Tuesday, January 24, 2012

'The unbearable wrongness of Roe'

Michael Stokes Paulsen, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas here in Minnesota, wrote recently for Public Discourse about Roe v. Wade and its consequences.
After nearly four decades, Roe's human death toll stands at nearly sixty million human lives, a total exceeding the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin's purges, Pol Pot's killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide combined. Over the past forty years, one-sixth of the American population has been killed by abortion. One in four African-Americans is killed before birth. Abortion is the leading cause of (unnatural) death in America.

It is almost too much to contemplate: the prospect that we are living in the midst of, and accepting (to various degrees) one of the greatest human holocausts in history. And so we don't contemplate it. Instead, we look for ways to deny this grim reality, minimize it, or explain away our complacency—or complicity.
Paulsen discusses what Roe held, why constitutionally it was an "utterly indefensible" decision, and how morally its results are simply catastrophic. Below are some notable excerpts.

On what Roe actually did:
The right created by the Supreme Court in Roe is a constitutional right of some human beings to kill other human beings. I do not mean for my description to be provocative, but simply direct—blunt about facts. One need not presume that the human fetus has a right not to be killed in order to recognize that, as a descriptive matter, Roe creates a right for one class of human beings to kill other human beings.
On the constitutional basis for Roe:
If the U.S. Constitution actually protected such an extreme personal legal right to kill the human fetus, that would be troubling enough, but the trouble would be with the content of the Constitution. The further problem with Roe is that it has absolutely no basis in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution. No rule or principle of law fairly traceable to the text, discernible from its structure, or fairly derived from evidence of intention or historical understanding of an authoritative decision of the people, remotely supports the result reached in Roe. In terms of fair principles of constitutional interpretation, Roe is perhaps the least defensible major constitutional decision in the Supreme Court's history.

Roe's reasoning, distilled to its essentials, is that the Constitution creates a "privacy" right to abortion, on the premise that the right not "to bear" a child is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. No serious constitutional law scholar thinks this is a plausible reading of the Due Process Clause. That clause forbids government to "deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law." Without due process of law are crucial words. The Due Process Clause does not say that government never may deprive a person of life, liberty or property. It only says that government may not do so "without due process of law"—that is, arbitrarily, lawlessly, not in conformity with duly enacted laws and accepted procedures for their application. [PS note: The government rightly deprives people of the "liberty" to murder, rape and steal.]
On Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion invented in Roe:
If Roe was radical, Casey was craven. A majority of the Supreme Court apparently believed that Roe was wrongly decided, fully understood the moral and human consequences of the decision, and deliberately adhered to it anyway. Stare decisis has never been thought required by the Constitution, before or since. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) famously repudiated Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) on the question of whether racial segregation was consistent with "equal protection of the laws." The Court has overruled scores of its own precedents. Indeed, it overruled two cases in Casey. Casey's reaffirmation of Roe, in the name of stare decisis, was a sham—perhaps the most transparently dishonest major judicial decision since Dred Scott.
On what makes Roe unbearable:
Roe is a radical decision and a legally indefensible one. But what really makes Roe unbearably wrong is its consequences. The result of Roe and Doe has been the legally authorized killing of nearly sixty million Americans since 1973. Roe v. Wade authorized unrestricted private violence against human life on an almost unimaginable scale, and did so, falsely, in the name of the Constitution.
Our our response:
Here is the problem, undressed: If human embryonic life is morally worthy of protection, we have permitted sixty million murders under our watch. Faced with this prospect, many of us—maybe even most—flee from the facts. We deny that the living human embryo is "truly" or "fully" human life, adopt a view that whether the embryo or fetus is human "depends," or can be judged in degrees, on a sliding scale over the course of pregnancy; or we proclaim uncertainty about the facts of human biology; or we proclaim moral agnosticism about the propriety of "imposing our views on others"; or we throw up our hands and give up because moral opposition to an entrenched, pervasive social practice is not worth the effort, discomfort, and social costs. The one position not on the table—the one possibility too hard to look at—is that abortion is a grave moral wrong on a par with the greatest human moral atrocities of all time and that we passively, almost willingly, accept it as such.
Read the whole piece.