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All life worth living

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, January 26, 2006

Since the Jan. 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, 47 million unborn children have been legally executed in the United States. The latest Alan Guttmacher Institute report shows 1,293,000 were killed in 2002.

The total in 2002 for New York alone, 164,000, is eighty times the number of Americans killed in action so far in the Iraq War.

These figures reflect only surgical abortions and not the uncountable early abortions by pills, including many marketed and sold as “contraceptives.”

In Roe, the Supreme Court held that the unborn child is a nonperson who has no constitutional right to live and who therefore may be killed at any stage of pregnancy at the virtual discretion of his mother.

This is the principle of the Nazi depersonalization of the Jews and of the Supreme Court’s declaration, in the 1857 Dred Scott case, that slaves were property rather than persons.

Despite the emphasis on Supreme Court appointments, a “reversal” of Roe will have little effect on the abortion culture we have cultivated. This is so for two reasons.

First, because even the “pro-life” justices – Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist – have accepted the depersonalization principle by defining a “reversal” of Roe as a return of the issue to the states.

If you are legally subject to execution at the discretion of another or whenever a state legislature so decides, then you are a nonperson.

The Court in Roe acknowledged that, if the unborn child is a “person” whose life is guaranteed by the Constitution, the case for any and all abortion “collapses.” The views of Chief Justice Roberts and nominee Alito on this point are unknown.

The political pro-life movement, including the Catholic bishops’ bureaucracy, actively promotes that “states’ rights” solution. That “reversal” of Roe would make the right of innocent life depend on geography and would imply that anyone and everyone’s right to life can be subject to political bargaining like a highway appropriation.

As new justices go on the Court, however, a states’ rights “reversal” of Roe will be likely.

The second reason why such an illusory “reversal” of Roe will have little effect on the abortion culture is because technology is making abortion a private event beyond the reach of the law. Euthanasia, too, is moving beyond the law.

The Supreme Court has given the green light to “palliative care,” a valid concept in which, however, it can be impossible to tell whether the physician’s intent is to relieve pain or to kill.

The intentional killing of patients by withdrawing food and water happens routinely in cases where, unlike the Terri Schiavo case, the family members agree that the patient should die.

Our Culture of Death, in which the intentional infliction of death is an optional problem-solving technique, is a result of the cultural acceptance of contraception. As John Paul II put it, abortion and contraception are “fruits of the same tree.”

If man (of both sexes) makes himself arbiter, through contraception, of whether and when life shall begin, he will predictably make himself arbiter of when it shall end.

And contraception accepts the idea that there is such a thing as a life not worth living.

Benedict XVI accurately described abortion as “an aggression against society itself.” The answer to the Culture of Death is The Culture of Life, which builds on the conviction that innocent life is inviolable because it is a gift of God.

To restore that conviction requires uncompromising political, legal and educational activity and the provision of help to those who need it, before birth and beyond. As John Paul and Benedict have urged, however, the most effective weapon is prayer, especially in Eucharistic Adoration and the Rosary.

A suicidal Culture of Death is intrinsically short-lived. We are on the winning side.

Professor Emeritus Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be contacted at plaweki@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.