper geographic location, and understanding parents (or an understanding judge), would be able to obtain abortions. Abortion will remain a procedure generally reserved for rich, liberal, healthy, white women living in cities on the coasts.
All this means that the Left had better stop rallying around Roe. Roe will stand (in name only) forever. The Left will never get its own Roe with which to galvanize the country. Rather, the Left needs to shift the focus of the debate, re-think and re-frame abortion, and start talking about the issues underlying Roe: the inadequacy of present services, the need for more freedom than permitted under existing law (let alone future rulings), and the importance of accessible abortion services to women's health and lives, their children, and every American family.