January 22, 1973 - Roe vs. Wade ruled that most state laws against abortion are a violation of a a constitutional right to privacy. The Court then removed the right for any state to restrict abortions during the first trimester (3 months) of pregnancy. Roe does allow states to regulate abortions in the second and third trimesters so long as there are provisions for situations in which the "health" or life of the mother is threatened. [Transcript of Roe].
Doe vs. Bolton, Roe's companion case, also ruled that same day to define "health" of the mother to include "all factors-physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age-relevant to the well-being of the patient." In a nutshell, January 22 of this year marks 33 years since our federal government made abortion legal through all 9 months of fetal development for virtually any reason throughout all 50 states.
I'd like to point out here that if a woman's life is truly at risk during a pregnancy doctors should seek to save her life as well as her unborn child. The original Hippocratic oath required physicians to pledge to "do no harm" to any patient. Both mother and child are patients because both are living human beings. The Oath also states, "To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death. Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion." The Catholic Church teaches that no one should ever directly and intentionally destroy the life of an unborn person. We are never to perform an intrinsically evil act (i.e. taking a human life) so that good may result. In fact, even if a child has implanted in a woman's fallopian tube (which will ultimately lead to a rupture of the tube, hemorrhaging within the woman, and the death of the child) the Church does not condone the direct destruction of the child in the womb via suction methods or what have you. Rather, the doctor should remove the portion of the tube which will ultimately rupture and could kill the mother. The child will be inside of this part of the tube, and the doctor must allow the tiny child to die naturally. There is no way to make a child re-implant in a woman's uterus that I am aware of and during this early period the child could certainly not survive outside of the protective, nurturing environment of her mother's body. If during a legitimate operation or treatment to save the mother's life, her child is indirectly harmed or killed, this is morally different than an abortion.
If Roe is ever overturned it will not make abortion illegal in the U.S., but rather each state government will be handed back the reigns to regulate abortion within their own state. I dream of seeing states outlaw abortion completely. It would be a brutal state-by-state battle to achieve this dream, though. Senator Rick Santorum writes in his 2005 book It Takes A Family, "Laws have meaning, and therefore, laws teach. When something is legal it has the presumption that it is moral and right" (34). Many Americans cannot imagine a United States without legalized abortion on demand. We have been in a "culture of death" (John Paul II's words) for 33 years, and many of us have embraced the "right" to abortion as an inalienable human right. As my priest put it this morning, the culture of death values life, but only life that it chooses to value. It is a schtzophrenic culture in this sense.
Senator Santorum goes on to explain in It Takes A Family that the freedom America's Founding Fathers sought to secure at the Constitutional Convention was not the "self-centered, No-Fault Freedom" we hold so dear today. He explains: "It wasn't a freedom that celebrated the individual above society. It wasn't a freedom that gave men and women blanket permission to check in and out of society whenever they wanted. It wasn't the freedom to be as selfish as I want to be. It wasn't even the freedom to be left alone, with no obligations to the people we know and to the people we don't yet know. The Constitutional Convention's freedom, American's traditional freedom--or the better word, as I defined it earlier, liberty--was a selfless freedom, freedom for the sake of something greater or higher than the self. For our founders, this liberty was defined and defended in the context of our Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity. Often, in fact, American liberty meant the freedom to attend to one's duties--duties to God, to family, and to neighbors. Our founders were in the business of constructing a nation, a political community. No-Fault Freedom, a freedom from every tie and duty, provides no basis for that project: it is a principle of division and social deconstruction." (44)
We as Americans no longer conceive of ourselves as a people with a "common vision for society", with a shared "sense of justice and morality" (45). Santorum continues: "It is the pursuit of the common good, f using our freedoms to promote the general welfare, that makes the Great Experiment of American democracy so remarkable. But today, it must be said, we have not always been good stewards of our founding fathers' freedom. . . . The Preamble has been long forgotten; freedom is increasingly just about the individual and his choices. Freedom has become its own end, and virtue has fallen out of the equation. No-Fault Freedom serves no common good, only the pursuit of one's own happiness. Promoting the general welfare is no longer considered a duty of citizens-- after all, that's why we have the government, right?"
". . . Just as original sin is man's inclination to try to walk alone without God, individualism is man's inclination to try to walk alone among his fellows. Under the spell of individualism, we splinter into pursuing what each of us considers important for ourselves and think little if anything about what might be important for our communities. And we do so not necessarily for any grand reason or purpose, but merely because it is more convenient, merely because it is easier." (52)
In the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, the Court wrote, "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." Santorum comments on this case in his book, "You cannot build a community that is healthy for families and individuals if you understand society only as an unconnected group of individuals, each pursing his own idiosyncratic vision of his self-centered good. That isn't our founders' vision of a community with a common good; it's an image of society as a pile of sand, each grain unconnected to all the others. And the common good, like a house build on sand, sinks and fractures. No, No-Fault Freedom is not American liberty." (53)
This book is so good, I have to quote just one more paragraph before I conclude. I highly recommend this book to you, by the way.
"The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the federal Constitution, enshrines our inalienable rights as a free people. Through the responsible use of these rights we can seek truth and the Truth Giver, marry and raise a family, pursue our dreams, and influence the government and each other. These are opportunities that every American inherits from the great document that is our Constitution. Yes, these are rights that belong to us as individuals. But these rights were never intended solely for individual gain for 'the individual welfare.' The framers clearly stated that the purpose of the Constitution--and, therefore, of all these individual rights--is to promote the general welfare, not simply the welfare of the individual. The men who wrote the Constitutions gave us, in the Preamble, a purpose for these personal freedoms--a purpose greater than the needs, wants, or dreams of any one person. Freedom's goal in their mind was not individuals pursuing whatever end fits an individual's desire, but the general welfare, the common good." (47-48)
I pray that each of us living in this day and age in America (and elsewhere) will embrace the "culture of life" worldview that John Paul II promoted. I want to see communities where people know each other and feel responsible towards their neighbors and their neighbor's children - to promote morality in their community for the common good. I ask God to show us each what we can do in the small piece of earth where He has placed each us and with the human persons He has set us among. Please pray, also.