A Tough Roe

By Noonan, Peggy | The Human Life Review, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

A Tough Roe


Noonan, Peggy, The Human Life Review


It is now 30 years since the Supreme Court, in its Roe v. Wade vision, blew down the barriers to abortion on demand, using as the essential rationale a constitutional right of privacy that the court had discovered less than eight years earlier. Since 1973 roughly 40 million abortions-that seems to be the generally accepted number-have been performed in America, and 40 million children banished from life.

Forty million. There isn't a country in the world with an army that big. Many don't have a population that big. Among the 40 million were, as romantics like to point out, a Leonardo, a Dr. Salk, the man who'd make the rocket to Mars and perhaps the first American pope. But there were men and women among the 40 million who would have grown up to be destructive too, and cruel. It seems realistic to assume the 40 million would have included your average mix of heroes, villains and those undistinguished by recognizable gifts.

But actually I wonder about that. It has seemed to me over the years that so many of the 40 million were the children of bright or educated or affluent parents, lucky young people and, in the way of things, might likely have gone on to-well, we might have lost more curers of cancer than we know. In any case, whatever these individuals would have become, they were all unique, blessed. They all deserved the same thing, life, and all suffered the same fate.

Looked at in this way, abortion might seem not a completely private choice but one that has had a profound public impact on our country. If you want to be cold and actuarial about it, you can note that in the next five to 10 years tens of millions of baby boomers will retire, and their futures would be more secure if they were benefiting from the financial support of the missing 40 million, many of whom would be paying into Social Security right now. But they're gone, so they can't help.

If you want to be less actuarial than cultural in your thinking, it's hard to believe that we don't all know, down deep, that abortion has not made our country a gentler place. I believe we haven't begun to appreciate the effect on our children and their developing understanding of life that they are told every day, on television and in magazines, in advertisements and news stories, that we allow the killing of children. It's not good for them to know that, not good for them to be told over and over that they live in a place where life is not necessarily respected and inconvenient life can be whisked away. Knowledge like that has a chilling effect on the soul.

I think, as many do, that Roe v. Wade was as big a travesty as the Supreme Court decision on Dred Scott, which in 1857 declared that descendants of slaves could not become U.S. citizens. All Americans would now see that decision as terribly wrong, but back then the Court had spoken and Dred Scott was forced to continue to live in slavery.

I think also that if the legal status of abortion, a long-settled issue that was inevitably forced into play by the cultural revolution of the '60s and the rise of the women's movement, had to be redecided, it should have been done politically, not judicially. That it was not, that a huge and radical change in law was forced on the entire country by black-robed fiat, caused avoidable and continuing unrest. It has contributed more than any decision in my lifetime to the national breakdown of faith in our institutions.

If it had been left up to the states, New York, California and other places would have legal abortion (as they already did in 1973). Utah, Louisiana and other places would have voted pro-life. The outcome would have been mixed and the argument would have continued, but not with quite the same citizen-hating-citizen level of intensity or quite the damage to our trust in the law and the law givers.

The anti-abortion movement isn't going to go away. It will fight on until the day our country ends if that day comes. …

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