Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage Won’t Be Settled on Liberal Terms

As we marked the 40th anniversary of legalized abortion in America, much was—rightly—made of the cover of the January 14 issue of Time magazine with its accompanying article declaring that “40 Years Ago Abortion-Rights Advocates Won a Resounding Victory with Roe v. Wade. They’ve Been Losing Ever Since.”

If only. Time might not be the oracle it once was, but it is still remarkable that such an article should appear in such a venue. The article noted in particular increased difficulties women are finding in exercising their supposed “right” to abortion because of the many abortion-regulating measures being enacted in states across the country. Ninety-two such provisions were enacted in 24 states in 2011 alone. At the same time, abortion providers dropped from nearly 3000 back in 1982 to less than 2000 by 2008.

Also, for a good while now, polls have been showing that a majority of Americans now identify themselves as “pro-life.” A new survey by the Knights of Columbus even found that no less than 83 percent of Americans now favor some restrictions on abortion. The slight majority of pro-abortion voters registered by exit polls in the recent presidential election may thus have simply indicated temporary success for the Obama Administration’s trumped-up, phony allegation of a Republican “war on women.” This does not seem to be a permanent trend.

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The same thing is true of a recent widely publicized Pew Research Center survey conducted in January, 2013, showing that some 63 percent of those responding still oppose overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s misbegotten 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized the lethal practice in all 50 states. This figure has held steady for decades. In 1992 the figure was 60 percent in favor of keeping this horrendous decision in place and in 2003 it was 62 percent. Thus, this “majority” does not agree with the “majority” that describes itself as pro-life.

Probably several factors explain this discrepancy. Many people do not understand that Roe v. Wade actually allows abortion on demand throughout the entire length of a pregnancy for any reason or for no reason, yet the question posed by the Pew survey  included the original false and long exploded claim that it allows abortion only during the first three months of pregnancy; it also only asked whether the decision should simply be overturned or not, thus prompting those who favor allowing abortions to save the life of the mother, for example, or in cases of rape or incest, to think that the decision had to be kept in place to allow legal abortions of any kind.

Most people similarly do not understand how insubstantial and shaky the reasoning behind the Roe v. Wade decision is on legal, constitutional, factual, and moral grounds; even many proponents of abortion agree that it is bad law that could well be reversed on the basis of its manifest defects.

In any case, a growing national trend does seem to be moving, however slowly, in a pro-life direction. Credit for this new trend surely belongs to the pro-life movement in the United States that for so many years of dedicated efforts has unwaveringly opposed the evil of abortion. Of course as long as the Roe v. Wade decision remains in place, the elective killing of the unborn will still be the law of the land. Nevertheless, the fact that significant numbers of Americans have continued to refuse to accept the legitimacy of this Supreme Court decision gives grounds for hope that it can eventually be overturned.

When the Supreme Court handed down its decision, some of us recall the smug satisfaction of the nation’s liberal elites, reflected in and applauded by an approving media. In their view, the “controversial” abortion issue had finally been “settled” by the Supreme Court. The actual words of the New York Times editorial two days after the decision was issued were that “the Court’s seven-to-two decision could bring to an end the emotional and public arguments over what should always have been an intensely private and personal matter”—as if the killing of someone could ever be considered merely “private and personal.”

The almost superstitious awe with which Supreme Court decisions are sometimes regarded no doubt led some to believe that the contentious abortion debate indeed had been “settled.” But that was to fail to reckon with the fact that the supposed settlement went against the fundamental moral conscience of too many Americans, particularly Christians.

The Catholic Church’s uncompromising condemnation of abortion, for example, had recently (1964) been characterized by the Second Vatican Council as an “abominable crime” (Gaudium et Spes #51). People do not generally sit back and accept “abominable crimes” as positive law (or as newly minted constitutional rights) just because an erring court says so.

The main point to be understood here is that legalized abortion, like slavery for an earlier generation, is a public policy that cannot be accepted or allowed to remain in place. It must imperatively be fought against even if efforts to do so prove unsuccessful, even if defeats are suffered time and time again. The fight cannot be abandoned. That is the real import of the January 14 Time article. 40 years after the abortion issue was “settled,” the opposition to the supposed settlement continues to increase! What the Supreme Court’s supposed “settlement” really brought about was: 40 years of incessant social conflict and strife for which there is still no end in sight—until the legalized killing of the innocent ceases.

The Case of Same-Sex Marriage
Today another moral outrage looms, indeed is already upon us in a number of ways, namely, so-called same-sex “marriage.” Just a few short years ago, the idea that a man could “marry” another man, or a woman another woman, would have been dismissed by the common sense of nearly everybody. Yet in an era when non-judgmentalism has come to be the rule most often applied to practically every kind of sexual behavior by and among adults—providing always that it is “consensual”!—homosexual behavior too has come to be considered acceptable and as representing just another “alternative lifestyle.”

Actually, homosexuals probably do not want recognition of gay marriage so much as they really just want society’s approval for homosexual behavior. Only a small percentage of them actually do try to “marry”; their unions are quite fragile and temporary; and “infidelity” as well as promiscuity is rife among them.

Hence, just as abortion came to be widely accepted, at least in part, because it got defined as a woman’s right to control over her own life and reproductive capacity—the child hardly ever even being mentioned any longer—so the idea that homosexuals were being discriminated against in the same way that blacks were once discriminated against under Jim Crow has apparently persuaded many people that homosexuals really ought to be allowed to “marry” each other as a matter of simple fairness and equality. That their relationships and liaisons are not, in fact, marriages is thought to be beside the point; the point is precisely to redefine marriage to include homosexual liaisons.

So it is argued. President Obama even assumed it in his Inaugural Address. Left aside, however—in the same way that the life of the child is left aside in the case of abortion—is not only the fact that homosexual relationships cannot be marriages; there is also, significantly, no mention whatsoever made of the fact that they are intrinsically disordered. Homosexual practices formerly considered to be repellent and immoral are now simply declared to be “normal” (at least for homosexuals); it’s supposedly the way “God made them.”

What is remarkable is the rapidity with which all this has come about. Another Pew Research Center poll conducted in November, 2011, showed 48 percent of Americans now approving of gay marriage—up from 35 percent a decade earlier in 2001. A recent Southern Baptist-sponsored poll showed that the number of those believing homosexual behavior to be sinful dropped over the course of one year from 2011 to 2012 from 44 percent down to 37 percent. These trends no doubt continue.

Only yesterday no less than 32 states had enshrined in their state constitutions a definition of marriage exclusively as that of a union between a man and a woman. Yet in the November elections, three states, Maine, Maryland, and Washington, suddenly voted instead to accept ersatz gay marriages, while voters in a fourth state, Minnesota, declined to approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage in the traditional way.

Again, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage in the traditional way for all federal purposes. Yet the Obama Administration has felt able to lay aside the president’s constitutional responsibility to insure that all the laws are being “faithfully executed” by simply ceasing to defend DOMA in the courts—probably in the expectation that sooner rather than later the current legal recognition of traditional marriage will be abolished.

In the face of all these trends favorable to the homosexual agenda, America’s liberal elites are crowing again, with the usual accompaniment from the approving media. Soon the “controversial” same-sex “marriage” issue will be “settled” in favor of a novel definition of marriage that goes against what marriage has universally been understood to be throughout all of human history.

There is a problem, though. Like abortion, like slavery for that matter, gay marriage is not a public policy which serious people with formed consciences can approve or acquiesce in. Rather, it represents yet another instance where what the law may prescribe—and thus claim to “settle”—once again must be opposed and actively fought against by all just and lawful means. Gay marriage won’t be settled as a public policy because it can’t be settled on the liberal terms it presupposes.

At the moment it may seem that it is being settled on these terms, given all the trends running in its favor. Unlike abortion, it is said, imposed on America by a Supreme Court fiat, the homosexual agenda appears to enjoy increasing public and popular support, with victories now in both state legislatures and referenda. Approval of it by young people in particular is growing steadily. Does this mean that gay marriage could be put in place and remain without the stigma attached to abortion?

Actually, no. When the drive for the legalization of abortion began in the 1960s, a massive campaign was launched in favor of what was then too an unprecedented change in public policy and morality. This campaign succeeded in persuading many people and produced the kind of poll and voting results similar to those currently favoring gay marriage.

Historically, the laws of all fifty states had allowed abortion to save the life of the mother; five states allowed it also for a true medical or therapeutic purpose. In 1966, Mississippi became the first state to amend its law to allow abortion in cases of rape. By 1972, no less than thirteen more states had modified their laws to allow it on the basis of various “indications”: rape, incest, child deformity, mother’s health. The legislatures of Alaska, Hawaii, New York, and Washington state went all the way and enacted the same abortion-on-demand regime the Supreme Court would shortly fasten on the whole country. We have had to fight it ever since.

Similarly, what the homosexual rights movement and its secular elite fellow travelers are really going to bring about, assuming they are successful in imposing their agenda, is yet another permanent conflict situation, like that brought about by the legalization of abortion. Many people will again have to remain in permanent and unyielding opposition to this supposed “settlement.” Gay unions cannot be recognized as marriages because they are precisely not marriages. The end result of insisting that they are and trying to establish this by law will necessarily lead to another era of incessant conflict and strife for which no end will again be possible except the eventual reversal of the original erroneous idea.

  • Kenneth D. Whitehead

    Kenneth D. Whitehead is a former career diplomat who served in Rome and the Middle East and as the chief of the Arabic Service of the Voice of America. For eight years he served as executive vice president of Catholics United for the Faith. He also served as a United States Assistant Secretary of Education during the Reagan Administration. He is the author of The Renewed Church: The Second Vatican Council’s Enduring Teaching about the Church (Sapientia Press, 2009) and, most recently, Affirming Religious Freedom: How Vatican Council II Developed the Church’s Teaching to Meet Today’s Needs (St. Paul’s, 2010).

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