Unhappy anniversary: Roe turns thirty-five

by Beacon Staff • January 30, 2008

Since Roe v. Wade was decided on Jan.,For those deeply invested in the notion that human life is precious, Jan. 22 was cause for despair. That day marked the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that effectively imposed abortion upon America.

Since Roe v. Wade was decided on Jan. 22, 1973, some 40 million pregnancies have been terminated in the United States, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. In less sterile terms, that's 40 million unique and viable human beings who've been legally snuffed-out.

It would be foolish, of course, to pretend that abortions didn't occur before 1973, or that they would've ceased had the rulings been different. The practice is ancient, and was never uncommon in America.

Prior to Roe, however, pregnancy termination was less frequent, less acceptable. Legal restrictions and social taboos, combined with a culture that honored motherhood, meant significantly fewer abortions.

Indeed, in 1973, America was still very much in a "pro-life" frame of mind, with the unborn legally protected in thirty states. In sixteen others, abortion was allowed only in extreme cases, such as rape or incest. A mere four states had permissive termination-on-demand laws.

With the sanction of law, however, abortion acquired a moral varnish. Suddenly, it was no longer risky and criminal, but an easy option presented as a first and best choice. Legitimized, the aptly described "culture of death" flourished. Abortion rates spiked immediately after 1973 and climbed throughout the century, reports DHHS.

Numbers have lately dipped, but the raw total remains staggering. By measure of the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health group, 2005 saw 1.2 million abortions.

Amazingly, this vast but quiet destruction is taking place despite scientific advances which illuminate the reality of human life in utero. Three dimensional ultrasounds allow us to actually witness the lightning fast development of the fetus in its first ten weeks of life, during which most abortions occur. In that stretch of time, the brain, heart and major organs emerge and begin functioning: the child is on a trajectory to healthy maturity.

There's a temptation to dissociate our adult self from our fetal form, but any such demarcation is faulty and ideologically charged. Stages of human development are not discrete; one is not better or worse than the next. What's certain is that upon conception, the child is biologically distinct (and, by some reckonings, possessed by a soul).

Unless we are to judge a man's worth by his size and age and mental faculties, we must accept this principle: from first stirring to last, an individual is entitled to life and liberty.

Given the basic "personhood" of a prenatal human both biologically and spiritually, you'd think women would approach abortion only in dire medical circumstances. In fact, the polar opposite is true. A 1998 study by International Family Planning Perspectives showed that only five or six percent of terminations are due to health worries.

That same organization asserts that a desire to postpone childbearing, alleged lack of money or undefined relationship difficulties account for the vast majority of terminations. The Guttmacher Institute says that, of the 1.31 million abortions in 2000, just 13,000 were prompted by rape or incest.

The origin of this moral calamity is also depressing. Abortion liberalization wasn't achieved through democratic means. Instead, it was forced upon the public by judicial writ.

Such a morally questionable and socially divisive issue shouldn't have been settled by nine unelected D.C. magistrates. The states were unfairly and unnecessarily disenfranchised by the ruling, which upset a wealth of local statutes and centuries of common law.

Thankfully, certain legislators are working to erode the court's decision. They have won some battles, but the situation remains heartbreaking. In a first world country with top-notch hospitals, elaborate welfare programs and a solid adoption system, there's no excuse for aborting a child save medical emergency.

Our great teachers have said that we will be judged by our treatment of the very vulnerable.

As a society, then, it's imperative that we reclaim the moral vigor and basic decency to protect unborn children, who are indisputably the most defenseless and innocent among us.