On December 21, 1970, the Supreme Court struck down an attempt by Congress to lower the voting age to 18 in Oregon v. Mitchell.
On July 1, 1971, the 26th amendment was ratified, enshrining a voting age of 18 in the United States Constitution.
On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court declared genocide on unwanted children in the womb in Roe v. Wade.
Forty years later, Roe’s principles are still sound Constitutional law.
This Tuesday, we commemorate the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in American history. Even if a right to life amendment had been passed almost immediately, thousands of babies still would have been legally killed in the brief interim, and Roe would still be a disaster worthy of our collective memory as Americans.
But there is another, far greater, far grimmer, and far more heartbreaking tragedy we must remember tomorrow: the four decades between 1/22/73 and 1/22/13. It is one thing for nine judges to make a ruling on a single day. It is quite another for hundreds of millions of ordinary citizens to go on killing for scores of years without ever realizing their own iniquity. All nine men who gave Roe life are now dead. And of course, they’re no longer needed – millions upon millions of average men and women are willing and able to keep it alive forever. And just today, one of their own was inaugurated for a second term as President.
One feels like Phil Connors from the movie Groundhog Day. “I wake up every day, right here, right in Punxsutawney, and it’s always February 2nd, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Every day we wake up, we’re always right here, in a nation that delights in euphemistic child-killing, and it’s always January 22nd, and there’ s nothing we can do about it. Phil Connors eventually made it to February 3rd. I don’t know if America has the heart and soul left to ever make it to January 23rd.
In truth though, we also must remember the very little known fact that January 21st wasn’t all that different. Legal abortion did not have its genesis in the judiciary, but owes its existence to the legislative branch – the branch of the people. In the late 1960s, before courts had even hinted at a Constitutional right, states began making children of rape and incest legitimate objects for execution. Then in 1970, four states legalized abortion on demand – one by popular referendum.
Critically, the law in New York allowed for non-residents to obtain abortion. In all 50 states, all that legally stood between an unwanted child and death was the cost of travel to New York. Did Americans care? No, they were too busy with important issues like the right of 18 year olds to vote. In the grand scheme of things, the only real effect of Roe was to eliminate the possible need for interstate travel. Once again, Americans did not care. They were more caught up in the heart-wrenching spectacle of a hotel break-in. And even after Watergate finally, mercifully ran its course, Americans found plenty of other distractions over the next four decades.
And so, Americans have never seen fit to abolish abortion. Congress has never even come close to voicing disapproval of our legal genocide. The same body that can muster almost unanimous displays of support for an inanimate piece of fabric (the American flag) and a rote and dessicated collection of words (the pledge of allegiance), turns out to be too hard hearted to give actual people – actual children – the time of day. In this, Congress well reflects the will of the people.
At this point, it seems the only thing which will stop 40 years from becoming 50, 60, and then 70 is the collapse of the nation altogether. Back in the 1800s, the arc of history favored the slavery abolitionists. The arc of history is not on the side of the abolitionist today. Forget the polls you’ve found. Take note only of heavily conservative Indiana, which rejected a Senate candidate who dared to believe that all life deserved to live. Or remember Mississippi, the highly religious state which could not bring itself to declare that life began at conception. Or simply remind yourself of who was inaugurated as our president today.