January 23, 2007

Abortion and the Supreme CourtWhat's Wrong with Roe v. Wade?

Legalizing Abortion on Demand

Thirty-four years ago this month something happened to a new term, and a novel idea was ushered into our national consciousness. The novel idea was "reproductive rights" and the occasion was the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade, handed down on January 22, 1973.

But does a woman's "reproductive rights" supercede the unborn child's "right to life"? This issue has been the central point of contention for the past thirty-four years. To answer that question, we need to evaluate a key point raised in the original decision.

In this landmark case, Justice Blackmun, writing for the majority, stated,

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.[1]

However, contrary to its own opinion, the court did resolve this "difficult question." By refusing to affirm that a fetus is a living human being during the first two trimesters, the Court effectively stripped the unborn of his or her right to life. This decision thus struck down every state law regulating abortion before 24 weeks, leaving the decision to abort to the discretion of the mother. With the addition of a broadly defined "health" clause in a companion case, Doe v. Bolton, the Justices opened the way for "abortion-on-demand" during all nine months of pregnancy.

Why the Court's Ruling is Wrong

There are a number of compelling reasons why this arbitrary declaration of the onset of human life decision by the court is flawed, and these reasons parallel the court's original statement concerning the disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology. Worldview analysis helps sort out the true nature of the case.

First, when it comes to the question of when life begins, the medical evidence is undeniable. It is well documented in embryology and other scientific texts that a human being is produced when human sperm and ovum unite. This union creates a new individual with a unique genetic code, differentiating it from the mother. Contrary to the Supreme Court's opinion, there is no debate in the medical science community over the fact that human conception marks the beginning of human life.

Second, the High Court based its decision on the assumption that a fetus is merely "potential [human] life" and develops into a human person at some later stage. But in philosophical terms, this line of reasoning turns out to be a category fallacy, confusing what something is (a person) with some characteristic it may have (personality). J.P. Moreland and Norman Geisler elaborate: "Personality is a psychological concept; personhood is an ontological category. Personalities grow, but persons are the kind of thing they are from the very beginning."[2] Therefore, not only is the fetus a human being, but by its very nature, a human person.

And finally, the Court failed to understand the connection between human rights and theology. The founders of the United States understood that legal rights rest on theological assumptions. As clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence, the idea of an "inalienable" right to life and liberty assumes the theological notion of a Creator. It is a religious conviction. But worldview analysis reveals how all political decisions ultimately rest on some set of theological beliefs.

The 1973 Court overlooked the obvious relationship between theological assumptions and political conclusions. To simply assert, as the Supreme Court did, that an innocent child can be killed at the mother's discretion because of the baby's stage of development, desirability, or inconvenience to the mother, usurps the rule of law based on God-given rights and substitutes a secular atheism in its place. This turns the original concept of legal rights on its head. Instead of rights coming from an unchanging God, they now come from the arbitrary whims of man.

The Consequences of Roe v. Wade

In 1973, seven Justices changed the course of U.S. legal theory by declaring that a certain class of people, the unborn, does not have the protection of the state. This came about because of a subtle shift in theology. The consequence of this shift in worldview is predictable: the de-valuing of human life and with it, the murder of innocents. In Germany during the 1930s, the same logic declared Jews to be sub-human, resulting in over 6 million murdered during the Holocaust. Our own American holocaust on the unborn stands at over 42 million innocent deaths, the equivalent number of people currently living in the states of California and Georgia combined!

In 1973, five justices turned one of the foundational concepts of our republic, the right to life, into a mirage. This most precious of God-given rights is now an indistinct blur on the horizon, an image held in our minds, but beyond our grasp. It is time for a new generation of judges who have the conviction to base their decisions regarding human life on God-given, inalienable rights. Only then will a moral vision be restored, and the killing stopped.

  1. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), Section VII.
  2. J.P. Moreland and Norman L. Geisler, The Life and Death Debate: Moral Issues of Our Time (Greenwood Press, 1990), 32.

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