Next week marks the 39th anniversary of the most remarkable adventure of judicial hubris in the history of our constitutional Republic since the infamous Dred Scott vs. Sanford (1857) decision. Through Roe vs. Wade (1973), purportedly to settle public policy by standardizing state regulation of abortion, our highest Court essentially concocted a fictive legislative chimera that grows ever more unwieldy under scientific and rational scrutiny.
The parallels in both decisions are notable. Dred Scott was attempting to sue for his freedom and that of his wife, Harriet, and their two daughters on the grounds that, although he and Harriet were slaves, he had lived with his master Dr. John Emerson in states and territories where slavery was illegal. But the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 (as in Roe) that the diversity of citizenship rules denied him and all persons of African ancestry standing. In order to assert the rights of owners to their legal “property,” the Court declared unconstitutional the congressionally approved Missouri Compromise, which was an effort to halt the expansion of slavery. Instead of settling differences among states and territories with this so-called “federal solution,” the ambitious court (like in Roe) bypassed them, only to outrage the factions and deepen tensions. It took three post-Civil War amendments and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1863) to nullify the court decision. Experience and history, however, testify to how much longer it takes to heal from the vestiges of slavery. The struggle continues.
A caveat: attempts to compare the plight of African-Americans to that of the unborn, though not without a certain logic, tend to exacerbate emotions even as they over-simplify the uniqueness of each circumstance. In fact, efforts to persuade even those well inclined to promote pro-life positions will likely backfire if they feel more like emotional bludgeoning or guilt-mongering than an appeal to the intellect and conscience — with facts and sound reasoning.
Alveda King, a niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, who is active in the Priests For Life Organization, has strongly advanced her belief that her uncle would have been among those championing the rights of the unborn. He had, in fact, expressed revulsion for the abortive practices of the Romans. Most of her arguments against abortion —such as, among others, its documented link with cervical and breast cancer, emotional illness and family disruption — stand on their own without the need to speculate about how Dr. King might have acted today.
What each cause does share in common is the inevitability of a struggle against existing sociocultural prejudices and a clash with the political-legal institutions that defend them. Each must engage in the same political process by which others will attempt to do under the guise of law what they could not do without its sanction.
Law — whether of legislators, presidents or judges — by attempting to make acceptable what is fundamentally immoral also corrupts the law itself by endowing it with a power it does not have. In Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man for All Seasons,” Sir Thomas More makes just that point in his defense for not signing the oath that would attribute to the King the right to divorce his wife. Responding in Act II to Cranmer, he says, “Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it? No, I will not sign.” Nor must we sign onto anything contrary to right reason or moral conscience.
On Monday, Jan. 23, tens of thousands of people of all faiths, many of them teens and college students, will gather in Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life. They will attest to the conviction that all human life is sacred from its creation at conception and not at some position or trimester humanly devised or ordained thereafter. The march will no doubt be peaceful, inspirational and representative of the best of what America is and stands for. It is also likely to be judiciously ignored in the secular media, if past experience is any indicator. The march has consistently drawn 250,000 people each year since 2003, and estimates put the 2011 attendance at 400,000.
The number of abortions in America still exceeds two million annually and remains two to three times higher among minority women. Statistics, however, are never completely reliable, since reporting is not mandatory and the methods of enumeration are not consistent.
Roe has trouble remembering all her children.