Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The pro-life legacy of Roe v. Wade?

In the January 2013 issue of First Things, political scientist Jon A. Shields writes of "Roe's Pro-life Legacy."
Roe v. Wade did far more than create a constitutional right to abortion—it crippled the pro-choice and energized the pro-life movement, creating one of the largest campaigns of moral suasion in American history. Even while nationalizing abortion politics, the Supreme Court's decision also localized and personalized the issue by pushing it almost entirely out of legislatures, giving an unexpected opening to the pro-life movement to affect the culture, and in turn the wider political debate, in ways no one expected.
You can read the rest online. Shields is right that an energized and effective pro-life movement developed in the wake of Roe and has saved many lives from abortion, and pro-lifers and others ought to take note of our successes. But that is not to say that Roe was a good change (Shields does not say that it was). Making the best of a bad situation does not justify creating the bad situation in the first place. Solving problems does not retroactively justify causing them.

Legally, constitutionally, Roe v. Wade was absurdly mistaken. It wrongly usurped the power of the people to determine abortion policy, shutting down the process of democratic deliberation. Morally, its result was gravely unjust. And the consequences—55 million unborn children killed, many women (and others) hurt both physically and psychologically—have been catastrophic.

Overturning Roe alone would not end abortion, as Shields notes, and it would probably "revitalize a genuine movement for abortion rights." But it is an absolutely necessary step if we care about justice under the law and about saving lives. There's no getting around the moral urgency, forty years later, of ending Roe once and for all.