The build-up to Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on abortion signaled that something momentous was in the offing on what has been one of the most divisive issues in America for nearly half a century.
If the arguments by the justices are an indication, the build-up was not just hype. The conservative majority on the court appears inclined to let states not just ban abortions earlier in pregnancy but perhaps ban them outright.
It is exactly what pro-life proponents were hoping might happen after former President Donald Trump carried through on a campaign promise to appoint justices to the nation’s highest court who would be open to overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand nationwide.
It was ironic to hear Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a defender of Roe, suggest during Wednesday’s hearing that the conservative majority would be willing to twist the law to serve a political agenda.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she asked.
That stench has been attached to the court ever since the Supreme Court, in order to achieve a social end that the majority desired, made a purely political decision in Roe and manufactured a right — the right to privacy — that does not exist in the Constitution.
What the current majority appears inclined to do is erase that fiction and return to the states — and theoretically to Congress — the authority to decide if and when an unborn life in the womb can be terminated by medical intervention.
The Mississippi law being considered by the Supreme Court would lower the abortion threshold from the current 24 weeks of gestation to 15 weeks. If the law is upheld, other states, and most likely Mississippi itself, will roll that threshold back further. Six weeks — the point at which a so-called “fetal heart beat” can be detected — has become increasingly popular in pro-life legislation.
But those stages of pregnancy — 24 weeks, 15 weeks, six weeks — are all arbitrary. There are only two consistent positions to take: either abortion is wrong from the moment of conception, or it is fine up to the point of natural birth. We agree with the former: namely, that life is sacred from the point of its creation, and no one — not even the mother — has the right to exterminate that life, no matter how inconvenient or unwanted a pregnancy might be. As a society, we don’t allow those inconvenienced by young children or elderly parents to snuff out their lives. It is grave moral stain on this nation that we have let it happen to the unborn some 60 million times since 1973.
Even if Roe is overturned, that would not rid this land of abortion. For the foreseeable future, the United States would be divided into states that allow abortions with few restrictions, those that severely limit them and those that ban them outright. But even in states where in-clinic abortions might be outlawed, there would be the alternative of purchasing over the internet the pills that chemically induce an abortion. It is hard to see how any state could stop that, even if it desired to.
What overturning Roe would do is further drive down already declining abortion rates and restore, at least in some states, the moral principle that society has an obligation to protect its most defenseless members.
It would also re-establish the Supreme Court as a judicial body, not a legislative one. With the Roe decision, the court did not interpret already established law, it created new law. That is not the role our Founding Fathers intended.
- The Greenwood Commonwealth