Roe v. Wade was a watershed event. One day, we were a nation that protected the lives of unborn human beings. The next day, seven justices of the U.S. Supreme Court said that throughout pregnancy abortion is a fundamental constitutional right. That was January 1973.
Many sensed that a seismic shift had occurred. The Court had said, in essence, that we were a people who could not be expected to commit to the children we helped to create. And we began quickly to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy, as over the next decade the number of abortions skyrocketed to 1.6 million a year.
Fast forward 27 year. Another major shift occurs. But in a nation already media-saturated with "breaking news" and "latest crises," it goes unnoticed by many.
In June 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the right to kill, from children in the womb (Roe v. Wade) to children almost completely born (Stenberg v. Carhart).
It is a horrid thing to think about. A doctor starts to deliver a living child in her second or third trimester of development. He stops mid-delivery. And with only the child's head still inside her mother, the doctor kills her. Brutally. Confronted with the fact that this takes place thousands of times in this country each year, even those who consider themselves staunchly "pro-choice" have been known to shudder.
It is this, partial-birth abortion, that the U.S. Supreme Court has now wrapped in the mantle of our nation's Constitution. The Court overrode the judgment of the American Medical Association and respected specialists that partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary. It ran roughshod over the decisive judgment of legislators in Nebraska (and, by extension, in 29 other states) who had voted to ban partial-birth abortion. And it disregarded the will of more than seventy percent of Americans who believe that partial-birth abortion should be banned.
Instead, the Court relied on the testimony of Nebraska's leading abortionist who does these "procedures," and the abortionist's expert witness, a doctor who has never performed a single partial-birth abortion.
In Roe and later decisions, the Court agreed that states have a real interest in protecting unborn human life, and that their interest increases as the child develops. In Carhart the Court performed legal gymnastics to avoid acknowledging that a child is inches away from birth.
With its decision in Carhart, the U.S. Supreme Court has moved beyond abortion to near infanticide. And in doing so it has created a new level of moral blindness and insensitivity. How much killing can we stand without losing our humanity?
Four Supreme Court justices dissented from this decision. In the words of one: I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned its rightful place in history of the Court's jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott. And he pointed to the Court's inclination to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.
This latest abortion decision has ushered in a new low in U.S. jurisprudence even after almost thirty years of lows. It is absurd that an overwhelming majority of American citizens cannot say "enough" and be heard. But Roe v. Wade has tied their hands. Roe v. Wade is the abortion-license-without-bounds.
What Can I Do?
- Pray every day that our nation will again respect the lives of every human being from the moment of conception to natural death. Each Sunday we might make this plea in the Prayers of the Faithful.
- Learn the facts about abortion. The newsletter Life Insight, and other educational materials are available from the bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. Also visit www.usccb.org/prolife and www.hopeafteraboriton.org
- Communicate Believing in our hearts that abortion and infanticide are evil and beneath us as a people is not enough. We need to speak out when we can. It is in speaking with others that we can help them to understand and touch their hearts with a message of respect for human life.
- Serve Programs that serve pregnant women and children always need extra hands. Offer to help. Help for women and men suffering because of abortion requires special expertise. You many want to help financially, or in other ways.
- Organize on behalf of life. The most effective vehicle for building a community that respects each and every human life is the Parish Respect Life Committee. Together parishioners can encourage prayer, educational activities, and involvement in the public realm. Through our parish Respect Life Committees we can make a difference.
© 2000. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.
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