Another January, and another anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Friday, pro-life advocates will again assemble in Washington, D.C., for the National March for Life. Many more will join state marches, including one in Lansing on Wednesday. And in vigils throughout the country, prayers will again be offered to parents of unborn children to “choose life.”
Clearly, Roe did not “settle” the debate over abortion in the United States. But why is that, when other rulings have been the final word?
Roe attempted to end a debate that was very much in progress. In effect, it was as dramatic a change as any amendment to the Constitution. But by design amendments must be introduced and passed by Congress and then subsequently ratified by a majority of states. The Supreme Court’s top-down edict wasn’t and couldn’t have been. Roe nullified state restrictions on abortion that had developed naturally over time from widely-shared understandings of natural law, morality and responsibility.
Instead it relied on “emanations and penumbras” in law to end up where it wanted to: preserving personal privacy. Abortion was a “matter between a woman, her doctor, and her God.” This, of course, before ultrasounds.
Since this week also marks Martin Luther King Day, perhaps a line from Dr. King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” best explains why Roe formalized a conflict instead of resolving it:
“A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”
In the 40-plus years since Roe, reactions have evolved. Defenders of unrestricted abortion now largely reframe the issue, no longer claiming it is a regrettable but private choice (“safe, legal and rare” – Bill Clinton). Today, signs in Lansing proclaim, “abortion is health care.” Political operatives stoke the fear of Roe being overturned to raise millions of dollars for progressive candidates. Several states have rushed through extreme bills that would remove all restrictions on late-term abortion in case it is. Self-identified progressives in the Michigan Legislature recently introduced similar bills here.
On the pro-life side, advocates have done much more than march. They’ve staffed crisis pregnancy centers, helped new mothers with supplies and mentoring, educate, and yes, engaged politically. Our state is a national model for the pro-life movement because of their success. Over the years, and with wide support, we’ve adopted many incremental common-sense limitations on abortion. For that and other reasons, abortions performed in Michigan are down by 45% since 1987. That is true progress.
The House adopted a resolution earlier this year to declare our intention of preserving legal safeguards for unborn children in Michigan. I co-sponsored House Resolution 23 to stand for life at all ages. It serves as a commitment to residents that the Michigan House will not follow other states into extremism. And those new bills dismantling legal protections for unborn children in Michigan will not pass either chamber of the Legislature – as long as we have pro-life majorities.
The House also passed legislation I helped sponsor to ban the violent procedure called dismemberment abortion. During this procedure, an abortionist first dismembers an unborn baby before removing it, in pieces, from the uterus. The brutal practice has already been banned in twelve states. We need to add Michigan to the list. Science confirms what we already knew: unborn children feel pain. We must give them the dignity of any other human being.
I’m proud of our efforts to protect the sanctity of life in Michigan. The 60 million souls lost since Roe cry out to demand that we not stop now.