The second big event 40 years ago on January 22nd also involved death. Not of a single individual, but of many Americans, literally, millions of them. It had to do with the landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court in a case known to the world as Roe vs. Wade. By handing down their 7 to 2 decision, the majority of justices in America’s highest court granted women the constitutional right to an abortion.
A little background is helpful. After American independence in 1776, the US adopted the British common law attitude. This meant that if a woman had an abortion before ‘quickening,’ namely, when the fetus starts kicking in the womb, it would not be a criminal offense. The ‘quickening’ basically was considered the legal point when the fetus became a person and thus worthy of legal protection. By the 19th century, however, during the morally conservative Victorian era, many American states passed restrictive abortion laws, making it a criminal offense to have an abortion for most, if not all, reasons.
How could a nation that had been affected by Biblical Christianity more than any other, go from restricted abortion legislation to the open door of Roe vs. Wade? The release of the conceptive (birth control) pill over 50 years ago changed the sexual landscape, allowing for ‘consequence-free’ ‘pregnancy-free’ sex; in addition, the advent of the rebellious 1960s and the ‘sexual revolution,’ promised sensuous pleasure without societal censure or commitment to marriage. Top this off with the evolution into ‘anti-reason,’ ‘anti-absolutes’ postmodernism, and relativism and deconstruction would have a major impact on society.
William Rehnquist, a dissenting Supreme Court justice, wrote in his minority opinion:
As one person put it, thanks to deconstruction of the text of the US Constitution, the assenting justices created a woman’s ‘constitutional right to privacy out of thin air.’
Second, the justices came up with what is called the ‘trimester formula.’ Again, leaning on the postmodern tenet of ‘relativism’ the Supreme Court justices claimed that they were not scientists (or, for that matter, theologians) who could ascertain when life begins. So they said that during the first trimester a woman could have an abortion (on demand) without any interference from the state. In the 2nd trimester, the state could get involved in protecting the life of a ‘potential citizen,’ namely the fetus in the womb. By the 3rd trimester, the state could get more heavily involved.
The key term was ‘viability’ -- if the fetus was ‘viable’ outside the womb, then it should be considered a constitutional person and an object of legal protection. This judicial ambiguity about when life begins helped make the ROE decision possible. If it could be proven that life begins at conception, then abortion becomes murder. The so-called ambiguity of ‘when life begins’ allowed the justice to give this window of opportunity to get a first trimester abortion without hindrance. Though the trimester formula has since been discarded, the deadly results of Roe vs. Wade continue.
The immediate and long-term ramifications of this decision were stunning. Immediately, 31 American states had their abortion laws overturned. Even states, like Washington, which had liberal abortion laws, were still not compliant with Roe v. Wade. The decision meant that state legislatures had to go back to the drawing board in terms of abortion laws.
Instead of putting the matter to rest, abortion became the most contentious issue in the American public square since slavery. Roe vs. Wade served as the catalyst for the birth of the powerful ‘Right to Life’ and ‘pro-life’ movement, which have been major combatants with their ‘pro-choice’ opponents in the 50-year strong ‘culture war’ that has been raging in America and the western world. Many evangelical Christians joined the ranks of the ‘Right to Life’ movement. Even Jane Roe (her real name is Norma McCorvey) herself, whose suit caused the Roe v. Wade ruling, left the pro-choice camp and became ‘pro-life.’ Her motto: ‘Roe no more.’
In the January 14, 2013 edition of TIME Magazine, it had these words: ‘40 Years Ago, Abortion Rights Activists Won an Epic Victory With Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing ever since.’ For example, numbers of Americans are opposed to ‘abortion on demand’ are rising and even ‘pro-choice’ Americans believe in some restrictions. Younger people especially are becoming more and more ‘pro-life.’ People are horrified at the high numbers of abortion and how it targets specific groups of fetuses, like those with ‘Down’s Syndrome.’ Sex selection abortions are also problematic. Also, the amount of abortions in America is beginning to decrease from 1.5 million to 1.2 million.
In addition, abortion is becoming hazardous to the health of the abortionist. Abortion practicioners and their clinics have been targeted with vandalism, bombing, arson, and murder. A partial list includes:
1. March 1993: Dr. David Gunn was fatally shot in Pensacola Florida by Michael Griffin.
2. July 1994: Rev Paul Hill was charged with the murder of Dr. John Britton and clinic escort James Barrett, also in Pensacola. Rev. Hill was executed in 2003 for the murders;
3. October 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian in Amherst, New York, by James Koop, who was apprehened in 2001.
4. May 2009: Dr. George Tiller, director of only 1 or 3 clinics that provide late-term abortions, even of healthy babies, was fatally shot in the foyer of his church in Wichita Kansas by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder.
In Australia, security guard Steven Rogers at the East Melbourne clinic was shot and killed by Peter James Wright on July 16, 2001. Doctors are getting out of the abortion business because they believe that they, too, have a right to life. Abortion clinics in America have decreased from 2,908 thirty years ago to 1,793 five years ago, though the reasons for this may not all be directly related to violence against clinics. Of course, the mainstream pro-life camp is against murder full-stop: the murder of abortion doctors as well as the fetus.
One of the reasons that slavery lasted as long as it did in the United States, was because of the denial of the ‘personhood’ of the slave. They were considered merely a ‘possession’ of the slave owner. Abortion rights has gotten as far as it has because of the denial of the personhood of the fetus. If that notion is reversed, and people can see that the fetus is more than just a blob of protoplasm, it is a human being now -- then unlimited, unfettered abortions will begin to decline radically.
As of now, 40 years later, Roe vs. Wade is still the law of the land. More sobering is the fact that since that decision, 55 million abortions have been performed in the United States. Can such a reality really be considered ‘progress’ and good for the betterment of society? Could it be that the current debate about euthanasia, or terminating the life of the sick and elderly, was made possible because of abortion and the termination of life at the beginning. Life is most vulnerable at the beginning and the end, and both are in the cross-hairs of a pro-death culture. For those that value life, even the overturning of Roe vs. Wade will not be enough. It takes a revival -- a new mind and heart -- reaching the hearts of people, to make people to follow God’s injunction to ‘choose life’ (Deuteronomy 30:19).
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live -- Deuteronomy 30:19 (KJV)