Chuck Donovan: On the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade E-mail

Forty years on, Roe v. Wade has reached middle-age in decidedly frail condition. The abortion decision was never ancient wisdom, but now it is merely prematurely old. Not strong on law or science, Roe has proven weak on sociology and psychology, and a failure at human relations and family studies.

Once at least it was a business success, opening the way for Planned Parenthood and others to reap tremendous financial rewards, but as 2013 opens this graying figure, half misanthrope and half misogynist, is failing economics as well.

Roe and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, made such grandiose promises in their juvescence. With their aid, every child would be a wanted child. Marriages, no longer burdened by many children untimely conceived, would thrive. Poverty would be eliminated and the dread scourge of overpopulation would be averted. Men and women would regard each other with a profound new respect for their dignity, mutuality, and equality.

If all of these outcomes had occurred, and if the radical freedom and autonomy promised by Roe and Doe were their cause, the “abortion right” would by now be not just secure but venerable. But no portrait of our times matches this picture, and increasingly social critics of diverse persuasion do not even try.

Over at The Atlantic, Hannah Rosin celebrates “the end of men” and the triumph of the “hook-up culture” of meaningless sex. At the Centers for Disease Control, which dutifully chronicles unexpected pregnancy as though it were indeed a disease, fresh reports indicate the fourth consecutive year of subreplacement-level fertility in the United States, with new declines among women in their prime childbearing years. In New York City schools, children as young as 14 are handed the “morning after” pill without the knowledge of their parents. Once upon a time, the typical “night before” for America’s 14-year-olds was homework, tea, and toast, and a prayer before bedtime.

More than 40 percent of children in the United States are born out of wedlock or (to phrase it more meaningfully) without the assured benefit of the married love of the man and woman who conceived and brought them into the world. Across Europe, nation after nation is experiencing a level of aging and barrenness denotative of national suicide, including lands lauded for their history, culture, and beauty, such as Italy, Greece, Spain, and Germany.

Japan, perhaps the world’s largest exporter of funds for international population control and a mere 20 years ago an economic juggernaut, is entering Gerontion’s twilight with a total fertility rate of less than 1.4 children per woman. Fear has stolen a future.

Can a single set of decisions by a nation’s high court trigger such a range of disaster? By no means, but the Abortion Cases are a pivot point, the place where a nation founded on ideals and green with promise turned toward a Culture of Death. Forty years further on, those most closely identified with that culture are redoubling their grim determination. While many people have begun to reconsider abortion and the managed mayhem it represents, the International Planned Parenthood Federation has announced that it increased its worldwide “abortion services” by an astonishing 147 percent from 2007 to 2011.

The IPPF’s domestic sibling, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, sails along a similar course, performing 1,000,000 abortions every three years and operating abortion “mega centers” in Houston, Denver, and St. Paul. No longer content with promoting its activities through 50 federal-state programs, Planned Parenthood has even partnered with the Obama Administration to try to harness Catholic and other religious employers into their service network. The “preventive services mandate” is not a method of delivering free contaceptives and abortion drugs to women working at religious entities, because so many ways of doing that already exist. It is instead a means to destroy any alternative vision of mother-and-child health. Such is the daily work of the hegemon of hedonism, the empire of emptiness.

Bleak as this recitation may seem, these are the throes of an ailing enterprise. The abortion movement has long misjudged the character and endurance of its opposition. Its foray to the heart of the pro-life cause, its institutions and its charitable extensions, may prove to be an act of desperation more damaging to the assailant than to the intended victim.

After all, the first task of the right-to-life movement has been achieved: It has prevented the legal doctrines of Roe and Doe from being accepted as constitutional gospel. This is a rare event in American jurisprudence, where, on most matters, the conclusions of our highest court have eventually etched themselves into our social stonework. 

On rare occasions, four decades along, decisions like Plessy v. Ferguson have grown less acceptable to the American people. Forty years after the Supreme Court ruling upholding state laws that required segregation in public accommodations, a young attorney named Thurgood Marshall won his case ending segregation at the University of Maryland Law School, where he had been denied admission because of his race. Today, on the eve of 2013, young lawyers are winning cases defending the right to life and the right of women to receive real information about the children they carry.  

Roe and Doe are not settled law. They remain the ultimate in unsettling law, upending the meaning of the Declaration of Independence and creating conditions where human lives are not seen as created equal in value.  

More work lies before us, but we would do well to remember Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s observation, early in her days on the Supreme Court, that Roe v. Wade was “clearly on a collision course with itself” (City of Akron v. Reproductive Health Services, 1983). The internal contradictions of abortion are evident in every phase of the science of maternity, from the use of ultrasound to advances in prenatal surgery. So many fetal conditions are now amenable to prenatal intervention that Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has devoted an entire website to the expanding services of its Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment.

Pregnancy resource centers are just now entering their heyday. The number of medically oriented centers is increasing yearly, and the nation’s pregnancy networks are devoting new attention to underserved communities where abortion rates are highest. African Americans, who bear the deepest wounds of abortion in the United States, continue to take up leadership roles and to challenge established organizations like the NAACP that have accepted anti-life alliances.  

As a new study by my own organization, the Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C. confirms, pro-life pregnancy centers in the United States raise substantially more private funding than Planned Parenthood clinics do. Cut off the federal-state gravy train to the nation’s largest abortion provider, and Planned Parenthood’s appeal will suddenly be revealed as remarkably limited. The health care of the future will deal with the well-being of the whole woman and the potential of the whole girl, including her relationships with family, church, and community.

Twenty-five years ago, then-President Ronald Reagan wrote that “[o]ur nation cannot continue down the path of abortion, so radically at odds with our history, our heritage, and our concepts of justice.” Today our history, heritage, and concepts of justice continue their claim on the conscience of a nation: Roe and its progeny must go for our nation to have a new birth of life and liberty.

*     *     *     *     *
Chuck Donovan is the president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the education and research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List in Washington, D.C.