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Roe+49: Abortion Within Providence
Originally posted April 2012
On today’s 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I found myself thinking about the meaning of almost five decades of horror, and about what might come after, if Roe & Casey finally fall this year. I remembered something I wrote in 2012, and, rereading it, found it meaningful. I repost it for you tonight:
One ponders, from time to time, what exactly is going through God’s head. This is foolish. God’s ways are terrible and mysterious, and we are most often reduced to the plea of Job:
I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. “Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge?” Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
One does it anyway, at least if one is anything like me. I have pondered long why we were given universal abortion on demand, not only in this country, but the whole world over. The entire English-speaking world (the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), save Ireland, instituted abortion-on-demand within a single ten-year period. God is the Author of life and remains the ruler of death, so one can never call Him unjust when He wills that one of His creations should die. Yet, as with all great evils, it is difficult to understand why He should permit the unjust murders of so many.
Tonight, I wonder whether I have a partial answer — or, at least, a plausible fiction by which I can make some kind of sense of all the dead bodies in Tupperware containers. I was reading old abortion statutes (don’t ask), and I recognized something Roe haters like me don’t like to talk about — or even think about. We talk about how Roe overturned forty-seven state laws against abortion or whatever, causing millions of abortions for over forty years… but what we never discuss is that they were, for the most part, terrible, cruel, and inhumane laws. Consider Wisconsin’s old abortion statute, still on the books but unenforceable under Roe:
(1) Any person, other than the mother, who intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child is guilty of a Class H felony.
(2) Any person, other than the mother, who does either of the following is guilty of a Class E felony:
(a) Intentionally destroys the life of an unborn quick child;
(b) Causes the death of the mother by an act done with intent to destroy the life of an unborn child. It is unnecessary to prove that the fetus was alive when the act so causing the mother’s death was committed.
(3) Any pregnant woman who intentionally destroys the life of her unborn child or who consents to such destruction by another may be fined not more than $200 or imprisoned not more than 6 months or both.
(4) Any pregnant woman who intentionally destroys the life of her unborn quick child or who consents to such destruction by another is guilty of a Class I felony.
(5) This section does not apply to a therapeutic abortion which… is necessary to save the life of the mother.
Under Wisconsin law, and most others, fetuses were not human beings, as we sometimes like to imagine. They were possessions of “compelling interest” to the state. They were worth about $200, or a prison term of 6 months, although that could rise as high as a Class E felony ($50,000 / 15 years) in the most depraved cases. Anti-abortion laws were rarely enforced. Trained medical professionals operated with impunity in “secret” anti-abortion networks in large areas of the country, only getting pulled into court if a mother died from failed abortion. (The unclean back-alley abortion of pre-Roe days is largely a myth.) And, above all, the right to life was categorically suspended of the unborn child if the mother’s life was in danger. There was no compromise, no question, no attempt to balance the lives or preserve them both: the baby could be killed off so the mother could live. It’s no wonder that Justice Blackmun rejected Texas’s argument in Roe v. Wade that the unborn were protected as persons under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution:
When Texas urges that a fetus is entitled to Fourteenth Amendment protection as a person, it faces a dilemma. Neither in Texas nor in any other State are all abortions prohibited. Despite broad proscription, an exception always exists. The exception contained in Art. 1196, for an abortion procured or attempted by medical advice for the purpose of saving the life of the mother, is typical. But if the fetus is a person who is not to be deprived of life without due process of law, and if the mother’s condition is the sole determinant, does not the Texas exception appear to be out of line with the Amendment’s command?
Here is the good that forty years of abortion has done for us: it has forced us to finally confront these laws, which constitute a crisis now as they never did in days past. It has forced us to articulate the humane but unyielding logic of Personhood, to develop the principle of Double Effect as it respects pregnancy, and to fight, without wavering and without equivocation, for the universal respect for unalienable human rights that is the cornerstone of the natural law and our noble Constitution.
As long as we remain focused on the object — not the end of Roe, not the limitation of abortion, not a return to the status quo ante, but the recognition that the unborn are equally protected by the laws, the acceptance of their value as individual human beings — good will come from five decades of abortion-on-demand.
Just a thought.