January 22 marked the 47th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the United States Supreme Court declaring that abortion is a constitutional right. The year was 1973. The Vietnam War was underway and the Watergate scandal was about to erupt on the national scene. The Vietnam War and Watergate are over but the culture war this decision unleashed remains with us. The results have not been positive.
The case never should have been heard by the Supreme Court in the first place. The opinion is poorly reasoned and poorly written as well. It has been a disaster from the start. As was Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), this was a self-inflicted wound which did not have to happen, but it did happen and now we face the consequences.
Some statistics are as follows: (1) According to the Guttmacher Institute, 744,610 abortions were reported in the United States in 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade; (2) abortions reached their maximum in 1990 when over 1.6 million occurred; and (3) the number has been slowly but steadily declining since then and reached 862,320 in 2017. This decline is encouraging, but still almost one in five pregnancies ended in abortion. Granted, some of these pregnancies were not viable and would have self-terminated anyway, but many more were viable and would not have self-terminated. Every one of those was a helpless and utterly defenseless unborn human child, something everyone now living once was. Have you ever considered where you would be if your mother had had an abortion when she was pregnant with you?
The damage Roe v. Wade has inflicted on our country is severe. Our moral authority as a nation has been undermined by the willful termination of the lives of some 60 million unborn. We like to look down our noses at the Nazis and smugly say we would never do anything like the Holocaust, but the truth is that we have done and continue to do something that has taken 10 times the number of lives lost in that tragedy.
Montesquieu and Jefferson wrote about how slavery corrupts both the slave and the slaveowner – the slave with degradation and the slaveowner with power. The same is true with abortion. I have often wondered what a physician who performs an abortion thinks and feels at the time, and then how he manages to sleep that night. That physician supposedly is someone who is devoting his life to healing the sick and comforting the dying, and has taken an oath to at least do no harm. What does he think and feel as he watches the baby’s lifeless body dropped into a plastic bag? I would not want to be in his shoes when he stands before the Lord God Almighty.
Roe v. Wade has left in its wake a divided and angry country whose discourse has ceased to be civil. Perhaps this is most evident in the confirmation process of Supreme Court justices which has, in effect, been utterly wrecked. It began when Sen. Ted Kennedy launched his onslaught against President Reagan’s nomination of Judge Robert Bork, saying “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions ...” This was untrue then and remains untrue now. It led to a new verb, “to Bork,” meaning to destroy a judicial nominee by whatever means necessary.
Before this, almost all SCOTUS confirmations had been civil and dignified and some even perfunctory. Since Bork, however, the litmus test of support for Roe v. Wade has been in effect and anyone unwilling to commit to supporting it has been subjected to vicious attack and character assassination. Witness the Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh confirmations. These episodes have permeated and corrupted our civil discourse. The ties that bind us have been greatly weakened.
In 1857, the Supreme Court said slavery was constitutional in Dred Scott v. Sandford, but that did not make it right. In 1896, it said racial segregation was constitutional in Plessy v. Ferguson, but that did not make it right. And in 1973, it said abortion was constitutional and, again, that did not make it right. The Golden Rule says to do to others what we would have them do to us. Our Declaration of Independence says the right to life is God-given and unalienable. Let’s practice what we preach.
Winfield H. Rose taught political science at Murray State University for 39 years and is now retired. He is active in the Calloway County GOP, but speaks here as an individual and not as a representative of either of these organizations.