Self-Government and Partial-Birth Abortion

On Nov. 30, one man's decision nullified, for the time being, the will of two states’ legislatures. Next, it's the voters’ duty to demand that the laws their representatives voted for be enforced.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens unilaterally blocked laws banning partial-birth abortions from taking effect in Wisconsin and Illinois, leaving voters there wondering how their decision could have been overruled.

Technically, this is how: Stevens acted to block an order issued Nov. 29 by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court had upheld the constitutionality of both states’ laws. Its order would have allowed the two states to begin enforcing their bans on partial-birth abortion, if Stevens hadn't stepped in.

Certainly, there are cases when laws violate the Constitution: In these cases, it is the duty of the judges to correct the laws on behalf of the Constitution. But then there are also cases in which judges’ decisions violate the Constitution. In these cases, it is the duty of the people and their representatives to correct the judges.

Civil rights cases come to mind, from Dred Scott vs. Sandford (the 1857 case involving the rights of a slave in a free territory), to Katzenbach vs. Morgan (involving English literacy tests for voters), to Goldman vs. Weinberger (involving wearing yarmulkes on Air Force duty). In each of these cases, lawmakers challenged erroneous Supreme Court decisions, and won.

So, who has the final say in a case like these partial-birth abortion bans?

In a democracy, there is always a temptation to make the “will of the people” the final arbiter of truth — but the will of the people can be wrong. As Pope John Paul II said in October 1995 remarks in Baltimore: “If an attitude of skepticism were to succeed in calling into question even the fundamental principles of the moral law, the democratic system itself would be shaken in its foundations.”

But we needn't fear this in America, he said. “The United States possesses a great bulwark against this happening. I speak of your founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. These documents are grounded in and embody unchanging principles of the natural law whose permanent truth and validity can be known by reason, for it is the law written by God in human hearts.”

Judges, for now, have been deciding the law of the land. But ultimately, it will be up to the people, through our votes and our representatives, to hold them accountable to the principles of our constitution.


Family Matters

New figures from the University of Chicago show some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that 3% more of the nation's children lived with both their parents last year than they did in 1996. The bad news is that the percentage of children living with their two parents is down from 74% in 1972 to 52% last year.

While some children would be worse off with their natural parents than with other guardians, the opposite is true, by and large. As the Urban Family Council points out in a recent news release, a mother and father who are emotionally involved and physically present are indispensable to the emotional health child in many ways, from basic self-esteem to gender identity.

Indeed, these figures bode very poorly for American families. But why are so many split apart? The Urban Family Council cites easy divorce, along with fatherlessness. But this only changes the question. Why are couples more willing to be divorced, and why are fathers more willing to stray?

One cause is the attitude of so many toward sexuality. Contraception has led many to dissociate sex from the notion of childbearing and the responsibility that accompanies it. An attitude toward sexuality prevails in which children are too often something to be avoided or (apparently) disregarded when they do come.

There is a growing awareness now that contraception isn't all that it's cracked up to be (see story on Mike McManus, Page 18). But it's still a minority who recognize the damage that contraception has done to American mores.Unless and until more people recognize this link, the shortage of two-parent families may remain with us for quite a while.