Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. This case, and its lesser known counterpart Doe v. Bolton, opened the door to abortion on demand in the United States. The case has received a ton of attention through the last four decades, and it has been challenged several times in court. As it stands today, abortion is still accessible in the United States, and the tragedy of the killing of more than 50 million innocent babies in the womb may be the largest example of legalized killing in all of human history. It is a horrendous problem that our culture (and our legal system) seems unwilling to address.
Although my posts are generally biblical/theological in nature, there is a great article on The Public Discourse today about the faulty legal arguments on which Roe v. Wade is based. I encourage you to read the entire article, but here are some interesting snippets.
After nearly four decades, Roe’s human death toll stands at nearly sixty million human lives, a total exceeding the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s purges, Pol Pot’s killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide combined. Over the past forty years, one-sixth of the American population has been killed by abortion. One in four African-Americans is killed before birth. Abortion is the leading cause of (unnatural) death in America.
The legal definitions and categories created by these two cases were unique:
Roe, coupled with Doe, creates a plenary right to kill the embryo or fetus for essentially any reason, at any time throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Distilled to its essence, Roe created a “trimester” framework for abortion. In roughly the first three months of pregnancy, the right of abortion is avowedly plenary: abortion may be had for any reason. In the second three months, government may regulate abortion to protect the life or health of the mother, but again the right to have an abortion remains plenary. In the final three months—after the point of “viability,” when the human fetus could live on his or her own outside the mother’s womb—Roe says that abortion can be restricted or prohibited . . . except where abortion is necessary to protect the “life or health” of the pregnant woman.
This is a big exception. And here is where Doe steps in. On its face, Roe might appear, to the unwary or uninitiated, “moderate”—its trimester-balancing framework a measured, reasonable-sounding, proportionate act of judicial legislation concerning abortion. It is Doe that does a lot of the work, through an indirect and ultimately disingenuous definition of the “health” reasons that always may justify a woman’s decision to have an abortion and trump any interest of society in protecting fetal human life, even when the child could survive outside the mother’s womb. Doe holds that relevant “health” considerations justifying late-term abortions include “all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” (Doe’s understanding of “the patient” did not include the fetus; Roe held elsewhere that the human fetus has no legal rights that any person is bound to respect.)
The legal foundations for Roe v. Wade are untenable:
Roe’s reasoning, distilled to its essentials, is that the Constitution creates a “privacy” right to abortion, on the premise that the right not “to bear” a child is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. No serious constitutional law scholar thinks this is a plausible reading of the Due Process Clause. That clause forbids government to “deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” Without due process of law are crucial words. The Due Process Clause does not say that government never may deprive a person of life, liberty or property. It only says that government may not do so “without due process of law”—that is, arbitrarily, lawlessly, not in conformity with duly enacted laws and accepted procedures for their application.
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court rested the right to abortion back where Roe purported to find it, in the Due Process Clause. Recognizing the embarrassments created by this view, Casey added another prop: the doctrine of precedent or “stare decisis,” which is essentially all that is left to support Roe. But Casey’s invocation of the doctrine was transparently disingenuous: Because the public expects the Court to adhere (usually) to its past decisions, because the Court had staked its authority on Roe, and because the Court might be viewed unfavorably by some of the public if it reversed itself in such a case, the Court said that it had decided to adhere to Roe “whether or not mistaken.” Thus, what Roe held to be required by substantive due process Casey held to be required by stare decisis, even assuming Roe to be wrong.
The immorality of the decision and its result is unbearable:
Here is the problem, undressed: If human embryonic life is morally worthy of protection, we have permitted sixty million murders under our watch. Faced with this prospect, many of us—maybe even most—flee from the facts. We deny that the living human embryo is “truly” or “fully” human life, adopt a view that whether the embryo or fetus is human “depends,” or can be judged in degrees, on a sliding scale over the course of pregnancy; or we proclaim uncertainty about the facts of human biology; or we proclaim moral agnosticism about the propriety of “imposing our views on others”; or we throw up our hands and give up because moral opposition to an entrenched, pervasive social practice is not worth the effort, discomfort, and social costs. The one position not on the table—the one possibility too hard to look at—is that abortion is a grave moral wrong on a par with the greatest human moral atrocities of all time and that we passively, almost willingly, accept it as such.
Let us not forget that a great atrocity is taking place in our society, all in the name of a right to privacy. Who will protect the rights of the unborn?
Michael Stokes Paulsen, “The Unbearable Wrongness of Roe,” The Public Discourse, January 23, 2012.