In the name of a generalized “right to privacy” allegedly implicit in the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, seven justices created a license to kill the unborn.
These men probably had no idea that they were unleashing a struggle for the soul of the nation. Five had been appointed by Republican presidents—two by Eisenhower, three by Nixon. Four of these five were regarded as “conservative,” “law and order” judges: Warren E. Burger, Potter Stewart, Lewis F. Powell, and Harry Blackmun. All no doubt believed that legal abortion was a humane and enlightened policy, one that would ease the burdens of many women and girls and relieve the enormous cost to society of a high birth rate among indigent (often unmarried) women. They seemed blithely to assume that abortion would be easily integrated into the fabric of American social and political life.
They were wrong on all counts.
They were wrong about the Constitution. As William H. Rehnquist and Byron White, the two dissenting justices in the case, pointed out, it is absurd to claim that a right to feticide follows from the constitutional injunction that “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” If the Constitution can be read to imply anything about abortion, it is that unborn human beings are, like everyone else, entitled to “the equal protection of the laws.” At a minimum, Roe and Doe were an outrageous usurpation of the constitutional authority of the people of the United States to shape law and policy through the institutions of representative government.
Of course, from the pro-life vantage point, success on the judicial front is only the prelude to the larger political struggle over abortion. If Roe is reversed, the result will be to return the matter to the domain of ordinary democratic deliberation for resolution by the state legislatures or the Congress. The burden will then be on the pro-life movement to win the struggle for the soul of the nation. We must, with God’s help, persuade our fellow citizens to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence by bringing the unborn fully within the protection of our laws.
On this score, we have a marvelous model in the great anti-slavery crusader William Wilberforce. When he began his work against the monstrous evil of chattel slavery, the odds appeared to be long against abolition. He was attacked by partisans of the slave power as a zealot, a religious fanatic, and, most perversely, an enemy of freedom. He was, they said, imposing his religious values on others. If he didn’t like slavery, well, no one was forcing him to own slaves. He should mind his own business and stay out of other people’s affairs. Less vitriolic critics said that he was unrealistic. He was a dreamer. He was making impossible demands. Does any of this sound familiar?
Wilberforce refused to be intimidated. He would allow nothing to deter him from his mission of Christian charity to free the slaves and end the practice of slavery. He was undaunted by the ridicule often heaped upon him.
A more recent hero, Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminded us during her final visit to the United States that prayer is the most powerful weapon in the pro-life arsenal. Wilberforce would certainly agree. We must ask God’s forgiveness for our great national sin of abandoning the unborn to the crime of abortion and implore His guidance and assistance in recalling the nation to its founding ideals of liberty and justice for all. While not all pro-life citizens are in a position to be activists or exercise leadership in the social and political spheres, all are able to participate in the prayer effort, and no one’s prayers are superfluous.
In addition to prayer and our political efforts, there is the obligation to reach out to pregnant women who are in need or who are subject for other reasons to pro-abortion pressures. The partisans of abortion, with the help of an overwhelmingly sympathetic and deeply biased news media, have portrayed people who oppose the killing of the unborn, whether by abortion or in embryo-destructive research, as heartless moralizers bent on oppressing women and impeding the progress of science. Nothing could be further from the truth.
And those of us who are Christians must, in obedience to the command of Christ himself, love our enemies. We must pray for those who have brought the abortion license upon our nation and for those who today protect and sustain it. We must also pray for those who perform and profit from the taking of human life. Our love for them must be godly and ungrudging. We must never give up on its power to transform.