Roe v. Wade @ 45

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the case known as Roe v. Wade, which ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government to ban abortions outright.


President Trump declared Jan. 22 to be “Sanctity of Human Life” Day. (The White House / Shealah Craighead)

The conversation of late has turned into a zero-sum game, the National Catholic Reporter writes. But, author Michael Sean Winters observes, espousing the current president as the political leader of the pro-life movement doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the belief that that pro-lifers care about women’s issues in general or those of women in unwanted pregnancies.

Furthermore, the pro-life view of the sanctity of life, of human dignity, and of the inherent and infinite value of each person’s life is also inconsistent with support for the death penalty. He quotes Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock:

As you know, the Church teaches a consistent ethic of life in which human life and human dignity must be protected from the first moment of conception to natural death and every stage in between. This means, among other things, that all lives have inherent God-given dignity. Even people who have been sentenced to death possess this dignity, which is why capital punishment must be abolished.

Taking away the right of a woman to have an abortion, as was touted last weekend at the Marches for Life around the country, including in Chicago, also assumes it’s a zero-sum game: Many pro-lifers assert “that the sanctity of the life of the fetus overrides the mother’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.” The verb “overrides” means there’s a winner and a loser in the argument—there can be no middle ground or compromise.

The pro-choice argument, on the other hand, also uses a zero-sum, non-compromising position. Here’s what philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson had to say about it:

A great deal turns for women on whether abortion is or is not available.

If abortion rights are denied, then a constraint is imposed on women’s freedom to act in a way that is of great importance to them, both for its own sake and for the sake of their achievement of equality; and if the constraint is imposed on the ground that the fetus has a right to life from the moment of conception, then it is imposed on a ground that neither reason nor the rest of morality requires women to accept, or even to give any weight at all.

Pro-life and pro-choice arguments both seem to agree, then, that there are inconsistencies on both sides of the argument. They also seem to accept the abortion debate as a winner-take-all prospect on the American political front such that anyone—a misogynist who proudly says he abused women, for example—can get elected president for simply giving lip service to a shallow position in this debate. That person wouldn’t even have to recognize the deeper ramifications of their position. The Supreme Court, however, did consider the deeper ramifications.

“A pregnancy to a woman is perhaps one of the most determinative aspects of her life,” argued Sarah Weddington before the Court 45 years ago. “It disrupts her body. It disrupts her education. It disrupts her employment. And it often disrupts her entire family life.

“And we feel that, because of the impact on the woman, this … is a matter which is of such fundamental and basic concern to the woman involved that she should be allowed to make the choice as to whether to continue or to terminate her pregnancy.”

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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