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The abortion issue in the post-Roe era: Let the debates begin

father, parent, dad, baby
Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema

The protests generated by the leaked Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade have revealed a great deal about how morally bankrupt the pro-abortion left has become.

As I have watched the often-profane images of these protests flash across my television, my predominant emotion has not been anger or disgust, but profound sorrow for the immoral morass in which so many of my fellow citizens have enmeshed themselves.

It really is a fulfillment of the ever-downward spiral of sin described by the Apostle Paul in the last half of the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans where he says, “as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind” so they were, among other things, “without natural affection,” using the Greek word for natural, instinctive love of a mother for a child (Rom. 1:28, 30).

In the half-century since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, what Pope John Paul II identified as “the culture of death” has insinuated itself ever more deeply into American culture. The Democrat Party has become the main repository for that influence, descending from a party seeking a society where abortion was “safe, legal, and rare” to the radical position expressed in the Senate’s vote last Wednesday on the “Women’s Health Protection Act.”

This egregious bill was rejected by a vote of 49-51 with all but one Democrat (Senator Manchin) voting in favor of a bill that would by federal law make abortion legal for any reason up until the moment of birth. The bill permitted no exceptions for parental consent, no “conscience” provisions to protect pro-life doctors and nurses, and with taxpayer funding for low-income mothers seeking abortions. All 50 Republican Senators voted against the bill.

Fortunately, this radical pro-abortion agenda has not seduced the American people to the extent it has captured the leadership of the Democrat Party. Earlier this year a Marist Poll found that just 36% of Americans believed abortion should be legal without any restrictions. The same poll revealed that 65% believed second-trimester abortions should be banned with 80% believing third-trimester abortions should be illegal. Seventy-three percent of respondents declared that there should be no taxpayer funding for abortion at any stage of fetal development.

If Roe v. Wade is indeed overturned, the issue will immediately revert to each state legislature for the people of each state to decide. In other words, despite the Supreme Court’s attempt 49 years ago to take the abortion issue out of the hands of the American people and decide it for them, it now will be decided by the people of each state.

And, it will be a spirited and intense debate because the abortion issue is perhaps the most divisive issue in American life. Why is this so?

The abortion issue quickly boils down to a debate between the “sanctity of life” ethic vs. the “quality of life” ethic. Is human life sacred? When does human life begin? Does human life deserve protection even when it is mentally and physically challenged or is in perilous sentient decline due to age or serious injury? Does radical individual autonomy trump a baby’s right to life?

Even though the American people are well to the right of where Senate Democrats are on these issues, they are not where the pro-life movement would have them to be. The issue is further complicated by the undeniable fact that convictions (and they are convictions, not merely views or preferences in most cases) are not evenly divided among the various states. Broadly speaking, the northeastern states and the Pacific Coast states are the most pro-choice, and the South, the Southwest, the Midwest, and the Mountain states are the most pro-life.

As Roe potentially fades into history, it is well to remember that even hard-core pro-choice liberal legal authorities cast aspersions on Roe’s advisability. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called Roe’s “heavy-handed political intervention [that] was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.” Alan Dershowitz opined, “I strongly support a woman’s right to choose but Roe v. Wade was a disaster.” Benjamin Wittes, senior fellow of the liberal Brookings Institution correctly concluded that “Roe is a lousy opinion that disenfranchised millions of conservatives on an issue about which they care deeply.”

If Roe is overturned, that disenfranchisement will have ended.

As we turn to the task of exercising our right to govern ourselves (government “of the people, by the people, for the people”) we would do well to remember our first principles of Western and American civilization.

Not long after the original Roe v. Wade decision, a man destined to be one of the most highly regarded constitutional law experts of his generation, Archibald Cox (yes, that Archibald Cox, the Harvard lawyer of Watergate fame) delivered a speech at All Souls College, Oxford, in which he offered his assessment of the Roe v. Wade decision. Cox, Boston Brahmin and liberal icon (for more than a decade he was the head of Common Cause), speaking from the high ground of the highest values and aspirations of Western Civilization, said the following:

“The opinion [in Roe v. Wade] fails even to consider what I would suppose to be the most important compelling interest of the State in prohibiting abortion: the interest in maintaining that respect for the paramount sanctity of human life which has always been at the centre of Western civilization, not merely by guarding ‘life’ itself, however defined, but by safeguarding the penumbra, whether at the beginning, through some overwhelming disability of mind or body, or at death….

“The failure to confront the issue in principled terms leaves the opinion to read like a set of hospital rules and regulations, whose validity is good enough this week but will be destroyed with new statistics upon the medical risks of childbirth and abortion or new advances in providing for the separate existence of a fetus. Neither historian, layman, nor lawyer will be persuaded that all the details prescribed in Roe v. Wade are part of either natural law or the Constitution.” (Notable & Quotable: Roe in Wall Street Journal 5/4/22).

It is illustrative of the deleterious impact Roe and the pro-abortion agenda it fostered and protected, that someone of Archibald Cox’s stature in the liberal pantheon, would speak so compellingly about the sanctity of human life and natural law.

Such a statement almost seems unimaginable from someone of similar iconic stature today.

If, as seems very likely, Roe is overturned, the debates will be intense. The pro-life movement must defend the sanctity of all human life, including those who oppose us and attack us both literally and figuratively.

Let us always remember that for every human being, whatever the circumstances of their conception may have been, each of us is, and always will be, a person of unalienable worth and infinite value to their Heavenly Father — including the most radical pro-abortion proponents.

To paraphrase the incomparable Winston Churchill, let us so conduct ourselves in this debate that if the American Republic exists for a thousand years, they will say this was their finest hour.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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