Were its effects not so unspeakably evil and ongoing, one could rightly dismiss Roe v. Wade as one of the most embarrassing legal decisions ever made by any court. With a vote and a pen-stroke, seven of the so-called greatest legal minds of their generation disregarded the most elementary findings of the natural sciences and the most basic principles of human rights, winning for themselves the dubious distinction of enshrining in law the murderous dominance of the powerful over the weak.
Of course, we’d been there before. Over 100 years earlier, seven other equally “brilliant” legal minds managed to overlook the self-evident common humanity of our African-American brothers and sisters, ruling that no person of African descent could claim U.S. citizenship. It took decades more of unimaginable suffering by black Americans and a bloody civil war resulting in some three-quarters of a million deaths before the U.S. would even begin clawing its way out of the pit in which the infamous Dred Scott decision had mired the country.
It is inevitable that one day our descendants will regard Roe v. Wade with much the same horror with which we now universally deride the Dred Scott decision. Truth has a way of bursting even the most unbreakable bonds. Nevertheless, it brings one near to despair to consider how many more innocent babies must die, and how much more of the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary pro-life Americans must be expended before that day may come.
Still, in recent weeks we have received a glimmer – and maybe even much more than a glimmer – of hope that the U.S. will soon begin to put this dark chapter in its history behind it.
The resignation of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has created what may well be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to expunge the poisonous logic of Roe from our legal code. Over the past three decades, Kennedy has earned a reputation as the Court’s “swing vote” – an unpredictable force who, though willing to ally himself with the court’s conservative wing on various issues, was just as likely to provide the key fifth vote to the liberal wing on cases having to do with critical social issues, including same-sex “marriage” and abortion.
As The Atlantic reports, Kennedy sometimes voted with the conservatives to uphold restrictions on abortion, thereby giving the impression of “balance.” On the other hand, “The Casey decision, which he helped write, retained much of Roe v. Wade. He repeatedly reinforced that abortion was a protected liberty …. And in 2016, Kennedy joined an opinion that bolstered abortion rights by concluding that abortion is generally safe and requiring states to show that any restrictions helped women in fact, not theory.”
As long as Kennedy was willing to defend the farcical Roe as the law of the land and not the judicial, scientific, logical and moral travesty that it is, he fully merited the “pro-abortion” label given him by pro-lifers. There is no reasonable “middle-ground” on the question of whether or not the law should recognize the right to life of certain human beings.
With Kennedy now gone, activists on both sides are confronting the very-real possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned, even as soon as in the next few years. Indeed, abortion activists are expressing a rare desperation as it dawns on them — even though abortion numbers are falling — that the grassroots pro-life sentiment sweeping the U.S. may soon culminate at the Supreme Court in a tidal wave that topples the dictatorship of Roe.
U.S. Bishops Launch Prayer Campaign
As I’m sure you already know, President Trump has nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., who is also a Catholic, to fill Kennedy’s seat. As is the case with many Supreme Court nominees, it is difficult to ascertain precisely where Kavanaugh stands personally on many of the more contentious issues.
But there is very real cause to hope.
During the final presidential debate in 2016, Trump was asked about overturning Roe. In his answer he promised to appoint “pro-life” justices to the Supreme Court. “If we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that’s really what’s going to be, that’s what will happen,” he said about overturning Roe. “And that will happen automatically in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.”
To date Trump has shown a willingness to follow through on campaign promises on the life issues. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the forces arrayed against life. Abortion is the rotten foundation on which the sexual revolution was erected; without it, the whole structure falls. Pro-abortion activists and politicians, for whom the sexual revolution and its insidious “freedoms” are sacrosanct, will stop at nothing to protect the status quo.
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For this reason, I am thrilled that the U.S. bishops are taking a leadership role by launching a prayer campaign for the outcome of the battle over the vacant Supreme Court seat. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, has announced a 9-week prayer novena. It started this past Friday, August 3, and will continue every Friday until September 28.
“As soon as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, pro-abortion groups began lobbying the U.S. Senate to reject any nominee who does not promise to endorse Roe v. Wade,” lamented Cardinal Dolan in a statement. “While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does not support or oppose the confirmation of any presidential nominee, we can and should raise grave concerns about a confirmation process which is being grossly distorted by efforts to subject judicial nominees to a litmus test of support for Roe v. Wade.”
“And we must pray,” he said.
“I urge all people of good will to join me in prayer that this change in the U.S. Supreme Court will move our nation closer to the day when every human being is protected in law and welcomed in life,” the cardinal concluded. “May Our Lady of Guadalupe intercede for the healing of our nation and our people from decades of abortion on demand.”
In addition to prayer, the USCCB is inviting Catholics to fast on these Fridays for the intention of the “legal protection of unborn human life.” Materials pertaining to the novena, including prayers, can be found here. I strongly urge anyone reading this to join this novena, and to fast on Fridays for this intention. The stakes could not possibly be higher.
It’s Impermissible to Remain Idle over Turning Roe
However, we must also do more than pray. We must get involved – whether through political advocacy or grassroots pro-life activism. As Cardinal Ratzinger made clear in a 2002 note on Christian involvement in political life: “By fulfilling their civic duties, ‘guided by a Christian conscience’, in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian value…”
Quoting John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger urged that “the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in ‘public life’…” In the same apostolic exhortation from which Cardinal Ratzinger was quoting, St. Pope John Paul II had issued a stern warning to Christians: “If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.”
It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.
That means you, and me. All of us. Indeed, it’s worth reminding ourselves now, as we allow our hearts to hope, that toppling Roe is, at best, the beginning of a pro-life revolution in this country. After all, overturning Roe does not automatically make abortion illegal. What it does do is return the abortion issue to the states. And that’s when the fight for the right to life will begin in earnest.
Or rather, that’s when we can hope to begin to reap the fruit of the work we are doing right now to change the culture by changing individual hearts and minds to embrace life, and by pushing for pro-life laws at the state and local level. Indeed, as one ominous essay at The New Republic warns, without a strong pro-life consensus in the culture, overturning Roe could even lead to a liberal backlash that harms the pro-life cause. “Instead of an unambiguous and permanent conservative victory, [conservatives] might face a liberal political resurgence unlike anything seen in decades,” states Jonathon Zimmerman. “A victory in the courts could spawn backlash at the polls.”
It would be a mistake to allow this kind of pragmatic political calculus from stopping us from overturning Roe. But Jonathon is right: even if overturning Roe is a critical step, it is not the end-game. Changing the culture is.
The perennial temptation even for people of good will is to hope for the good, but then to offload the responsibility of actually bringing the good about onto other people. The temptation is to assume that we are too insignificant to bring about any meaningful change, and to wait for powerful individuals and institutions to step up to the plate.
This is a false humility. Certainly, we must earnestly pray that President Trump and, once confirmed, Justice Kavanaugh will use their power to protect the innocent. Nevertheless, President Trump cannot comfort that pregnant single mother sitting next to you on the bus, who is considering abortion, and who needs to hear encouraging words and to receive physical assistance to face the uncertainty of another child. Justice Kavanaugh cannot go door-to-door, spreading truthful information about that new law being proposed in your state legislature protecting the right to life of the unborn. Our senators and congressman cannot witness to the right to life of the unborn in your college classroom, or volunteer in your local pro-life pregnancy center, or teach your children to respect life, or start a pro-life ministry at your parish. But, you and I can!
Pope Francis urged concerned Catholics a few years ago: “Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony? No, you can’t watch from the balcony. Get right in there!” The social doctrine of the Catholic Church has always emphasized the principle of subsidiarity – which basically amounts to an affirmation that true, lasting change begins at the most fundamental levels of society, beginning with the individual and the family.
So, let us pray for President Trump and Justice Kavanaugh. But let us also resolve to work harder, in our own limited sphere of influence, to create the conditions in which overturning Roe truly does ring the death-knell for abortion in our country.
LifeNews Note: Fr. Shenan J. Boquet is the president of Human Life International.