Charles Rice | Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Would you call it an exercise in futility? On Jan. 22, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students joined the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., calling for reversal of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling on that date in 1973 which mandated, in effect, elective abortion at every stage in pregnancy. The Court defined the unborn child as a nonperson who is therefore not entitled to the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution to persons.
The Supreme Court will not reverse that holding of Roe. Even the Justices who say that Roe should be “overruled” define that as a “states’ rights” approach that would allow the states to permit or forbid abortion. That would affirm the holding of Roe. If your life is subject to extinction whenever a state legislature so decrees, then, so far as the United States Constitution is concerned, you are a nonperson.
Depersonalization is the theory of the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews and of the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott case in which the Court held that freed slaves could not be citizens and said that slaves were property rather than persons.
Abortion is not simply a legal issue. It is embedded in American culture. The Alan Guttmacher Institute reports that from 1973 to 2005, more than 45 million surgical abortions occurred in the United States, with 1.21 million in 2005, down from 1.31 in 2000. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies in the United States end in abortion. These figures do not include the uncountable number of early abortions by abortifacients, including most “contraceptive” pills.
Abortion is a symptom of what Pope Benedict XVI called “a dictatorship of relativism… that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the ‘I’ and its whims as the ultimate measure.” The secularism, relativism and individualism of that culture affect the most fundamental human activity, the generation of life.
Abortion is a product of the contraceptive ethic. “[D]espite their differences,” said John Paul II, “contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree…. rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and … a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment.”
Until the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930, no Christian denomination had ever said that contraception could ever be objectively right. Contraception deliberately separates sex from procreation. It affirms that there is such a thing as a life not worth living, and that man (of both sexes), rather than God, is the arbiter of whether and when human life shall begin. If you claim the right to decide when life begins you will predictably claim the right to decide when it ends, as in abortion and euthanasia.
With the marketing of the pill in the 1960s, Roe v. Wade was inevitable. A contraceptive culture needs abortion as a back-up. The meltdown of that culture is accelerating.
Francis Fukuyama called the introduction of the contraceptive pill “The Great Disruption” in relations between men and women. In the nature of things, sex is reserved for marriage, and marriage is permanent, because sex has something to do with babies. The contraceptive separation of sex from life leads to the separation of sex from marriage and to the irrelevancy of marriage. In 2006, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control, a record 36.9 percent of all births were out of wedlock. Out-of-wedlock births are 80 percent of births to teens and 60 percent to mothers in their early 20s. In 2006, they were 26.6 percent among non-Hispanic whites, 70.7 percent among non-Hispanic blacks and 49.9 percent among Hispanics.
Government officials, including educators, throw fuel on the fire by promoting contraception even among pre-teens. Not surprisingly, the birth rate to teens rose three percent in 2006, the first rise since 1991. Cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, the STDs for which reporting is required, continue to rise.
In such a Copulation Explosion, you have to expect a rise in pregnancies and that many will end in abortion. The “morning-after pill,” an abortifacient, is available over-the-counter and is easily, if illegally, obtainable by minors without parental knowledge.
Neither the law nor politics can get us out of this mess. Contraception and abortion are a subset of the question: Who is God? Who decides whether and when life begins and when it ends? Abortion is an aspect of our contraceptive rejection of God’s gift of life. Before he became Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said, “[T]he ultimate root of hatred for human life… is the loss of God. When God disappears, the absolute dignity of human life disappears as well…. Only this divine dimension guarantees the full dignity of the human person…. In the struggle for life, talking about God is indispensable.”
The March for Life is not a futile exercise. It focuses on abortion, the ultimate secular sacrament. The March is an in-your-face, on-site reminder to the Executive, the Court and the Congress of their derelictions and of what they ought to do. Under the leadership of Washington attorney Nellie Gray, the March, from its inception, has also been an act of prayer. The message: Human life is sacred because it is a gift of God. The students in the March bring honor to the Notre Dame community.
Professor Emeritus Rice is on the
faculty of the law school. He can be reached at (574) 633-4415 or [email protected]
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.