Vol. 16, No. 1 February-March 2005
Roe Mythology 101
One of the enduring myths surrounding abortion is that Roe v. Wade legalized abortion for only the first three months of pregnancy.
Astute readers of Life Insight might be thinking: "Aw, c'mon. 32 years after Roe? After a decade of talking about partial-birth abortion, there are still people who think abortion is legal only in the first trimester? You must be kidding."
Case in point: Recently, as part of a campaign to show how extreme Roe v. Wade is, the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities contacted the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to place ads in DC Metro trains and buses. The ads simply and tastefully pointed out that, thanks to Roe, abortion is legal throughout pregnancy. (The ads can be seen at www.secondlookproject.org.)
Lawyers for DC Metro (lawyers, mind you, who might be expected to know key points of major Supreme Court decisions) were incredulous: It can't be. Send us proof! And proof we sent.
They pored over the documents, parsed the relevant Supreme Court opinions, and eventually concluded that, gosh, abortion actually is legal for nine months. As a 1983 Senate Judiciary Committee report concluded: "no significant legal barriers of any kind whatsoever exist today in the United States for a woman to obtain an abortion for any reason during any stage of pregnancy." And so, DC Metro allowed the ads to run.
You may be wondering why the most basic fact about the Supreme Court's abortion rulings (that they made abortion legal for all nine months) is still a mystery to many. This confusion is the result of efforts by the abortion lobby, pollsters, and many in the media to keep people in the dark. And there's a sound reason for the subterfuge – the public is very negative about taking the lives of unborn children when they undeniably look and act like human children. The response of revulsion is hardwired in our brains, and cannot be argued away.
A recent example: In a debate at Georgetown Univer-sity Law Center, pitting Cathy Cleaver Ruse, the bishops' pro-life spokeswoman, against a National Abortion Federation spokeswoman, the latter claimed: "Most states have laws prohibiting late-term abortions."
Ruse corrected the record, pointing out that 19 of these state laws prohibit nothing because they contain the infamous "health exception" allowing abortions for such "health" reasons as "can't afford a baby now" and "unready for responsibility" (the most common reasons women cite for having an abortion). And the other state prohibitions are unenforceable because they lack the all-encompassing "health" definition required by Doe v. Bolton (Roe's companion case): "all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age – relevant to the well-being of the patient."
Lately, a number of polls from major polling companies have continued to show majority (though dwindling) support for Roe v. Wade. An Associated Press/Ipsos-Public Affairs poll in November 2004, and a December 2004 Quinnipiac University poll, asked the identical question: "The 1973 Supreme Court ruling called Roe v. Wade made abortion in the first three months of pregnancy legal. Do you think President Bush should nominate Supreme Court justices who would uphold [or overturn] ... the Roe v. Wade decision?" With that very misleading description of Roe, it was no surprise that respondents favored upholding the decision, by margins of 59% to 31% (AP/Ipsos) and 50% to 34% (Quinnipiac).
Naturally, the flawed descriptions of Roe often make it into the scores of press accounts spawned by such polls, "demonstrating" that the decision and legal abortion still enjoy strong public support.
Is it too much to expect journalists to examine the accuracy of the questions? Or even read the array of questions to see if there's consistency among answers? Apparently it is. When you're writing on deadline, it's much easier to paraphrase the abortion lobby's spin and conclusions, very helpfully included in their press releases.
How to cook a poll
A March 3, 2005 Harris Poll announced: "Only a Small Majority Still Supports Roe v. Wade and Opposition is at its Highest in 20 Years." Okay, this is a good thing. According to the published findings, support for Roe dropped to 52%, from 57% in 1998. And since 1998, opposition to Roe has grown to 47% from 41%. Overall, an 11-point shift in 6 years. And compared to 1991 polling, we should be ecstatic. That year was the high-water mark for Roe support, with 65% support for Roe compared to 33% opposition (a shift of 27% in the past 14 years). But even these figures are deceiving.
Once again, the pollster (this time, flagrantly) mischaracterizes the abortion decisions: "In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that state laws which made it illegal for a woman to have an abortion up to three months of pregnancy were unconstitutional, and that the decision on whether a woman should have an abortion up to three months of pregnancy should be left to the woman and her doctor to decide. In general, do you favor or oppose this part of the U.S. Supreme Court decision making abortions up to three months of pregnancy legal?" (emphasis added)
The fine print discussion of methodology raises another question as to the poll's accuracy. The telephone polling was conducted among a "nationwide cross section of 1,012 adults ... of whom 442 identify themselves as 'Pro-Life' and 512 identify themselves as 'Pro-Choice'." When you poll 70 more "pro-choice" people than pro-life people, wouldn't that skew the averages about 7% in the pro-choice direction? They also admit to a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points (a normal caveat when only 1,000 people are polled) and a sampling error of five percentage points in the pro-life and pro-choice samplings.
But here's the most galling part: Question 1 on "attitude toward Roe" cited above – which everyone reported and nobody questioned – is flatly contradicted by the results of Question 5, which asks "In general, do you think that abortion should be legal or illegal during the following stages of pregnancy?" The choices are "the first three months," the "second three months," and "the third three months." It turns out that 72% of respondents think abortion should be illegal in the second trimester and a whopping 86% think abortion should be illegal in the third trimester. Not one published report could be found to point out that this question reveals the real level of opposition to Roe's policy. That wouldn't fit neatly into the story line of "dwindling but still a majority."
Even claims of majority support for abortion in the first trimester are open to question. An April 2004 Zogby International poll asked if abortion should be permitted after the unborn child's heart has begun to beat. Sixty-one percent answered "no." A baby's heartbeat can be detected at 21-22 days after conception. And 65% said abortions should not occur after fetal brainwaves have been detected; they are recordable at 40 days (less than halfway through the first trimester).
The moral of the story is that we cannot assume people know the basic facts about abortion, beginning with how extreme – and out of the mainstream of public sentiment – the Roe and Doe decisions are.
The American people appear increasingly fed up with harmful social experimentation on women, children and families. The time is ripe to build on this sentiment and redouble our efforts, in the words of John Paul II, to "help build a world where human life is always loved and defended, every form of violence banished."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a multi-faceted campaign to do just that.
Why a campaign targeting Roe v. Wade now?
Several social trends are now coming together to create the right climate for challenging Roe v. Wade: 1) support for Roe is steadily eroding; 2) the widespread use of ultrasound imaging has brought to light the humanity of unborn children; 3) partial-birth abortion has horrified the public and demonstrated how extreme U.S. abortion law is; 4) the inability to stop partial-birth abortion has frustrated the public and legislators, and turned opinion against a judicial system unwilling to end this barbarous violence; and 5) since last November's election, leaders in the Democrat Party – including Senators Kerry and Clinton – have engaged publicly in questioning the efficacy of the party's radical stance on abortion. Many believe that stance should be more moderate, or at least appear to be so.
These developments have struck terror in the hearts of the abortion lobby and "about 185 self-styled 'progressive' organizations sharing information, ideas and resources in anticipation of a Supreme Court vacancy" (M. Fletcher and C. Babington, "Partisans Gear Up for High Court Fight Ahead," Washington Post, 3/13/05, p. A5).
With warnings reminiscent of 1950s' instructions on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, NARAL Pro-Choice America e-mailed to supporters a brochure containing "Emergency Instructions for a Supreme Court Retirement." Recipients are directed to "print, cut and fold this card and keep it in your wallet. When a Supreme Court justice retires, you'll be READY for action." The action involves calling senators and demanding that "a new justice must support abortion rights," the infamous Roe v. Wade litmus test.
As Cardinal William H. Keeler, Chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, said in a letter to U.S. Senators, loyalty to Roe is arguably the worst possible test of judicial ability. Edward Lazarus, a legal commentator who supports abortion and is a former law clerk to Justice Blackmun, Roe's author, has described the ruling as "one of the most intellectually suspect constitutional decisions of the modern era," adding that as "a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible." He is not alone.
Recently even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a staunch defender of legal abortion, criticized Roe for preempting the states' constitutional role in crafting laws which reflect the wishes of their citizenry: "The Supreme Court stopped all that by deeming every law - even the most liberal - as unconstitutional. That seemed to me not the way courts generally work" (Associated Press, "Ginsburg: Roe decision seemed 'not the way courts generally work,'" Kansas City Star, available at www.kansascity.com, viewed March 14, 2005).
Pro-abortion groups know that blocking any change in U.S. abortion law – which is more extreme than the laws of all but five other nations on earth [See Justice Scalia's dissent in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. ____ (2005), at p. 20 of slip opinion] – requires maintaining a pro-Roe majority on the Supreme Court. To do so, they must block nominations of justices (and even lower federal court judges) who are not committed to keeping abortion legal at any price. For this reason, some pro-abortion Democrats are supporting the unprecedented tactic of filibustering judicial nominees who have majority support to prevent the Senate from voting on their confirmation. Thus, instead of the 51 votes required by the Constitution for approving a federal judge, 60 votes would be required.
Groups supporting abortion have formed a coalition, the Joint Emergency Campaign, "aimed specifically at opposing a potential Supreme Court nominee who does not support abortion rights." Over $10 million has already been committed to its media campaign.
And that is why the time is right to educate the public on how extreme U.S. abortion law is under Roe v. Wade, and how constitutionally flawed the decision is. Even those who remain "moderately pro-choice" should be able to agree that loyalty to Roe should not be a criterion for determining fitness for judicial office.
The Campaign to "End the Roe Litmus Test"
This effort is directed to the U.S. Senate. It began with a January 6, 2005 letter from Cardinal William H. Keeler, Chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, to all U.S. Senators. Cardinal Keeler wrote, in part:
We are troubled by reports that national abortion advocacy groups, and even some U.S. Senators, view nominees who oppose the purposeful taking of innocent human life as somehow unfit for judicial office in the United States. It is further reported that attempts would be made to deny them a vote on confirmation by the full Senate.
Insisting that judicial nominees support abortion throughout pregnancy is wrong. By any measure, support for the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is an impoverished standard for assessing judicial ability. For over three decades, Roe has sparked more informed criticism and public resistance than any other court decision of the late 20th century. Even legal scholars who support abortion have criticized Roe for not being grounded in the U.S. Constitution. Further, in 2000, the Supreme Court relied on Roe to rule that the gruesome and inhumane practice of partial-birth abortion must be constitutionally protected.
When considering nominees the Senate should not allow itself to be held captive to such an unfair and unreasonable standard.
Catholics throughout the country will have the opportunity to participate in a nationwide postcard campaign slated for the weekend of April 9-10 (a diocese or parish may choose a different weekend). The postcard campaign is being conducted through the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (NCHLA), a non-profit organization which works closely with the U.S. bishops. Postcards addressed to U.S. Senators bear this message:
All human beings deserve respect and protection from harm, especially those who are most defenseless. Yet the U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, violated these principles when it created a new "right" to abortion throughout pregnancy. Because of Roe, the Court ruled that even children who are partially born can be killed. As your constituent, I urge you not to require support for Roe v. Wade as a condition for determining a nominee's fitness for judicial office.
Over 6 million postcards have already been ordered and orders continue to come in. In addition, "palm card"-size flyers with the basic facts on Roe and the current controversy over judicial nominations are available from NCHLA at a cost of $10/1,000.
A free step-by-step Parish Instruction Booklet is available for those who might find such a guide helpful. The only costs associated with the booklet are shipping and handling.
NCHLA is developing the appropriate online tools to assist constituents in sending e-mail messages to their senators. These will be accessible by April 9 at www.nchla.org.
The Broader Campaign to End Roe
The Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and NCHLA are undertaking a number of activities to convince the public that Roe is bad law, bad medicine, and bad social policy, in addition to being profoundly immoral.
- A bulletin insert "Q&A" on Roe will be available (likely in May) from USCCB Publishing (800-235-8722 or online at www.usccbpublishing.org).
- The Second Look Project is an informational website with basic abortion facts, photos and descriptions of fetal development, radio and transit ads, and more. See www.secondlookproject.org.
- "Roe Reality Check" cards are being sent weekly to all members of Congress while in session and to members of the media. Each oversized card debunks a specific myth about abortion law and policy. They can be seen at www.secondlookproject.org.
- Life Issues Forum, a biweekly column for the Catholic press, written by staff of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, will focus on Roe's innumerable flaws.
- The "Roe v. Wade and Basic Abortion Facts" section of the www.usccb.org/prolife website is being expanded with the addition of valuable documents, testimony, and facts and commentary. One helpful example of Roe legal criticism already available on the Secretariat's website is "Ten Legal Reasons to Reject Roe," an article from the 2003-2004 Respect Life Program (see /prolife/programs/rlp/rlp0304.shtml).
- A new website is being developed by NCHLA called www.endroe.org as a one-stop source for campaign information.
Send a postcard to your Senators.
Write a thoughtful letter.
Phone your Senators' offices.
Write a letter-to-the-editor of your local paper.
Call a radio talk show.
Speak at a public event.
Write an article for a local newsletter.
Visit your Senators' local office.
Log on to www.nchla.org, www.usccb.org/prolife, and www.endroe.org to stay up to date with current activities and plans.
Tell your friends about the campaign.
Most importantly, pray for its success and for an end to the abortion tragedy unleashed by Roe v. Wade.
is a publication of the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities
3211 Fourth Street, N.E.Washington, DC 20017-1194
Phone (202) 541-3070; Facsimile (202) 541-3054
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