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Roe v. Wade part two

| Tuesday, April 28, 2015

This past weekend, the University’s Center for Ethics and Culture hosted its annual Evangelium Vitae Medal Dinner. Regrettably, the event was indoors and no roasted pig was to be found. On the other hand, there was stirring witness to the intrinsic value of every human being, regardless of age, stage of development or condition of dependency. More than 40 years after Roe v. Wade, the pro-life movement has not only survived but thrived. Indeed, it has even given birth to a daughter movement for marriage. This week, as the Supreme Court hears a case that may become Roe v. Wade II, daughter stands to learn much from mother in the way of wisdom and courage.

If the original Roe v. Wade is any precedent, the pro-marriage movement should not expect the Supreme Court to correctly identify the question at hand. In that case, the Court failed to grasp clearly that the controversy was about which human beings possess intrinsic value such that their lives deserve equal protection of the laws.

In the same way, given past jurisprudence, it would be remarkable for a Roe II decision to address the central point of contention. The marriage debate is not an inquiry as to whether human beings who experience same-sex attraction (or sexual attraction of whatever kind) possess inherent dignity. (Even if that proposition were not easily affirmable, the arguments of the pro-life movement settle the issue.) Rather, the marriage debate about whether there is intrinsic value in a comprehensive sexual (in other words, male-female) union inherently oriented toward the procreation and rearing of children. One side rejects marriage so defined as constraining and dishonest to one’s own feelings, and therefore, they seek to redefine (“extend”) it. The other side understands marriage to be a real good, a worthy project of human choice, something society should welcome and encourage (though never try to coerce).

When the original Roe v. Wade case was decided, the debate was expected to end. The justices thought history would vindicate their allegedly statesmanlike act. Pro-life advocates like Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rev. Jesse Jackson evolved with respect to their views on abortion, letting go of pro-life principles. To do otherwise, it was thought, would be to stand against the Constitution and to favor the prejudices of backward institutions like the pro-life Catholic Church over the real, personal good of women, who could not possess equal dignity without being utterly free to abort.

In the same way, if Roe II comes, it will be used to persuade pro-marriagers of the futility of their cause. Already, we hear a personified History has decided this question (though not, it seems, in a way that reason can articulate in arguments defining marriage). At the advent of Roe II, latter-day Stephen Douglases will say to support marriage is to oppose the Constitution, and this pseudo-Constitution’s avengers will ignore the principles of free speech and religious exercise the Founders revered.

The pro-life experience teaches pro-marriagers to expect difficulty should there be a Roe II, but at the same time, it teaches that hopeful courage is the best response. Clear thought and right action justify themselves, but they also tend to contrast well against the muddle that mistaken principles bring about: self-proclaimed feminists support aborting a female baby on the basis of sex? LGBT activists boycott self-identified LGBT business owners for holding the wrong views about family life or for meeting with a pro-marriage public official? Such actions are symptomatic of an advanced case of confusion, as the public can come to see.

In response, pro-marriagers should stand ready to provide truth-seekers a sort of seamless garment of respect for basic human goods. For it is necessary but not sufficient to stand unequivocally in support of human life against abortion. Unborn or born, a child has a right to life, but other rights too. Centrally important is the right to live in a family with his or her biological mother and biological father. All those who care for a child’s right to life in the womb should care for that same child’s right to be raised by the parents who brought him or her into the world (unless truly compelling circumstances call for the heroic love of adoptive parents). Protecting marriage as an inherently child-oriented institution is the best way to respect the full equality of every human being from the very start of his or her beautiful life.

Roe v. Wade II may come, or it may not. Company at the party of Supreme Court failures such as Dred Scott and Roe hangs in the balance. For the rest of us, whatever the justices on high may say, the fulfilling work of building a robustly pro-life, pro-marriage culture calls. Rest up this summer.

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

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