Late Edition: Fatal Schitzophrenia

Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the Supreme Court decreed that an unborn child possessed no rights the Constitution was bound to respect. Justice Harry Blackmun twisted himself into a pretzel trying to justify that conclusion and, in desperation, managed to invent a wholly fictitious entity called a “potential” human being. The provenance and qualities of this remarkable creature were never explained, except that, if left alone, it would somehow become an “actual” human being, whatever that was. Although professing almost studied ignorance about its nature, Blackmun was nevertheless dogmatically sure that its life could be taken with impunity.

The Court’s opinion warred with the reality that the pregnant woman, her physician, and—until 1973 —the law knew: that no link in the chain of being, from conception until death, is any more or less human than the one that precedes or follows it. To break any link is to end a human life. In order to justify abortion, one must ignore or deny truths that are undisputed in every other facet of human endeavor.

Outside the abortion context, the facts and moral significance of life before birth are acknowledged by everyone, and hardly a week goes by when it is not affirmed in some dramatic way. Witness, for example, the recent announcement of a successful bone-marrow transplant performed on a 4-month-old fetus who had been diagnosed with a fatal immunodeficiency disorder. Now 18 months of age, the little boy on whom this near-miraculous surgery appears to be cured.

This lad’s parents and the physicians at Detroit Children’s Hospital who saved his life were under no delusions as to the palpable humanity of the tiny patient who was the object of their love and skill, and, surely, all were acutely aware of the savage irony that would have made this child, at another time and place, merely a “potentially human” inconvenience. That irony was horrifyingly underscored by the recent episode in Delaware, where the lifeless body of the newborn son of college freshmen Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson was found in a trash dumpster, the victim of multiple skull fractures and brain injuries.

Seldom has the schizophrenia spawned by the Court’s abortion decisions been more apparent. Amy and Brian must now stand trial for murder. Had they followed the logic of Supreme Court jurisprudence and of President Clinton’s veto of the ban on partial-birth-abortion, they’d be back in their dorm rooms studying for finals—sadder, perhaps wiser, certainly at liberty to go on with their lives. Their defense attorneys will no doubt make much of this irony and argue that it is cruel and unusual to punish these youngsters for an act that, had it been done by a physician with Amy’s approval, would have been constitutionally licit and defended as such by no less than the President of the United States.

One hopes that their jurors will recall that tiny lad in Detroit whose life was saved despite the moral and legal teaching of the Supreme Court. Either way, this trial will focus national attention on the moral schizophrenia of the abortion culture. It is one thing to dismiss facts on paper, and quite another to banish them from our understanding and memory. Harry Blackmun to the contrary notwithstanding, the natural law will always return to bury its pallbearers.

Michael M. Uhlmann


Michael Martin Uhlmann (1939-2019) served as professor of government in the department of politics and policy at Claremont Graduate University and Claremont McKenna College. Prior to teaching at Claremont, Dr. Uhlmann was a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Vice President for Public Policy Research at the Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and taught at the George Mason University Law School.

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