It has been almost 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, Roe v. Wade, in effect stopped the enactment of laws — federal or state — that would protect the right to life of the unborn.
Even so, for all these four decades, many Americans have steadfastly and continually demanded this right to life, and in many instances their demands have prevailed. While abortion remains a legal option throughout the country, many states have adopted laws restricting it.
Still, no ultimate victory in this cause can come without a reversal, or at least a significant amending, of the original Supreme Court decision. It is pure speculation to debate whether or not such a ruling will ever be given.
Should it occur, the best outcome for the pro-life cause would be that the court theoretically would rule that an unborn human being is a person, and that, therefore, an unborn human being is entitled to all the protections of the law.
Another possibility is that the entire question of abortion, or important aspects of abortion, such as parental consent, be judged by the court to be a matter properly to be settled by the states.
This possibility worries me. Were the U.S. Supreme Court somehow to reach a decision regarding abortion that would let the states deal with the question individually, then it would not be as broad a victory for the pro-life cause as it initially might be thought.
Although a sizeable number of Americans oppose abortion, various qualifications pertaining, it is very likely that some, if not many, states would allow abortion on demand under laws passed by their legislatures.
Acceptance of abortion, while vastly enabled by Roe v. Wade, did not begin in America in 1973. It already was an idea gaining acceptance. New York had legalized abortion. So did California, an effort ironically enabled by then Gov. Ronald Reagan before he adopted a stricter position on the subject. Efforts were under way in dozens of other states to make the procedure legal.
In other words, tolerance, at least, for legal abortion has been around for a long time.
All opposition to abortion admitted, it is an option that has crept into the culture of this country, and, indeed, throughout the Western world.
Fifty years ago, no sane person would have dreamed that such once-solidly Catholic countries as Belgium and Spain would legalize abortion. But today, it is legal in these countries and across Western Europe, except for Ireland.
The point is that people have accustomed themselves to abortion on demand. The pro-life cause cannot rest until abortion is a thing of the past, not forbidden here but allowed there.
No one knows what the courts will do. Regardless of the still substantial disapproval of abortion among Americans, the practice simply has become part of life. This is where cultural attitudes and public opinion enter the picture.
Concentrating on “choice” as the basic point, rather than on the right to life of an unborn human being, to give the devil the due, was masterful public relations. Having the right to choose whatever is as American as apple pie. (This philosophy is very present in moves to legalize euthanasia and same-sex marriage.)
Supporters of the right to life of the unborn must continue to focus upon what is truly critical, namely the right to life of an unborn human being.
Actually, were we who are pro-life able to convince our society overall of the dignity of human life, and of the right to life of the unborn, despite the courts and the legislatures, the people in their own lives would repudiate the procedure.
So, as much as ever, we need to speak up.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.