Late Edition: The Woes of Roe

Abortion advocates have for years dined out on Harry Blackmun’s disingenuous dicta in Roe v. Wade that we do not know “when life begins.” The only proper response to that little bit of manufactured ignorance is: “Like hell we don’t.” Just ask any medical biologist who plies his trade in Petri dishes at a fertility lab. We know perfectly well when life begins. The real issue—also dissembled by Blackmun—is whether we ought to care about and protect the human being that is created.

The facts of life, of course, have not mattered much to those whose primary interest lies in advancing the feminist agenda, at whose tender mercies the value of an unborn child is precisely zero. But facts have a stubborn persistence, like the tug of gravity upon a falling body. Deny, dissemble, or distort the facts as they may abortion advocates must twist themselves into pretzels when it comes to answering the central question: What, or more precisely, who is it that is killed during an abortion? Their principal tactic over the years has been to change the subject, either by hollering about a woman’s “right to choose,” or by inveighing against “religious zealots” who would restrict abortion.

Although this approach has brought them conspicuous success in the past (for the most part in courts, where the pressure of public opinion is more easily ignored), their position has become increasingly harder to maintain. It’s those stubborn facts. The palpable presence of the unborn child speaks with a powerful and irreducible eloquence that no mere words can match, which is why legalized abortion is the issue that will not quit. Defending Roe v. Wade is necessarily a Sisyphean task because it rests on factual suppositions and logical fallacies whose insufficiencies can be explained to any reasonably alert twelve-year-old child. Harry Blackmun believed that Roe had brought “closure” to the abortion controversy, a feat of optimistic fantasy that demonstrates how little he understood about the nature of the dispute before him.

The lot of pro-abortion litigators and lobbyists is bound to be an unhappy one. No sooner do they achieve a victory here than they must face some new threat to Roe’s empire over there. The U.S. Congress, for example, will almost certainly pass the Child Custody Protection Act this year (making it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion). And if it can muster the courage, the House should approve Rep. Lindsey Graham’s Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would impose heavy penalties for injuring or killing an unborn child during the commission of a federal crime. In July hearings, defenders of abortion on the House Judiciary Committee were visibly nervous in their efforts to criticize Graham’s proposal: They may argue that the unborn child has no rights the law is bound to respect in the case of voluntary abortion, but are they prepared to advance that opinion when a pregnant woman is a victim of assault?

In entertaining Rep. Graham’s proposal, of course, the House is only following in the footsteps of the states, many of which have granted legal protection to unborn children outside the abortion context. Eleven states recognize unborn children as victims throughout the entire period of pre-natal development. Another 13 states grant at least partial protection during the later stages of development. And six others, without enacting specific unborn victim’s laws, nevertheless have criminalized certain conduct that causes a miscarriage or terminates a pregnancy. To make matters worse for the defenders of abortion, prosecutors in Oklahoma are trying an arsonist for the murder of an unborn victim; a federal district judge in Wisconsin recently upheld that state’s partial-birth-abortion ban; and Michigan (whose right-to-life operatives should conduct seminars on how to get things done) this summer amended its law to say that an unborn child outside the mother’s womb is a human being.

The unkindest cut of all may come in New Jersey, where Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, the darling of Republican feminists, has done a 180 and announced her support for legislation similar to Michigan’s. This, mind you, from a governor who once vetoed a ban on partial-birth abortion. As I say, the lot of abortion advocates these days is not a happy one. It’s those stubborn facts again.

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.

Crisis Magazine Comments Policy

This is a Catholic forum. As such:

  1. All comments must directly address the article. “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” (Matthew 12:36)
  2. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  3. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  4. Keep it brief. No lengthy rants or block quotes. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
  5. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
  6. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36)
  7. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)