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The Vulnerable Abortion Castle

Considering the faulty foundations of Roe, 40 years later

By Jason Godin

On January 14, 2013, the cover of TIME magazine proclaimed abortion rights activists had won a key battle in 1973 – Roe v. Wade – but ever since have been losing the cultural war that the case helped produce. Its cover story examined a growing list of reasons for why abortions prove harder to obtain today: strong requirements for pre-counseling in certain states, waiting periods, ultrasounds and parental permission; opinion polls showing an American public that is increasingly pro-life, largely because of prenatal ultrasounds and advances made in neonatology; as well as leadership within the pro-choice establishment, both divided generationally and having the tough task of defending the legal status quo.

Such a summary can strengthen as well as focus families. As the Roe decision turns 40 years old this week, it seems appropriate to consider how the anniversary provides parents an opportunity to explore with one another how the historical-legal supports supposedly favorable for abortion rest on very sandy foundations. It also invites entire families to consider how they can surmount those times when leaders sidestep important questions about life.

Legal Sands

Any family discussions about Roe v. Wade should begin with parents reading the majority opinion written by Justice Harry Blackmun. According to Blackmun, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that abortion constitutes a woman’s right to privacy, which is guaranteed principally under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The history of abortion up to 1973, Blackmun continued, also led the Court to claim that the definition of “person” used in the Fourteenth Amendment “does not include the unborn.”

Such conclusions about the Fourteenth Amendment construct the abortion castle on legal sands that even a basic knowledge of American history can wash away, especially when husbands and wives consider its language and historical context.

The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees national citizenship for persons born or naturalized in the United States. It also places specific restrictions on individual states; mainly, no state can “make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens,” “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, with due process of law,” or “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The Fourteenth Amendment first emerged in 1866 amid bitter battles over the legal status of former black slaves. Congress passed it primarily to protect the civil rights of African Americans – persons who, up to that time, were considered property – from unyielding white southern state lawmakers. Only recently did debate about the amendment shift to questions about when a life begins. And certainly no indication exists that members of Congress were aiming at the start to return a group of people back to the status of being the property of another.

Dangers of Taking a Pass

Roe v. Wade also affords families a chance to discuss how to overcome moments made by those who take a pass when faced with important questions about life. “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins,” Blackmun said. “When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus,” he continued, “the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”

Science and faith tackle tough questions about the origins, evolution and common connections shared by humanity. Ultrasounds, for example, make it impossible for one to avoid concluding that a “fetus” isn’t a human life with chartable brainwaves and an observable heartbeat at its earliest stages. As to matters of faith, the Catholic Church teaches that conception marks the point when human life “must be respected and protected absolutely” as well as possesses “the rights of a person” (CCC, 2270). It is a lesson long held by the Church on life and, consequently, pits her against abortion (cf. CCC, 2271).

A Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll in December 2012 revealed that 83 percent favor significant restrictions on abortion. The human family continues to build consensus because more of its members realize how abortion obscures true concerns about a mother and child with a false choice about privacy rights. More husbands and wives, as the parents and first teachers of their children, now sense Roe v. Wade for what it really is – faulty premises that support a fatal procedure which destroys anyone who stands in its way and devastates everyone left in its wake.

The abortion castle stands under assault today. Forty years from now, may its rubble remind future generations that their ancestors stormed it peacefully, lovingly and under the banner of life.

Married with two children, Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.