by Mark Tooley
Today, Thursday, January 24, I had the pleasure of attending Americans United for Life’s (AUL) symposium on the 40th anniversary of the “Roe versus Wade” U.S. Supreme Court decision constitutionalizing abortion on demand. The event, obviously, commemorates a grisly turning point in American history. But AUL has waved the flag in defense of innocent life for over 40 years and continues to offer hope for the struggle ahead.
Speakers included AUL President Charmaine Yoest (daughter of IRD’s board chair Janice Crouse), AUL Vice President William Saunders (also an IRD board member), Weekly Standard founding editor William Kristol, Ethics and Public Policy Center President Ed Whelan, and George Mason University law professor Helen Alvare, who once was the pro-life spokesperson for the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. There was also a video message from famed evangelical writer and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, who is a paraplegic.
Yoest noted that President Obama is the “most aggressively pro-abortion president in history.” But she predicted a “storm surge is coming” for the pro-life cause, citing a “rising tide of pro-life legislation at the state level.” Yoest mentioned 27 states now have “choose life” license plates versus four states with pro-choice plates. She noted a “pivoting from choice to coercion,” with abortion rights “statists” believing abortion “should permeate the public square,” forcing every American to participate. “We don’t need the White House for the fifth decade of fighting Roe,” she concluded, citing declining public enthusiasm for abortion. She decried the abortion regime resulting from Roe as “raw brute, callous power over the helpless.”
A medical expert speaking at the symposium said there are 25 percent fewer medical complications from abortions for women in states with restrictions on abortion. Another noted 50 percent of women having abortions believe they have terminated human life.
Tada, speaking from her California home, observed that the Roe decision had vast repercussions beyond the womb, threatening all vulnerable human life. Recalling her early years after she was paralyzed in a swimming accident, suffering from deep depression, she wondered if she would not have been a candidate today for state sanctioned, assisted suicide. “People have inherent worth and dignity,” she concluded. “All life is worth living.”
University of Notre Dame Law School law professor Gerard Bradley called protecting the unborn the “greatest civil rights issue of our time.” Law, rightfully understood, defends the weak from the predatory strong, not vice versa, he said. Bradley predicted that laws against feticide may ultimately unhinge the Roe decision. Noting that even supporters of Roe rarely bother to defend its flawed reasoning intellectually, he surmised its ongoing public authority is based primarily on fear and inertia.
Similarly, Ed Whelan called Roe “fundamentally hostile to the precepts of American citizenship and based on “sterile incoherence.” He compared it to the infamous pre-Civil War “Dred Scott” Supreme Court decision claiming constitutional protection for national slavery, which like Roe “abrogated human liberty.”
Helen Alvare observed that pro-lifers are not entirely in a “bad position” within American culture now, noting that young women are not happy with today’s confused mores about sex, gender and marriage. Traditionalists must make the argument that sex and human life have intrinsic meaning, and to restore marriage as a “safe place.” Government and culture have it “all wrong” about women now, she observed. What is needed is a “revolution against The Man” and conventional wisdom, she smilingly suggested.
William Kristol expressed hope that he has been a “fairly reliable friend and ally” of the pro-life cause. He too echoed that virtually nobody tries to defend Roe intellectually any more. Under the Obama Administration, which he surmised is now over confident, the pro-life cause should try to “make things as little bad as we can” and aim for small, incremental victories. Recalling the nascent homeschooling movement winning its early legal victories in the 1980s,’ Kristol observed that you “never know which social movements will pay off.” The abortion regime has been “very damaging” to the country, he said, but we shouldn’t assume we know which direction the culture is heading. “Interesting counter tides” may yet transform the culture in ways now unforeseen, he hopefully concluded.
Many persons at the AUL symposium were in town for the massive annual pro-life march recalling the Roe decision, which occurs tomorrow, Friday, January 25.