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Roe v Wade 40 years later


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Another year, another March for Life, and another massive crowd descending upon Washington, ignored by the media (perhaps 650,000 -- larger than the Inauguration). Another million deaths. Where do we stand after 40 years of this, and 55 million abortions?

1. "One death is a tragedy," Stalin said, "a million deaths is a statistic." He was right about that. So think past the statistic to the single case. In the single case, that aborted baby is me or you. His life was no more fragile or improbable than our own. You and I have no greater claim or right to live, than does he. We continue to live and enjoy life -- but on what basis, when he does not? Consider the mother in the single case. In each abortion, Mother Teresa said, there are two deaths: a baby dies, and a conscience dies. There are probably more than two deaths: the conscience of the man dies, and the mother's best friend, and maybe her parents. The doctor's conscience was dead long ago, together with the medical profession's. Next consider that when someone's conscience dies, he does so many other things wrong, and falls short in so many other ways.

So, now, if you've begun to grasp the single case, think of this as multiplied by tens of millions, and seeping into nearly every family, every street, every parish, every town, every social group. Then, if you suspect there is a link between that seepage, and the coarseness and violence of our society, so curiously yoked to frivolous distraction and weakness of purpose--I will not contradict you.

2. It is important to grasp this fact: not only is abortion killing, but also everyone really knows that it is. Therefore it does and will affect us, not simply because in fact it is killing, whether we thought it was or not. It affects us also in the way that a crime affects someone, when he does consider it a crime. It has nearly all of those same effects, only, through self-deception, we do not think that we so consider it. ("Personally opposed" essentially means just this, that I acknowledge that abortion is murder, but in public contexts I'll deceive myself into pretending that it is not.) It is impossible to understand our society today without grasping that it is fundamentally unsettled through an almost universal and deep self-deception. The initial lie was set down so long ago, and so many other lies have since been painted over, that we may even forget that that is so. It seems odd to think that we can pierce through the recent lies, without addressing the first. Does it discredit, for instance, the proponent of same-sex marriage that he's also (almost always) fervently set against any restrictions on abortion? Why not?

3. On a candid appraisal, we must say that the pro-life movement has failed (not that its members are to blame for that failure). The failure may be put in this way: that even the most fundamental truths have not become plain. To give an example, on the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade , a highly-regarded national newspaper, widely respected for its accuracy in reporting, ran a story with the headline, "Support Grows for Roe v Wade." The article reported that 70 percent of those polled say that Roe "should not be completely overturned," an increase from a decade ago; yet it also reported that 31 percent of Americans hold that abortion should be legal in all circumstances. Ponder the foolishness of that reporting, given that Roe overturned all state laws regulating abortion, and made abortion legal for any reason throughout all 9 months of pregnancy. A truthful headline would have proclaimed, "More Americans Misinformed about Roe v Wade." But -- you see my point? -- this is after 40 years of pro-life effort.

In the presidential campaign, somehow media coverage turned on whether Romney wanted to ban abortion in the case of rape, while Obama was not criticized, even though he is so passionately against any restrictions on abortion that he favors even abortion during birth (partial birth abortion). Why was the one candidate cast as the extremist and the other not? In part, admittedly, because of the public stance of some pro-lifers who, imprudently, are not incrementalists, and therefore will not count anyone as with them at all, unless they are wholly with them. (Why not redefine and say that "pro-life means anyone who favors some limits on abortion"? Then you can claim 90 percent of the public identifying themselves as pro-life.) But also because no one can believe, or really wants to admit, that there are no restrictions on abortion whatsoever, and so people prefer to imagine that the law is somewhere in between and maybe only a little less strict than what Romney favored.

The failure of the pro-life movement is that reporters, who after all are responsive to public opinion, could have reported the campaign in that way, with full assurance that there were not even pockets of American society where such reporting would have been greeted with the ridicule and mockery it deserves.

Michael Pakaluk is Professor of Philosophy and Chairman at Ave Maria University.

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