The American Catholic
January 22, 2010
In his encyclical Aeterni Patris, Pope Leo XIII sought to advance the restoration of Christian philosophy against the modern trends of secular philosophy, emerging from Enlightenment rationalism. The critique of modern intellectual errors and the way in which such false thinking manifests itself in the world has deeply shaded my personal reflection on the tragedy of legal abortion.
In the dawn of each new year, pro-life Americans pause to mourn the loss of innocent unborn human life. Every year on January 22nd—the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton to impose unrestricted legal abortion—the pro-life movement recommits itself to the reversal of this tragic Supreme Court decision.
In 1970, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee decided to file a lawsuit to attempt to reform Texas abortion laws; at the time there was no formulaic strategy for liberal lawyers. The ultimate aim was to have the law struck down in its entirety, so the two chose not to base the case on Norma McCorvey’s report that she had been raped. The rape would have been difficult to prove given that there was no police report filed. Even if the Supreme Court ruled in their favor with an emphasis on the rape, at best they could hope to win legal abortion for women in the circumstances of rape.
Weddington and Coffee filed a class action suit on behalf of “Jane Roe” and all other women “similarly situated” (that is, pregnant and seeking an abortion) and they challenged the constitutionality of Texas abortion laws on the broadest possible grounds. This lawsuit, of course, is the infamous Jane Roe et al. v. Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County.
The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court after the state of Texas appealed its previous loss in a U.S. district court in Dallas. Weddington who argued the national case was aided by a number of liberal lawyers, including lawyers from Planned Parenthood who regarded Roe as the appropriate sequel to Griswold (The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger who opposed abortion was already deceased).
Weddington argued that “pregnancy to a woman can completely disrupt her life.” Many schools in Texas required that a teacher resign if she became pregnant. Employers often forced women to leave their jobs early in pregnancy, and the state provided no unemployment compensation or welfare for them. So Weddington concluded “pregnancy to a woman is perhaps…the most determinative aspect of her life…[and] is a matter which is of such fundamental and basic conern to the woman involved, that she should be allowed to make the choice as to whether to continue or to terminate her pregnancy.”
Weddington added, “The Constitution, as I see it, gives protection to people after birth.”
Jay Floyd defending the Texas law asserted “there is life from the moment of impregnation.” To which, Justice Thurgood Marshall asked, “…do you have scientific data to support that?” Floyd replied that his legal brief began with the development of the human embryo from about seven to nine days after conception.
Marshall, then asked, “Well, what about six days?…This statue clearly goes back to one hour.” It is evident that Marshall saw no basis for the claim that a fetus had full constitutional rights.
In fact, what to any reasonable mind is the most central question was nonchalantly dismissed. There was no “need” to “resolve the difficult question of when life begins…we do not agree that, by adopting one theory of life, Texas may override the rights of the pregnant woman that are at stake.” The state’s interest in protecting “potential” life was not “compelling” until the so-called vague point of “viability.” After that point, the state could prohibit abortion except under the circumstances in which the life or “health” of the mother were in danger. It was within this framework, so to say, that abortion was legalized throughout the nine months of pregnancy.
An understanding of the deeply flawed thinking that created this travesty, I think, is essential for pro-life Americans to convince a majority of their brothers and sisters of the incoherence of supporting abortion as well as its innate injustice. The “right” to legal abortion was advocated behind the smokescreen of a “right to privacy.” Yet one of the most striking things about the “right to privacy” is that no one has a clear idea of what it is. Is this “right” absolute? Surely it cannot be. It would be unreasonable to assert that immoral acts—especially murder—should be legally permitted, or even advocated, so long as they are done in private.
See also from Catholic Culture: Library, Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, "Aeterni Patris (On The Restoration Of Christian Philosophy)."