Roe v. Wade was not the worst decision in the history of the United States Supreme Court. Dred Scott, which declared that freed men could not be citizens of the United States, and that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in U.S. territories was worse. It may not have made the Civil War inevitable, but it surely made it more likely. Plessy v. Ferguson was worse. That decision protected American apartheid from challenge under the Equal Protection Clause, and set back racial progress a good half century. Even if you see abortion as wrong in the same way that slavery and segregation were wrong, as I do, those decisions did more damage to the foundations of the American Republic.
But Roe did more damage to the Court itself than any other decision in its history. In Dred Scott the Court wildly invented false constitutional principles, but the Court at least had some text and tradition to stand on. The Constitution did, lamentably, include protections for slavery. In Plessy the Court ignored the obviously unconstitutional intention of legal segregation, but its decision did have both logic and tradition behind it. "Separate but equal" was a disastrously bad interpretation of equal protection, but it was an interpretation, and it was consistent with prior legislative histories.
In Roe v. Wade the Court took sides in a deep political conflict, without a shred of evidence in the text or traditional interpretations of the Constitution. It gave a total victory to one side, but that victory rests entirely on the whim of any five members of the Court. Worse still, it sometimes depends on only one, a fact that is perfectly evident in Gonzales v. Carhart. Four justices would overturn Roe and let the states and Congress decide. Four would strike down virtually any limitations on abortion. That leaves Mr. Justice Kennedy, one single citizen out of about three hundred million, to decide exactly what kinds of abortions American women have a right to.
This is disastrous for the Court because it turns every Supreme Court appointment into a single issue election. Questions of intellect and competence cease to weigh much with most of the Senators and activists. Imagine for a moment that the typical pro-life or pro-choice advocate had to choose between a competent candidate whose position on Roe was uncertain, and a candidate whose competence was uncertain but who clearly shared the advocate's position. You see what I mean. Senators and pundits talk a lot about "judicial philosophy," but what they almost always mean by that is the nominee's position on Roe. This is like hiring only those umpires who would call the most strikes against the White Sox. (Wait a minute, I'm for that).
This is very bad for the Court. Roe should be struck down. Then the Court can go back to its role as the umpires of American politics. Abortion may be central to the lives of women, as pro-choice advocates advocate. But war and peace, liberty and security, global warming and economic development, are all central to the lives of all Americans, and yet we are content to let Congress put the questions. If Roe does go down, it would not lead to the end of legal abortion in America. I suspect it would lead to more compromise between the choices available to women and the rights of unborn sons and daughters. I think that would be better for the Republic. It is clear it would be better for the Courts.