The bishops make reference here to two key Supreme Court
decisions that are responsible for the continued legality of the abortion
procedure: Roe vs.
Wade (1973) and
Planned Parenthood vs. Casey (1992).
Most Americans still do not know what Roe vs. Wade enacted, namely,
that abortion would be legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The Court
held that in the last three months of pregnancy, a state could -- but did not
have to -- prohibit abortion in cases where it was not necessary for the
woman's health. In cases where health did require abortion, however, the
state could not prohibit abortion even in the final days before birth. Here it
must be noted that Roe vs. Wade was accompanied by another decision,
Doe vs. Bolton, issued on the same day. The Court indicated that the two
decisions were to be read together. Doe defined "health" to include "all
factors - physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age -
relevant to the wellbeing of the patient." Since abortion cannot be banned
by a state when it is needed for "health," and since "health" is so broadly
defined, the effect of the two Supreme Court decisions of January 22, 1973 was
to initiate a policy of abortion on demand.
The American people have never accepted such a policy.
Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans reject abortion
for the reasons it is usually performed -- reasons that have nothing to do with
medical needs of the mother or child.
It should be noted that Roe vs. Wade never denied the humanity of the
unborn child. Some people think that because the court concluded (albeit
wrongly) that the unborn child is not human, it therefore felt free to authorize
the killing of the unborn. But the court did not say that. If the court had
said that, at least they would have maintained a basic moral principle, which is
that no government has the authority to destroy innocent life. But the
Court didn't do that. As to the question of whether this unborn child is in fact
a new human life the Court said, in effect, "We don't know and it's not up to us
to say." Then on the same page of the decision they declared that this unborn
child is not a person under the Constitution. The problem, then is that
the Court began to separate the concept of "human being" from "human person."
And in separating a human life from the protections of the Constitution, the
Court assumed to itself a new kind of authority, namely, we can decide that
some human lives don't have to be protected.
This is the sense in which, as this paragraph of the document asserts, Roe
has poisoned our entire legal and political system. It has, in fact, abandoned
the founding principles of America and of all civilization. Mother Theresa, in
her 1994 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, summarized the problem by
asking, "If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we
tell other people not to kill one another?"
In 1992, the Supreme Court came close to overturning Roe, but did not
do so. The Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision, regarding various
regulations on abortion enacted in the state of Pennsylvania, upheld the right
of the state to regulate the procedure in various ways. The decision also
modified the reasons for the legality of abortion, rejecting much of the
reasoning of Roe vs. Wade but reaffirming its "central holding" that "a
State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate
her pregnancy before viability." But the basis for allowing the woman that
decision shifted in Casey from "privacy" to "liberty." In
fact, a famous line in the Casey decision, that has come to be known as
the "mystery clause," continues to poison our legal system. The Court declared,
"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of
existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
This is, of course, fundamentally at odds with the view of life taken by our
Founding Fathers and by the Christian Gospel, namely, that there is an objective
truth about the meaning of life and the universe, and that this truth flows from
the God who made both.
Signs of Hope
Even as we suffer from the effects of these Supreme Court decisions,
however, we see the victory of truth unfolding. The original plaintiffs, the
"Jane Roe" of Roe vs. Wade and the "Mary Doe" of Doe vs. Bolton
are, today, working to overturn those decisions. They are both pro-life and have
repudiated their role in making abortion legal.
Sandra Cano, who was "Mary
Doe," never even wanted an abortion. She simply wanted her children back from
foster care. Pro-abortion attorneys turned it into an abortion case.
Norma McCorvey, who was "Jane
Roe," underwent several conversions to the pro-life position and is now a
practicing pro-life Catholic who heads up her own ministry called
What policy did the Roe vs. Wade decision establish regarding abortion?
How did the Casey decision justify continuing the policy of Roe vs. Wade?
Why is it not good for our society to ignore the effects of these court
Norma McCorvey, with Gary Thomas, Won by Love (Nashville:
Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997).
Norma McCorvey, with Fr. Frank Pavone, My Journey into the Catholic Church
(New York: Priests for Life, 1999)
Sybil Fletcher Lash, Supreme Deception (The story of Sandra Cano)
(Lawrenceville, GA: Sentinel Productions, 2002)
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