AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
Those involved in the March for Life this weekend did so with renewed purpose and a sense of hope. After all, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the case involving Mississippi’s 2018 law banning abortion after fifteen weeks, there is the distinct possibility that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, which is forty-nine years old as of this weekend. True, those supporting the almost unlimited abortion license are certain to get louder in two particular lines of attack: pro-life people are often accused of both not caring about Constitutional rights and not caring about babies or women. However, those marching to see unborn life protected in law have both the better Constitutional argument and the record of care for babies (born and unborn), women, and society. They don’t just march for lives—they work for them tirelessly.
The response to those bandying about the Constitution is fairly easy. The tortured logic and lack of Constitutional substance in Roe, which created an almost unlimited right to abortion in 1973, has long been admitted by liberals. Edward Lazarus, a committed supporter of abortion and a former clerk to Justice Blackmun, who wrote the infamous opinion, observed in 2005: “Roe is easily defended as good policy or, after 32 years, settled law. But as a matter of constitutional interpretation, even most liberal jurisprudes—if you administer truth serum—will tell you it is basically indefensible.” He wasn’t the only one. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Laurence Tribe, Cass Sunstein, William Saletan, and other left legal luminaries have all gone on record testifying to the dishonesty, lack of substance, and/or imprudence of the decision.
Many, like Lazarus, will say that it’s bad law but good policy, often on the grounds that abortion prevents overpopulation. Given the demographic problems that have long plagued European and East Asian countries and are now beginning to be felt in America, it is hard to see how the loss of 63 million citizens over the last fifty years fits into that narrative. Ironically, those who favor the abortion license usually support a generous welfare state that counts on plenty of young working people to pay for the benefits.
Another common argument is that without legal abortion, women would die in vast numbers in unsafe back-alley abortions. Yet this argument has always been dubious. Bernard Nathanson, a medical doctor who specialized in abortions and helped found the organization now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America before being converted to the pro-life cause, later admitted to the deceit involved in arguments of this nature. “How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal?” he later wrote.
In NARAL (National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws) we generally
emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but
when we spoke of the latter it was always 5,000 to 10,000 a year. I
confess that I knew the figures were totally false. But in the “morality”
of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out
of our way to correct it with honest statistics?
That the official figures recorded about 160 per year and even the highest estimate of uncounted deaths would peak at 500 per year made no difference.
More frequently, however, abortion advocates simply attack those who want to see babies in the womb protected from being killed. “Republicans,” wrote Alexia Lafata in a 2015 article, “are so dedicated to making sure that every single g*****n baby is born into beautiful America. . . . But why don’t they give a single sh*t about that baby once it’s actually born?” This kind of slur, with or without the profanity that supposedly signals conviction or authenticity, has been repeated over and over, not just about Republicans but about all pro-lifers. But is this really true?
First off, it’s an odd claim to be making and a classic red herring. For even if it were true, would this make killing children in the womb morally acceptable? But second, it is often made in a narrowly political way. Lafata is typical in that her support for the claim is that Republicans, who seem to be synonymous with pro-lifers, don’t support her favored large-scale welfare programs or policies. Obviously, she reasons, since women often cite financial and job-related reasons for getting abortions, a lack of support for Obamacare or paid maternity leave means that they really don’t care about these women or the babies they are carrying. The argument might make sense if one really believed that these programs helped the poor or women in trouble—and did not include provisions to pay for abortions, as they often do. Over one thousand Obamacare plans still include abortion coverage. As the Charlotte Lozier Institute has uncovered, any plan that includes abortion has a monthly surcharge that goes into a fund to pay for abortion on demand. It’s a little bit rich to say that anybody who doesn’t support programs funding abortion can’t oppose abortion.
Many pro-life people do not just object to the often hard-to-discover support of abortion in these programs. They simply don’t find much evidence that the programs do what the advocates say. But skip over the arguments about government programs. What do pro-life people do? The answer is: a lot. In an article responding to this “lazy slander” over a decade ago, pro-life authors Helen Alvaré, Greg Pfundstein, Matthew Schmitz, and Ryan T. Anderson took stock of the massive non-government action of pro-life activists. They counted 2300 pregnancy resource centers connected to the three largest pro-life umbrella groups serving 1.9 million women per year. Cindi Boston, Vice President of Heartbeat International, one of the biggest umbrella groups, estimated 2600 or 2700 centers in 2020. And contrary to stereotypes purveyed by abortion advocates, these centers provided much more than simply pregnancy tests and some sermons. Alvaré and her co-authors say, “These centers provide services including pre-natal care, STI (sexually transmitted infections) testing, STI treatment, ultrasound, childbirth classes, labor coaching, midwife services, lactation consultation, nutrition consulting, social work, abstinence education, parenting classes, material assistance, and post-abortion counseling.”
In 2011 these authors counted 350 places in the United States providing shelter to mothers and babies. That number has no doubt grown. Today, Good Counsel Homes, founded in 1985, has 239 such homes in 47 states and provides not only a roof over their heads but the kind of broad health, material, educational, and spiritual services that women who are considering abortion often need. Many of these homes began with real sacrifices. Bernadine Scroggins, founding co-director of the Philomena House in Minnesota, and her husband, Merlin, began by inviting women in need to live in their own home.
Many pro-life organizations also do other things for women and children who are definitely born. Josephine’s Hope, a student pro-life group at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is named for Josephine Bakhita, a nineteenth-century Sudanese slave who escaped, became a nun and was canonized as a Catholic saint. This group has been active in letting the northeastern Indiana community know about sex trafficking going on in the United States and abroad. Students in the group have also traveled to Cambodia and Thailand with Destiny Rescue, an organization that works to help children who have been taken into sex slavery.
Finally, many pro-life centers are actively helping entire families, including, in a special way, men. Cindi Boston recounts how many men who were determined not to be involved in the lives of the children they fathered were convinced otherwise: “They had an older man talk about the responsibilities of being a dad – and the joys of being a dad. The young men rose to the occasion, got involved, and stayed involved. They eventually married their child’s mom and built good lives together.”
In the end, the false attacks on pro-lifers are an attempt to change the subject. Moral truths are true regardless of whether those who hold them always follow through. The unborn human child has human rights because he or she is human and should not be killed. The indefensible Roe v. Wade decision is bad law not just because it invents a Constitutional right out of thin air, or even because it was decided based on fallacious information and reasoning, but because it invents a right to do wrong that harms our society. It should be overturned because it is a truly bad policy that hurts babies, mothers, fathers, and society. But if people say it won’t work because there is no safety net, no support, and no care for the women and children involved, we have an obligation to set them right. The pro-life cause has cared, does care, and will continue to care for children in the womb or outside, the mothers who carry them, and all those who are hurt by abortion directly or indirectly. That’s what the March for Life was all about.
David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN). He is the co-host of the Deep Down Things podcast.