Jan. 22, 2010
The Gallup Company created quite a stir last spring when they announced that, for the first time, a majority (51%) of Americans consider themselves pro-life. We would think, therefore, that a majority would also favor overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that gave us abortion-on-demand. Not necessarily.
First, we must remember that the American people have been misled by the major news media about Roe v. Wade since that dark and dreary day 36 years ago.
The media regularly call Roe a landmark decision. Landmark is a good thing. It connotes something historic and of great weight. You never hear the infamous 1857 Dred Scott ruling that upheld slavery in the territories called landmark.
Almost never will a story about Roe include the critique of Yale Law School Dean, John Hart Ely. Prof. Ely, although he favored liberalizing our abortion laws, was unimpressed by the legal reasoning behind Justice Harry Blackmuns Roe v. Wade ruling: It is not constitutional law and it gives no impression of an obligation to be constitutional law. According to Bob Woodruffs behind-the-scenes book on the Supreme Court, the Justices clerks were even more dismissive, calling the opinion Harrys abortion.
Harvard Law Professor Archibald Cox was a friend of the Kennedy family. He, too, was not impressed with the land that Roe was marking:
[Blackmuns opinion] fails even to consider what I would suppose to be the most important compelling interest of the State in prohibiting abortion: the interest in maintaining that respect for the paramount sanctity of human life which has always been at the centre of Western civilization, not merely by guarding life itself, however defined, but by safeguarding the penumbra, whether at the beginning, through some overwhelming disability of mind or body, or at death.
Continuing to blast Roe, Cox wrote:
The failure to confront the issue in principled terms leaves the opinion to read like a set of hospital rules and regulations, whose validity is good enough this week but will be destroyed with new statistics upon the medical risks of child-birth and abortion or new advances in providing for the separate existence of a fetus… . Neither historian, nor layman, nor lawyer will be persuaded that all the prescriptions of Justice Blackmun are part of the Constitution.
President Kennedys appointee to the Supreme Court, Justice Byron R. Whizzer White was one of two votes against Roe on January 22, 1973, and faithfully ever after. Justice White condemned the ruling as an example of raw judicial power.
But the media, in their worshipful treatment of Roe, rarely include such comments. Nor do they remind Americans that Roe was so radical it overturned the abortion laws of all fifty states. Even the most liberal state laws on abortionlike those of New York, Washington, California, and Coloradowere overturned by Roes yet more radical rule.
Further, the media regularly report that the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. Thats true, but misleading.
Yes, the Court made abortion legal in the first trimester (three months), but it also so strictly limited the protections a state might afford to unborn children after the first trimester as to effectively give us abortion-on-demand until birth. (And, in some horrific cases, even after birth.)
Describing Roe this way is like describing Hitlers blitzkrieg in Western Europe like this:
German forces today overran Belgium and Luxemburg. Surely they did. But they also simultaneously invaded France!
In practice, Roe legalized abortion in all three trimesters. This makes U.S. abortion law more radical than any other advanced democracy.
So the public has been consistently misinformed about the radical nature of Roe v. Wade.
But it is also misinformed about the reasons given for most abortions. Well over 90% of abortions are done today—and have been done since 1973 for reasons that the American people do not support—reasons of financial hardship or emotional distress.
Liberal Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, who retired earlier this year, famously wrote that the three reasons for abortion are rape, incest, and me. She was candidly admitting that pro-abortion groups use the horrors of rape and incest to conceal their true agenda: abortion-on-demand.
The numbers of abortions are typically reported in decimal form1.2 million. Cynical Communist dictator Joe Stalin said it: A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic. He should know. By not reporting the annual deaths from abortion as 1,200,000, or the total since Roe was issued as 49,000,000, the press collaborates in minimizing the impact.
By way of comparison, Americas Civil War claimed the lives of 630,000 young men, World War II cost us 424,000. Is there any other way to assess the gravity of a war? The worst riots? The worst flood? The worst earthquake? Theyre judged by the numbers of human lives they take.
(continued in Part II)