1973: When Religious Freedom Still Mattered

There was a time, not so long ago, when liberals understood and championed the cause of religious freedom. Look no further than the very first abortion-related vote ever taken in Congress. The date was March 27, 1973; Roe was barely two months old, and already the pro-choice army had begun mobilizing to judicially force religious hospitals to perform abortions. Catholic Bishops announced that a court order forcing their hospitals to perform abortions would be met with civil disobedience. Unless Congress intervened quickly, the abortion wars in America were about to get really ugly really fast.

Senator Frank Church (D-ID)

When Frank Church, a pro-choice Democratic Senator from Idaho learned of this, he was horrified, and immediately introduced legislation to allow hospitals, doctors, and nurses the freedom of conscience on matters relating to abortion. This proposal received enthusiastic support from the rest of the Senate. Among the most vocal proponents was none other than the Liberal Lion himself, Ted Kennedy. During debate, he eloquently expressed the foundational importance of religious freedom in America. The only Senator to publicly express opposition to the Church amendment was New York RINO Jacob Javits, but even he ended up voting for it in the end.

The vote was 92-1 (the always eccentric William Fulbright cast the only nay vote). Even Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, the loudest and most extreme abortion advocate in Congress for most of the 1970s and 1980s, voted yea. Around the same time, Margaret Heckler, a pro-life feminist from Massachusetts, introduced several bills almost identical to Church’s in the House of Representatives. Although never voted on due to passage of the Church amendment, their cosponsors included far left pro-choice women like Patsy Mink (D-HI), Barbara Jordan (D-TX), and Shirley Chisholm (D-NY).

Needless to say, such a degree of unanimity would be absolutely unthinkable today. If the vote on the Blunt amendment is any indication, the Church amendment might have trouble even getting a majority in the current Senate. The militant, anti-religious pro-abortion ideology which was on the fringe in 1973 has become hardened dogma for the Democratic party four decades later. The value of religious freedom, long championed by liberals, is just another unfortunate sacrifice (much like the millions of babies) which must be made in pursuit of total reproductive freedom.

A massive battle is coming. If Romney wins in November, it will be delayed for a few more years, but it is coming nonetheless. The liberal support of religious freedom which was so evident in 1973 has vanished without a trace. The pro-life conscience no longer has any place in pro-choice orthodoxy; like an unwanted pregnancy, it must be destroyed. The era of common ground, and common values is over forever.

Lawrence Hogan: the Original Pro-life Warrior

Representative Lawrence Hogan (R-MD)

When Lawrence Hogan was first elected to Congress in 1968, abortion was just a blip on the radar screen at the state level, and a total non-issue at the national level. But during his six years in Washington, abortion would permanently enter the national arena, and no one in Congress fought more valiantly for the cause of life than Hogan. It’s a pity he isn’t more remembered.

In 1970, New York legalized abortion, and did not require state residency to obtain one. This meant that someone in any of the 50 states with enough money for a round trip plane ticket to NYC could now legally have an abortion. Only three members of Congress seemed to notice, let alone care. The first two, John G. Schmitz (R-CA) and John Rarick (D-LA), were the sort of ultraconservative conspiracy theory-spouting cranks that no one pays much attention to. It was left to Hogan to be the ‘mainstream’ voice of the pro-life cause.

That cause would truly become national later that same year. The military, without approval from Congress or the president, authorized hospitals under their control to perform abortions, even if abortion was illegal in the state the hospital was located in. Hogan looked into overturning this policy by statute, but was ultimately able to convince President Nixon to unilaterally end the military policy. For the next two years, he, Schmitz and Rarick did their best to alert Congress about abortion’s march. In 1971, the big story was the Supreme Court’s ominously ambiguous ruling in United States v. Vuitch, and in 1972 the principal warning sign was a report from a federal family planning commission which recommended the legalization of abortion. As before, no one cared.

On January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade hit the American government with all the fury of a diseased fruit fly (to shamelessly steal a phrase from Dave Barry). Nixon made no statement. On Capitol Hill, only two Congressmen immediately reacted. Feminist Bella Abzug (D-NY) gushed happily about the ruling, while James Allen (D-AL), a conservative Senator, gave a brief speech calling the decision morally wrong. After that, silence reigned for an entire week.

On the 30th, Hogan at last rose to speak. “I address the House today still badly shaken,” he began. “I cannot accept that it can be right – that it can be legal – to end one human life for the personal convenience of another.”

“I have lived 44 years, and I have always deeply loved my country. This is the first time in all those years that I have been in deep despair over the future of my country.”

“My initial reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision was that I did not want to be a part of a government which abandoned all respect for life. I seriously considered resigning from Congress. But I decided that the preferable  course would be to stay and do whatever I can to remedy the Court’s action.”

His speech continued on, and proved prophetic in many instances. Most editorial pages in the country opined that Roe had ended the abortion controversy. Hogan correctly predicted that they had only inflamed it. Additionally, he correctly discerned, at a time when most were under the delusion that the ruling was moderate, that the decision had made abortion legal for any reason in all nine months of pregnancy. Also in the speech was a comparison to the Dred Scott case – very possibly the first time this now ubiquitous comparison has ever been made. Hogan concluded by introducing a Right to Life amendment to the Constitution.

His closing words, from the distance of 40 years, are chilling: “The Supreme Court has made its decision. Now the Congress, the state legislatures, and the American people themselves must make their decision.”

And the American people did.

And deep down in his heart, Hogan himself knew what their decision would be. In a press conference held the same day, he answered a question about the odds of the amendment’s passage by admitting that “candidly, the hopes are slim. It might take decades to turn around this decision.” Judging by the wording of their questions, the reporters who showed up to the press conference were themselves strongly pro-life, and they were taken aback by this admission. “It’s still medically, morally, and ethically a human being,” one reporter mused aloud. If not legally stopped for decades, millions upon millions of babies will have already died.

“Yes,” replied Hogan, “it’s a very dark day.” Only half joking, he added that “maybe we should start shopping for another country.”

And of course, Hogan’s proposed amendment never went anywhere. In 1974, he ran for Governor of Maryland and lost, and his suburban House seat was taken over by a pro-choice Democrat named Gladys Spellman. Today, his old seat is held by none other than Steny Hoyer.

In retrospect, I really wish he had resigned. As hard as he tried, he was never able to make any significant headway against Roe during his final two years in Congress. But his resignation would have been a powerful statement, much like Justice Curtis’ resignation following the Dred Scott decision.

As of this writing, Lawrence Hogan is still alive, and presumably he still lives in Maryland. If there’s one person who I’d love to see interviewed for the 40 year anniversary of Roe next year, it’s him.

The Irrelevance of Roe v. Wade

Roe v. Wade? Everyone knows about that one. It completely ignored the will of the people, and utterly denied democratic debate over the issue by judicial fiat. And today, more than 50 million babies have been legally killed because of Roe.

This, more or less, is the standard line of pro-lifers when they speak of Roe v. Wade. Like an epidemic’s Patient Zero, Roe is supposed to be the place where it all began, the epicenter of great genocide which continues to this day. But now, I want to make a claim that flies in the face of what much of the pro-life community has accepted as truth: Roe was nowhere near as anti-democratic as everyone continues to assume. And while legal abortion continues to exist under the aegis of Roe, the American people deserve much of the blame that has too often been reserved only for the Supreme Court.

The flag burning case of Texas v. Johnson is a good example of a truly anti-democratic ruling. 48 states protected the flag (Alaska and Wyoming being the exceptions, and by omission rather than commission), and public sentiment was overwhelmingly, lopsidedly, in favor of these laws. Several times, Constitutional amendments to overturn the ruling came close to passing, failing not due to lack of public support, but because of a small handful of stubborn Democrats in the Senate.

In contrast, by 1973 the American people had sent the Supreme Court plenty of signals that they had, at best, ambivalence toward abortion on demand. In four states – New York, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii – unrestricted abortion was already available. Critically, in New York, there was no residency requirement; before Justice Blackmun wrote so much as a single word of Roe, any mother in America with enough money for a round-trip plane ticket already had the option of legally having their unborn child killed.

Imagine for a moment that a small number of states today started giving mothers the right to put any children in their custody under the age of 16 months to death, and imagine that, like New York, one of them had no residency requirement. Do you imagine that the rest of the country would have sat by, and not done anything about it? If the public reaction to the Casey Anthony trial is anything to go by, I’d say no.

And yet, when these four states legalized abortion in 1970, nothing is exactly what the country did. On Capitol Hill, where endless debates raged about the death tolls in the Vietnam war, there was only deafening silence about the legal execution of infants here in the homeland. In 1972, a full two years after New York’s law, Representative John G. Schmitz finally introduced a Constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to life. Few noticed, and fewer still cared. It was the only human life amendment ever introduced prior to Roe.

Roe v. Wade had the misfortune to be announced on the same day that Lyndon Johnson died, but even then, the lack of negative reaction outside of the Catholic hierarchy was palpable. Within a year, dozens of Congressmen were reporting back that polls conducted in their districts showed clear majorities supporting Roe almost everywhere. Senator Birch Bayh held a series of committee hearings about a possible human life amendment, but most Americans were too transfixed by Sam Ervin’s Watergate committee hearings to pay any heed. At the end of 1974, Nelson Rockefeller, the man responsible for New York’s abortion law, was installed as Vice President.

Again, imagine that the Supreme Court had ruled that mothers had a fundamental right to kill any children of theirs under the age of 16 months. A Constitutional amendment undoubtedly would have been quickly ratified by the states, possibly even before the end of 1973. The supermajorities required to pass the amendment would have been irrelevant. Democracy is not halted by a single aberrant Supreme Court decision, and supermajorities are generally not hard to achieve if a right as fundamental as life has been ruthlessly and baselessly attacked.

And yet, no human life amendment has even come close to passing. Furthermore, even were the Supreme Court to reverse Roe, a large number of states would undoubtedly make abortion generally legal, and while several thousand lives would be saved due to the hassle of traveling to one of these pro-chioce states, the annual death toll would still likely be around one million.

Gary North, a leader of the fringe Christian Reconstruction movement, is one of the few pro-lifers I have ever come across who seems to understand the magnitude of the problem:

The problem is that the American community agrees with the Supreme Court of the United States. The general American public agrees that abortion should be legal.

Maybe it does not agree that the third-trimester abortions should be legal, but it is not going to throw out of office the civil magistrates who enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling. In fact, the Supreme Court has authorized third-trimester abortion and any other kind of abortion, but the public will not fight it. A handful of people have fought it, but the public refuses. The voting public will not vote out of office a man who is pro- abortion. In fact, time and time again, the public re-elects those people to office…

The problem is the community. The community approves. Let us not mince words: the United States electorate approves of abortion on demand. It will not bring political sanctions against those politicians who remain silent on abortion or who actively promote abortions. The problem is in the hearts of the people. (http://www.reformed.org/social/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/social/let_2_paul_hill.html)

Exactly right: The problem is in the hearts of the people.  Not a 40 year old Supreme Court ruling. Not the pro-choice lobby. Not the abortion doctors. The problem is the essential character of Americans. The result is something somber and ominous: genocide by consent of the governed.

For forty years, pro-lifers have been waiting for the dam to break; we’ve waited for the mass, nationwide awakening of conscience that would, at last, consign abortion to the dustbin of history alongside slavery and segregation. So far, it hasn’t happened. Forty years has produced little progress, and has conditioned us to leap for joy at the most ambiguous signs of hope, like when a poll shows 51% of Americans identifying themselves as “pro-life,” a term which really doesn’t mean anything. At times, a candid assessment of abortion in America looks bleak.

Nonetheless, I keep hoping, even when the night seems endless. Luke 1:37 shows the way: “for nothing is impossible with God.”