Because it conflicts with the natural moral law, Roe v. Wade can never be regarded as “settled”
by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Carl A. Anderson
This month we observe nearly four decades of pro-life activity in response to the infamous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. I am proud that the commitment of the Knights of Columbus in building a culture of life has grown stronger each year.
Some say that Roe v. Wade should be accepted as “settled law” and that attempts to restrict or overturn it should end. This argument has appeal because there should be clarity and certainty in our laws. But it falls short because there is a principle more important than certainty in our legal system justice.
Although there are many problems with the legal reasoning in the Supreme Court’s opinion in Roe v. Wade, the most fundamental is that the court’s decision rests upon a falsehood, which is expressed in Justice Blackmun’s statement, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.”
Whatever Blackmun may have believed in 1973, it is simply untrue in 2012 to say that abortion does not take the life of an unborn human being. Because of this reality, abortion will never be settled law in the United States and must someday be overturned.
As I wrote in my first book, A Civilization of Love, our situation is similar to that faced by the civil rights movement after the Supreme Court ruled in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” laws were constitutional. That decision enshrined the hateful system of de jure segregation throughout much of the United States and took 58 years to overturn.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson was based upon an untruth the court rejected the obvious fact that the legally enforced separation of the two races “stamped” African-Americans “with a badge of inferiority.” The court went on to say that if African-Americans thought “separate but equal” laws were demeaning and unfair, it was only because they chose “to put that construction on” such laws.
In his dissent, Justice John Marshall Harlan contended that the court’s view was pure fiction and that people knew it to be so.
The same must be said of Roe v. Wade. If we remain determined and committed, it too will one day be brushed into the dustbin of history.
Roe v. Wade will also one day be swept away for another reason: As I showed in my latest book, Beyond a House Divided, the decision has failed to gain the support of the American people after nearly four decades. Most Americans want legal restrictions on abortion that go far beyond what is permitted by the court’s ruling.
This presents another lesson that can be learned from the civil rights movement. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. never hesitated to remind the people of the United States of their Judeo-Christian values. In his famous 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, he even relied upon the Catholic natural law tradition. King wrote: “One may well ask, ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’”
He continued, “Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.”
A law “that is out of harmony with the moral law” can never be regarded as “settled” as long as there are men of conscience, men of determination and men who understand that our nation will be judged by the respect we give to every person even to “the least among us.”