by Gov. Robert P. Casey
Recently, Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) announced on national television that a
majority of the members of the United States Senate are now pro-life. I believe
all the signs point inexorably to a future in which the unborn child will be
protected by law. But such an outcome is neither automatic nor inevitable. We
must make it happen. We can begin by supporting legislation which would ban all
second and third trimester abortions. The status quo is unacceptable.
On Mar. 11, 1993, I spoke on the Roe decision in the courthouse in St.
Louis in which the Dred Scott case had been heard. What follows is an excerpt
from my remarks.
If democratic government depends on any one central idea, it's that raw power
alone, laws that flout those permanent principles, cannot command our respect.
Our obedience, yes. Our allegiance, no.
Alexander Hamilton put it this way: "The sacred rights of mankind are not to
be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with
a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of Divinity itself;
and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." Even the more
secular-minded Thomas Jefferson agreed: The "only firm basis" of freedom, he
wrote, is "a conviction in the minds of people that their liberties are the gift
American history has had its dark moments, but only twice has this principle
been radically betrayed. Only twice has mortal power, using the instrument of
the law itself, sought to exclude an entire class of people from their most
sacred human rights.
This place in which we meet today marks the first time.
One hundred and thirty-six years ago, a human being was declared a piece of
property, literally led off in chains as people of good conscience sat paralyzed
by a ruling of the court.
The other time was Jan. 22, 1973. An entire class of human beings was
excluded from the protection of the state, their fate declared a "private"
matter. That "Sunbeam" Hamilton envisioned, the Creator's signature on each new
life, was deflected by human hands. No one has ever described what happened more
concisely than Justice Byron White in his dissent. It was an act of "raw
judicial power" - power stripped of all moral and constitutional authority.
Roe v. Wade was not, then, one more natural adaptation in our
constitutional evolution. It was not like Brown v. Board of Education, a
refinement extending law and liberty to an excluded class. Just the opposite: It
was an abrupt mutation, a defiance of all precedent, a disjuncture of law and
Where we used to think of law as above politics, in Roe law and
politics became indistinguishable. How strange it is to hear abortion now
defended in the name of "consensus." Roe itself, the product of a
contrived and fraudulent test case, was a judicial decree overruling a consensus
expressed in the laws of most states. It arose not from the wisdom of the ages
or from the voice of the people, but from the ideology of the day and the will
of a determined minority. It compels us to ignore the consensus of mankind about
the treatment of the unborn. It commands us to disregard the clearest of
Commandments. After 20 long years, the people of the United States have refused
to heed that command.
Roe v. Wade is a law we must observe but never honor. In Hamilton's
phrase, it's a piece of "parchment," a musty record bearing raw coercive power
and devoid of moral authority. It has done its harm and will do much more. But
those who say we must learn to live with it still don't get it. Ultimately,
Roe cannot survive alongside our enduring, unshakable sense of justice. It
is no more permanent than any other act of human arrogance. It is no more
unchangeable than the laws which sent Dred Scott back to his master.
This has been the generation of what Malcolm Muggeridge called "the humane
holocaust." The loss can never be recovered. Indeed, it can't even be
calculated. Not even the familiar statistic - 1.6 million a year - begins to
express the enormity of it. One person's life touches so many others. How can
you measure the void left when so many people aren't even permitted to live
The best we can do is change what can be changed, and, most importantly, stay
And there is no need to wait for some political consensus to form. That
consensus is here, and it grows every time someone looks for the first time at a
sonogram. It needs only leaders - prudent, patient leaders. It doesn't need
apologists to soothe us into inaction. It needs statesmen who will work for
change - change here and now.
The late Robert P. Casey, a Democrat, served as governor of Pennsylvania
from 1987 to 1995.