I have been active in the pro-life movement for over 46 years. I never assumed or took for granted that Roe v. Wade would be overturned in my lifetime. On the evening of May 2nd, I was hunched over my computer reading emails while an episode of Dateline to which I hardly paid attention was on TV in front of me. Suddenly, a new email popped up in my in-box. The subject read “Dobbs written opinion leaked—Roe v. Wade overturned!”
I was stunned, and then I wept as a wave of emotion came over me. Oddly, I also was afraid to be happy— “Is this really true?” “Will this really happen?” After all, the leaked written opinion is not actually the final word. Yet, there it was, almost as a dream. Then, on June 24, 2022, after 49 years of struggle, the dream became a reality with the Supreme Court’s 6 to 3 decision that finally brought the slaughter of Roe v. Wade to an end.
Instantly, millions of pro-lifers across the country were swept into euphoria. Photos on the front pages of major newspapers tell the story: images of ecstatic pro-lifers contrasted with images of downcast abortion advocates, mourning that they can no longer kill their unborn children with constitutional protection. Yes, those who believe in the sanctity of life should have great joy and should celebrate the demise of Roe as several states have already moved to ban abortion. Thousands of unborn children will be spared death by abortion.
Indeed, many were immediately granted reprieve in states like Wisconsin. Just after the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision, that state’s Planned Parenthood medical director, Kathy King, featured on NBC Nightly News, announced to women sitting in the waiting room of PP’s Milwaukee facility that scheduled abortions would not be performed.
However, the joy of many, including this pro-life veteran, has been tempered by being immediately plunged into post-Roe battles. I live in Michigan. When the Dobbs decision was leaked, I, with pro-life Michiganders anticipating the reversal of Roe, was also overjoyed as Michigan’s 1931 ban on abortion, a ban that survived a 1972 challenge, was poised to go into effect.
That joy was short-lived. A statewide petition drive was initiated, sponsored by Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and Michigan Voices. Called Reproductive Freedom for All, these groups seek to repeal that 1931 law and enshrine the “right” to abortion into Michigan’s state constitution. Should the petitioners succeed in obtaining the needed 425,000 signatures, and it looks like they have succeeded, a referendum will appear on the November ballot. Depending on the outcome, Michigan could turn into a mecca for the killing of the unborn—killing through the ninth month of gestation with little to no restrictions.
Joy is also tempered by the fact that no less than four days after Dobbs was announced, four pro-lifers were convicted in a Flint, Michigan, court for their participation in a June 7, 2019, Red Rose Rescue. Dobbs characterized Roe as “egregiously wrongly decided from the start.” This means, indeed, that the women scheduled for abortions at the Flint facility never had a right to abortion to begin with! Nonetheless, once again, pro-life rescuers were denied a “defense of others.” Even post-Roe, in Judge Newblatt’s court the unborn still counted as nothing.
And frankly, while the reversal of Roe is cause for great joy and cause for great hope, there is, nonetheless, a reason why everyone who cares about the cause of life should also mourn. When I read the words of Justice Alito that Roe v. Wade “was egregiously wrong from the start,” I immediately thought, “This decision, ‘egregiously wrong from the start,’ caused the extermination of over sixty million human beings!” The injustice of Roe v. Wade is staggering.
America is responsible for the slaughter of a people-group—the slaughter of a people-group under a court ruling that should never have existed to begin with! America can’t just say, “Oops, sorry.” Rather, we have to face it. We have to own what this country has done to the unborn. As a nation, we have to repent of this murder and beg the forgiveness of God.
The injustice of Roe v. Wade is very personal for me. I am one of maybe fifty people in the world who has actually retrieved literally thousands of broken bodies of aborted children from abortion center trash containers, photographed them, and buried them. In this sorrow I learned the true significance of abortion and the true significance of Roe v. Wade. Roe is not just a legal opinion, nor is it simply a political issue. Roe v. Wade is a philosophy. Roe is over, but the philosophy of Roe is still here. And it is the philosophy of Roe that also needs to be culturally overturned.
The slogan “I have a right to do what I want with my own body” is the creed that exclaims a radical autonomy upon which the quest for self-determination rests. My own body—meaning my own self—is a self not in relation to others, and only by such a self-proclaimed autonomy may I truly be who I am.
This sort of radical individualism was enshrined within the United States Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Roe articulates an anthropology about what it means to be human. Roe v. Wade’s denial of the right to life of unborn children was founded on two arguments. The first is that for the purposes of the right to life the unborn are declared to be non-persons, and as such, they are not the subject of rights as the decision famously, or perhaps infamously stated: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.” At most, unborn children represent “potential life.” However, the unborn stripped of their personhood is not enough to facilitate their slaughter.
Plenty of things—literally things—are protected by law. Property is protected, ships are protected, corporations are protected. And there are plenty of legal restrictions on how people may treat animals, with some species absolutely protected in every sense. Thus, the “mere” failure of the justices to recognize the unborn as persons is not enough to have ushered in their extermination at the rate of over sixty million.
The denial of personhood to the unborn is an atrocious injustice. Yet, it is the other finding of the court that ultimately sealed the fate of this disadvantaged class—namely, the “right to privacy.” The “right to privacy” in Roe v. Wade is a privacy of a special kind. Indeed, with Roe we have the invention, some may say “discovery,” of a new “right.”
The “right to privacy” was engineered by the so-called-Catholic Justice William Brennan—based on the earlier 1965 contraception ruling of the Court, Griswold v. Connecticut. Here, as many may already know, the Court found that prohibiting the sale of contraceptives, even to married couples, was unconstitutional based on the “right to privacy.” This “right to privacy” was expanded to include non-married couples as well in the 1972 Supreme Court case Eisenstadt v. Baird.
However, in Roe v. Wade privacy is no longer a right that encircles the family, husbands and wives, or male/female couples, insulating them from unwarranted government regulation and intrusion into their “private” sexual affairs. The “right to privacy” shrunk from privacy that encompassed persons in relation to a “privacy” that now encircled one particular individual—namely, the woman alone. In Roe v. Wade, the “right to privacy” is a sphere of privacy only around the woman. The woman in the court’s decision completely stands alone. The decision created and defends the isolated female, who must first be placed in this sphere of isolation in order to exercise the ultimate power to kill another—to indeed cast out of herself that person most close to herself—her unborn son or daughter.
This is the dynamic of Roe v. Wade. The court ruling was based on the premise that there are no inherent human relationships. The woman stands alone, apart from literally everyone else in the world. And within her private zone of isolation, any moral obligations she may have toward others are shattered.
For instance, according to Roe v. Wade, husbands in relation to their wives within the covenant of marriage do not exist. In Roe v. Wade, a wife who conceives a child within the marital bond may kill that baby and the husband need never know; indeed, he has no right to know that his offspring was exterminated! The Court determined the woman owes her husband nothing because the woman who stands alone has no marital-relational responsibilities. Hence the pro-abortion slogan “No uterus, no say!”
According to Roe v. Wade, fathers do not exist. Under Roe, if a boyfriend who begets a child wishes to save that child from being put to death, he has no rights over the life of that baby. According to the original decision, not even parents of a pregnant minor daughter had any say as to whether or not their grandchild lived or died.
Roe v. Wade created the autonomous woman. It is an ethic of isolation—a manifesto that declares that inherent human relationships simply do not exist—they have no moral meaning. In order for the slaughter of the unborn to be accomplished, the bonds of the human community have to first be undone.
Legalized abortion is practiced according to that Sartrean principle that “hell is other people.” Here is the declaration that human freedom depends on being free from others—to be free from anyone who may restrict my right to self-determination. Privacy in Roe rests on the assumption that human freedom is freedom from being in relation to others, as the very presence of others compromises my choices and thus, according to the ethic of isolation, my very selfhood. Roe is over, and many unborn children will thus find their right to life protected. But Roe’s ethic of isolation remains. This, too, must be overcome if the unborn are truly to be free.
My pro-life work has taught me many lessons. But one lesson stands out from all the others. My book Abandoned—The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars records how the greatest lesson of abortion was impressed upon me. In 1988, we had discovered that Vital Med, a pathology lab in Northbrook, Illinois, was leaving the remains of aborted babies out on its loading dock to be picked up by a waste incinerator company. The fetal remains were shipped there by parcel post from abortion centers as far away as Fargo, North Dakota.
Motivated by our faith, we knew we had to retrieve these abandoned bodies. Our first trip to the laboratory took place February 20, 1988:
Covered by the darkness of night, we wove our way through the labyrinthine streets between buildings and empty parking lots of the deserted industrial park. Finally, we arrived at our destination: a large garage connected to the building that housed the pathology lab.
We parked our cars in the parking lot of a building across the street. I got out of the car and breathed in the cold night air. Our small group walked to the entrance of the garage. A utility door on the right side of the garage doors had been left open, so we entered. We immediately stood on a long concrete ramp that led down to the loading dock. On the dock were three green dumpsters. Several heavy-duty cardboard barrels were stacked along the back wall. We began to walk slowly down the ramp. I could see dozens and dozens of boxes on the dock strewn about haphazardly. As we approached, I felt a cold numbness stealing over me. When we reached the loading dock, I knelt by a stack of boxes to examine them more closely. Pulling back the flaps of one of the boxes, I saw that it was filled to the top with the bodies of aborted babies. There were literally hundreds of them; all packed in Whirl Paks and specimen jars. Each box on the dock was similarly filled with fetal remains. Some of the boxes were open. The cardboard barrels also contained Whirl Paks, mixed in with waste and debris.
I was struck by the realization that all of these fetal children had been alive only a few short days ago. Now they lay dead and abandoned, cut from their mothers’ wombs, cut from the human race: corpses of fetal bodies stacked on a loading dock inside an industrial park in boxes marked “for disposal.”
As I stood on the edge of the loading dock it seemed my journey and theirs had brought us together at the edge of the world. Here the aborted had been cast adrift in a desolate sea. A dark, sad, heavy revelation suddenly took life deep inside my being. Abortion wasn’t just about killing—and pro-life work wasn’t just about restoring to the unborn their right-to-life. In the image of those tiny human lives scattered about the loading dock I came to know the true plight of the aborted unborn. The sort of deaths they suffered made them horribly, frighteningly alone.
We had to go to the edge of the world to bring them back—to give what remained of them their first and last human embrace.
My trips to “the edge of the world” taught me that the true plight of the aborted unborn wasn’t “just” that they are deprived of their right-to-life. They endure a deeper plight as they are plunged by abortion into a void of alienation. In their dismembered bodies is incarnated their dismemberment from the human family. I began to know their isolation and to understand that it is caused by the triumph of another individual in isolation–a lonely monadic self who must secure its own identity and power by suppressing or annihilating all who threaten to be in relation to it. The babies on the loading dock were apart from their mothers. Apart from their fathers. Apart from the towns and cities where they had been conceived. Far from home. In them I knew the denial of mankind’s most intrinsic bonds. Abortion doesn’t just kill the unborn—it is separation, the dissolution of human communion.
The task of the pro-life movement is not “just” to secure legal protection for the unborn. Roe’s ethic of isolation that spells death for children in utero must also be reversed. The pro-life goal is to establish true inclusiveness, based on authentic human communion. Therefore, what pro-lifers are really doing is putting the world back together again.
[Photo: Pro-lifers, including the author, lower the remains of 14 aborted children into their grave (Credit: Citizens for a Pro-Life Society)]