Four decades after Roe, the fight for life continues

By her own later admission, Norma Leah McCorvey lied about getting raped as a ruse to comply with the Texas law permitting abortion in instances of rape. But she had no proof that her pregnancy had resulted from a crime, so she was unable to terminate her third child. 

The year was 1969, and two Dallas attorneys took up her case to challenge the pro-life laws in Texas. The case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court with McCorvey, as plaintiff, given the anonymous name of Jane Roe, with the defendant in the suit being District Attorney Henry Wade of Dallas County. 

McCorvey gave birth to the baby in the meantime, so for her, the ensuing legal battle was no longer moot. But on Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade became the landmark decision that gave women the constitutional right to abortion, based on an implied right to privacy in the Ninth and 14th Amendments. 

Among other points, the court said that the fetus was a “potential life” but not a person, and, therefore, had no rights of its own. 

The decision also defined the conditions permitting or prohibiting abortion during the pregnancy. The woman’s right to privacy in the first trimester was so strong  

Reasons for Hope
Dr. Day Gardner is associate director of the National Pro-Life Center, the former national director of Black Americans for Life and is the founder and president of the National Black Pro-life Union. She spoke about the past and future of the pro-life movement with Our Sunday Visitor.
Our Sunday Visitor: What are the greatest pro-life achievements in the past 40 years?
Dr. Day Gardner: Awareness. I think we have educated most of America regarding what a baby is. Of course, we hear a child being referred to as an embryo or fetus, words other than saying baby. But with modern technology, we see images of what a child looks like. The child in the womb is no longer thought of as a lump of flesh. 
Another thing is, we have come to realize that no one group is going to make an awful lot of difference. We have to work together — the white community, the black and Hispanic communities — so that we grow in numbers.
OSV: Why is this particularly important to minorities?
Gardner: Abortion facilities are placed in minority neighborhoods and around college campuses, and these communities are specifically targeted. They make sure that there are blacks working there. Blacks and people in the inner cities are led to believe that if you find yourself pregnant, it’s going to basically ruin your life, so the best thing to do is get an abortion. But that’s not the best for the child and that’s not the best for the mothers, either. One is injured and the other is dead.
OSV: How has the pro-life movement responded?
Gardner: The other side tries to make it seem like you are going to be out there all alone with no one to help. The truth is, pro-life groups are out there with many ways to help mothers and their children. It’s not just the initial issue of saving the baby’s life, but also helping the child and mother to grow in better care for the baby. One of the most important things is to make sure that mothers understand that there is hope out there, that we love our children, and that there is never a reason to kill your baby. I think more people are beginning to understand that it’s not the end of the world to have a child.
OSV: What does the future hold?

that it was unregulated, thereby establishing abortion on demand. In the second trimester, states could regulate abortion only to protect the loosely-defined health of the mother. In the third trimester, a state could regulate abortion to promote the interest of the viable or potentially viable fetus. 

At the same time that Roe v. Wade was passed, the Doe v. Bolton decision defined maternal health (a cause for abortion) as “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.” In other words, the right to abortion beyond the first trimester was expanded to include any vague definition of “maternal health.”

Encouraging victories

There have been numerous court decisions and challenges in the past 40 years, many filed by the pro-life movement and resulting in support of the right to life of the unborn. Despite setbacks, the victories in recent years have been encouraging. 

According to the Washington Times (Nov. 29, 2012), more than 500 new pro-life bills were introduced across the country in 2011, with more than 90 becoming law — a 50 percent increase over previous years. Another 350 new pro-life bills were introduced in 2012, and more than 60 became law. Among them were 38 specifically on abortion and 11 that provided legal recognition and protection of the unborn outside abortion, for instance a bill in South Carolina protecting infants from failed abortions. 

Another 25 bills considered halting state funding for abortion. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a budget bill that earmarked $7.5 million to Planned Parenthood and other family-planning organizations. 

In the matter of the Affordable Care Act, 13 states introduced resolutions opposing mandates for insurance companies to fully cover abortion-inducing drugs. Other states (Alabama, Wisconsin, South Dakota and South Carolina) opted out of the pro-abortion provisions to prevent funding abortions through insurance plans in their states. 

The life-affirming list goes on: state monies were allocated for pregnancy centers, and laws were passed to regulate abortion facilities, to require parental notification and more. 

As for McCorvey, she later claimed that two ambitious lawyers had used her as “a pawn” in Roe v. Wade. She changed her mind about abortion, was baptized a Christian in 1995 and in 1998 was received into the Catholic Church. She remains active in the pro-life movement. 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

Pro-Life Events
This month, pro-lifers on both coasts will process and pray for an end to abortion. 
In Washington, D.C., a national prayer service will take place at 8:30 a.m. at Constitution Hall before the 40th annual March for Life on Jan. 25. “After 40 years of legal abortion, and the misery it has brought to untold millions of American women, men and families, we want to have one of the largest expressions ever of communal repentance and fervent intercession for an end to abortion in our nation,” Father Frank Pavone, president of the National Pro-Life Religious Council, said in a statement.
For more information, visit  and
In San Francisco, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, will attend the ninth annual Walk for Life West Coast, which will take place at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at Civic Center Plaza. The event includes a rally featuring actress Jennifer O’Neill giving her testimonial and several other speakers before the march.
Far From Settled
On Jan. 23, 1973, The New York Times announced on its front page that the Supreme Court had settled the abortion issue in American law. Forty years later our greatest victory is that it is more unsettled than ever. For example, the last two years have seen unprecedented levels of activity by state legislatures seeking to limit abortion and show respect for the unborn child.  
Another great legal victory has been a consistent policy, in Congress and most states, that government will not fund abortions and will protect the conscience rights of those who reject abortion. These longstanding policies are now at risk, especially through implementation of the new health care reform law, and our greatest challenge in the new year will be to preserve and improve them.
It remains true that most Americans are basically pro-life and want greater protection for unborn human life than the Supreme Court allows and abortion rates continue to decline, especially among young people. We must build on this consensus and this promising trend to make further progress toward a culture of life.
— Richard M. Doerflinger, associate director, Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 
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