by Maureen Bailey
December 31, 2004
In the coming weeks the nation's attention will turn, if only briefly, to the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, decided thirty-two years ago on January 22. In observance of this tragic anniversary, pro-lifers from around the country will come to Washington to march from the ellipse behind the White House to the steps of the United States Supreme Court. The press will be present, snapping photos of the marchers with a backdrop of the few pro-abortion counter-protestors who will undoubtedly be there for the cameras. News stories covering the march will misleadingly suggest that Roe was a modest decision and an important one for the liberation of women.
Reading these press reports, no one will learn that the Court mandated that abortion be available all nine months of pregnancy. As a result, each year there are 1.3 million abortions, with nearly 20,000 (19,650) occurring after the twenty-first week of pregnancy. And at least 2,000 of these, and perhaps twice that many, are performed by the grisly partial-birth abortion method.
Based on accounts in the press, no one will know that the majority of abortions are performed for social reasons - such as being unable to afford the baby, or being unprepared for parenthood, or not wanting to be a single mother. Incidentally, the Court is well aware of this fact. In 1992, when the Court faced the prospect of overturning Roe, it decided not to, in large part, because the social order had come to rely on Roe. The Court said, "for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail." The Court did not reaffirm Roe because it was a legally correct decision or a wise one, but because people had come to rely on it.
The irony of this reliance is that the Court is its cause. Because Roe made abortion a readily available "right", women have been expected to exercise that right in order to participate fully in social and economic life. A recent Washington Post series highlighted the most egregious examples of the expectation placed on women to "choose" abortion. The series investigated violence against pregnant women, including women murdered at the hands of men who wanted them to abort. A Post reporter examining one case explained a common pattern: "As in other cases, [the child's father] at first denied it was his child, then pressed for an abortion, then plotted murder."
These are the most horrific and (relatively) rare cases, but how many more instances are there of quieter, less violent coercion placed on women because of abortion's legality?
A society that respects the authentic freedom of women to participate fully in social life would not make them sacrifice the lives of their children. We must continue to work for such a society. And Roe v. Wade must be overturned.
Maureen Bailey is a public policy analyst with the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops