There Is Still Reason To Hope

Gerardo Flores was convicted in Texas of double homicide in June. He had kicked and punched his girlfriend's abdomen at her request, causing the miscarriage and death of her twins. She had been punching her own abdomen “for several weeks,” but the babies had survived.

Gerardo was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Erica was not charged as she had a “constitutional right” to an abortion.

Almost a century ago, German doctors Binding and Hoche, a physician and a lawyer, co-authored The Release and Destruction of Life Devoid of Value. It became the Nazi bible, and its programs of sterilization, abortion and euthanasia were vigorously enforced.

In America, Margaret Sanger's Birth Control League — which became Planned Parenthood — set about implementing these programs among immigrant and minority groups.

The 20th century became the bloodiest century in history. Nazis murdered 20 million persons. Communists murdered a hundred million. But through abortion, the 21st century may soon surpass the 20th. In our nation alone the number of reported abortions since 1973 is almost 50 million.

After World War II the World Medical Association, including the American Medical Association, voted to require all doctors to swear to “maintain the utmost respect for human life from its beginning to natural death.”

But in the universities of Europe and America the philosophical assumptions that Pope John Paul II called the “culture of death” continued to grow, and now the triumph of legal killing has not come primarily from dictators but from the Supreme Court, which our nation's founders established to protect the lives of all Americans.

In 1973, a majority of Supreme Court justices looked in the Constitution and found shadowy “penumbras” instead of clarity, and “emanations” instead of clear English words. Roe v. Wade ranks as one of the strangest decisions in the history of jurisprudence. Only persons have rights, said the Supreme Court, and after searching among the bizarre “emanations” that lurk in the Constitution's “penumbras,” a majority of justices were unable to find the meaning of the world person. (Webster: “A human being; a particular individual.”)

Another mystery beyond the court's ken was embryology.

“We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins,” wrote the bewildered Justice Blackmun. “The judiciary at this point in the development of man's knowledge is not in a position to speculate as to the answer. … If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.”

In the 1992 case Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court bestowed its blessings on third-trimester, partial-birth abortions. This “medical” procedure is so gruesome that when Justice Breyer announced his majority opinion, he warned listeners that: “[O]ur discussion may seem clinically cold and callous to some, perhaps horrifying to others.”

It was indeed “horrifying.” Without anesthesia, late-term babies are forcefully and painfully turned so as to present feet-first. They are then pulled from the womb until their heads are lodged against the cervix. The “doctor” then stabs them in the back of the head or crushes their heads with forceps. Since the head is held inside the birth canal, the procedure can be called an “abortion” instead of “murder.”

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in dissent: “The method of killing a human child … proscribed by this statute is so horrible that the most clinical description of it evokes a shudder of revulsion. … The notion that the Constitution of the United States prohibits the states from simply banning this visibly brutal means of eliminating our half-born posterity is quite simply absurd.”

Justice Clarence Thomas also dissented: “The question whether states have a legitimate interest in banning the procedure does not require additional authority. In a civilized society, the answer is too obvious, and the contrary arguments too offensive to merit further discussion.”

He noted that instead of safeguarding the mother's health, “There was evidence before the Nebraska legislature, that partial-birth abortion increases health risks relative to other procedures.”

Later, since judges in lower courts must follow decisions of the Supreme Court, Judge Richard Casey apologized when he announced that under Stenberg v. Carhart he was compelled to rule that the legal ban on partial-birth abortion, which had been carefully crafted by Congress and signed by the president, was “unconstitutional.”

Judge Casey noted that, “The abortionists’ justifications for the procedure were incoherent … false … [and] merely theoretical.” He described what he was forced to permit as “gruesome, brutal, barbaric and uncivilized.” However, “a health exception is constitutionally required.”

And according to the Supreme Court (Doe v. Bolton), the health exception encompasses “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.” For a judge, that means America's Constitution requires that the barbaric procedure be allowed whenever a mother wishes.

But those who respect human life should not lose hope. The American people once again have an opportunity to confront this horror and prevent the deaths of another 50 million innocent children. Most current justices are elderly. Some are in poor health. Justice Stevens is 84 and wishes to retire. Chief Justice Rehnquist is 79 and is being treated for cancer. Only Justice Breyer is younger than 65.

With the July 1 retirement of Justice Sandra O'Connor, President Bush now has the opportunity to replace her with a person who respects life. And several justices now sitting have defended life. So there is reason to hope and above all to pray that the Court may again respect life and base decisions on the Constitution instead of on personal “feelings.”

In The History of Rome, Titus Livius wrote, “I would have the reader trace the process of our moral decline, to watch, first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them.”

While Titus Livius was writing his History in Rome, Jesus Christ was crucified in Jerusalem.

Joseph Collison is the director of the pro-life office for the Diocese of Norwich.