By Kathleen M. Gallagher
On Dec. 1, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This case challenges the constitutionality of a law enacted in Mississippi which prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case is big, and the Justices’ decision has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade.
It’s crazy to think the Roe decision legalizing abortion in America, a Supreme Court precedent that has been in place for almost 50 years, could be overturned. Yet, it has happened before. In 1954, the Court unanimously overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling from 58 years prior that had upheld racial segregation in public schools. When cases are incorrectly decided, the Court is not bound to uphold them as precedent.
More importantly, though, scientifically we are worlds away from where we were in 1973 when Roe was decided. Back then, our knowledge of prenatal development was extremely limited. Today, advances in ultrasound technology give us a literal “window to the womb”; we know that, at 15 weeks gestation, a baby’s heart is beating, brain waves have developed, and there are eyes and teeth and fingers and toes.
I recently saw videos of my first grandchild sleeping, drinking, and kicking in the womb. At one point, the baby even appeared to flash us the peace sign! To watch the miracle of life unfold within his or her mother is breathtaking and miraculous. To discriminate against these innocent children because of where they happen to reside is irrational and cruel. Equality must begin in the womb.
You will likely see and hear much about the Dobbs case in the next few months. Those who shape public opinion — the mainstream media, Hollywood celebrities, political leaders, social media giants — have already lit the fire. The New York Times unveiled a “Tell Us Your Abortion Story” campaign, urging readers who have been personally affected by abortion to share their experiences. (It’s too bad infants in the womb can’t get the Times delivered there.) Saturday Night Live tried to get some laughs out of the issue with a skit by Goober the Clown who had an abortion at age 23. “It’s a rough subject,” said the clown, “so we’re gonna do some fun clown stuff to make it more palatable.” My Facebook feed is filled with shallow memes, Planned Parenthood ads, and hurtful conversations about the subject, highly critical of the pro-life viewpoint.
What are we to make of all this? Personally, I think these are all defense mechanisms used by many people to avoid the truth about abortion and the pain that it brings. If they joke about it, shout out their stories, lobby for it, perhaps they think they will justify it, and they will never have to face the reality of what it is. Perhaps they think this will help to persuade the Justices of the Supreme Court.
I highly doubt it. I am hopeful that, with its decision in Dobbs, the Court will begin to undo the damage wrought by Roe, set aside the politics, and return power to the citizens in each state, through their legislatures, to craft sensible policies on abortion.
I pray that the Court’s decision — expected during the spring of 2022 — will not lead to a backlash of even greater polarization and violence, as some have predicted. Instead, I hope my grandbaby’s peace sign foreshadows progress toward non-violent resolutions of difficult problems. If we care about the threats to human life taking place all around us, we must defend that life from the first moment of its creation and continue that defense throughout a person’s existence. Peace must begin in the womb.
Kathleen M. Gallagher is the director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference.