Another Retro (and Prophetic) Pro-life Article

99% of the Congressional Record is crap, but if you sift through it patiently, you can find some true diamonds. I already post one haunting and prophetic pro-life article from 1970 that was buried in the Record. Here’s another one from the same year, which was inserted in the Record, as one might expect, by our old pal Representative Schmitz (R-CA).

America’s – any people’s – moral standards are intimately connected with its political standards. The moral ideas a people holds, its views of right and wrong, will be reflected in its laws, its politics. But the other side of the coin, though not so often noticed, is just as plain: what a people believes politically will help shape its morality.

                No one can be surprised that a pro-abortion politics has gained favor in a country in which a large majority of the population no longer takes seriously Christian teaching on life, sex, the family; in which, indeed, anti-Christian views are actively promoted in nearly all of its communications media, nearly all of its schools. Still, abortion is far from universally approved; few Americans as of now would wish to destroy their own young, and most probably think it wrong, or at least unpleasant, for others to do so. How, then, to explain the precipitous crumbling of civil opposition to the liberty to kill?

“I have always abhorred the idea of abortion,” said John A. Burns, Governor of Hawaii, a Catholic who attends 6:30 Mass every morning before work. “I believe it a gravely sinful act. I have considered abortion carried out any time after conception to be the taking of human life.” What is more, the Governor wished his people to know, the Burnses had been faithful to their convictions in their private lives. Thirty-three years ago Mrs. Burns, a polio victim, was urged by every doctor in sight to abort a child; she steadfastly refused; she lives today, as does her child, himself a father of two children.

So what would Governor Burns do with the “abortion on demand” bill which the Hawaii legislature had placed on his desk? He would not sign it; but neither would he veto it as he had been urged to do “by a number of my fellow Roman Catholics who do not appear to understand precisely the separate roles of state authority and Church authority.” A governor, Burns explained as he permitted the bill to become law, “must never let his private political and religious convictions unduly influence his judgment as governor of all the people.”

John Burns, American, was certainly right about that. It is a central precept of American politics that religious is a private affair, and that to extend its influence to the public realm is a violation of religious liberty. John Kennedy, American, took the same position ten years before on birth control. John Courtney Murray, S.J., American, had even earlier contrived a theoretical justification of the position: by baptizing the American concept of “religious pluralism” Murray and his followers sought to make the Catholic Church into an American church. They do seem to have had a remarkable success. All of America’s household goddesses and gods – liberty, democracy, pluralism, separation of Church and state – remain firmly on their pedestals; and all the altars are now to be freshened with the sacrificial blood of children.

In the premises, what is the present duty of the Catholic bishops of America? That they have a responsibility – the chief responsibility – seems plain enough. After all, it is the famous profession, the astonishing boast, of the Catholic Church through all the centuries that to her uniquely has been confided the Patrimony of the Poor. Others may step forward to aid the poor, acting in her name as it were; but the burden is here before Heaven: if others claim impotence or weariness or distractions by other concerns, she never can. And of course there will never ever be any poor who are poorer than unborn children, who are not yet favored with even the power to cry, to as much as murmur a protest against an attack on the single possession they have: life. The poor we will always have with us, but now there is this poor who is to be denied even the opportunity to share the inheritance of the earth. If mother, father, doctor, nurse, the whole of society’s mores, the whole of its civil authority, if all conspire to destroy this child, who – what – is left to defend him except the Church of the Poor?

The Church acts formally in such matters through her shepherds: her bishops. How have the American bishops responded to the campaign to persuade the American civil authority to withdraw its protection from the unborn? The record shows that they have opposed the campaign. But the record also shows that they have done so less vigorously, less consistently, certainly less conspicuously than they have begged funds from that same civil authority for their failing school system.

To be sure, the record shows occasional bright spots. The lead story of the March 13 Catholic Virginian, the official organ of the Diocese of Richmond, relates that Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Harrington of Worcester made a spirited appearance before a committee of the Massachusetts legislature to protest the liberalization of murder. But the same story relates that the Virginia legislature was about to adopt a policy authorizing murder (it did later in the week), and that meanwhile a Senate hearing was to be held; there was no mention of the attendance of the Bishop of Richmond, John J. Russell. Bishop Russell, of course, is opposed to abortion; he has said so, and the parish bulletins in his diocese advised you “to contact your State Senator.” But this bishop was not raising hell, and his flock, and his fellow citizens knew that his Church was not raising hell. So why should they?

Maybe the torch lighted in Massachusetts would rally the faithful? A difficulty was that the Primate of Massachusetts, Richard Cardinal Cushing, had just been quoted in Life magazine (Feb. 27) to the effect that anti-abortion laws are not only unnecessary but undesirable: “Catholics do not need the support of civil law to be faithful to their convictions, and they do not seek to impose by law their moral views on other members of society.” Of course this good man is a hopeless eccentric; quoting him is as cruel as stealing candy from a child; but the fact is that not a single American prelate stepped forward to repudiate Cushing’s announcement.

As so it has gone. Where the bishops are not silent, they are discreet, polite, very proper participants in the American political order. At their last semi-annual meeting, in November, they issued a statement on abortion, advising the country that killing babies was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Which, since everything else seems to be, it probably is; but the point was not likely to interest the reigning breed of judges, let alone arouse the population. Let us agree that a ringing invocation by the Catholic bishops of the real authorities – the law of God, the natural rights of the innocent, the Christian and all civilized tradition – would cut no ice whatever with America’s anti-life regime (although it would add a nice adornment to the record). But if the bishops cannot appeal effectively to the finer instincts, there should be no problem at all in reaching the regime’s baser instincts. After all, they do have political clout, as does anyone who can speak plausibly  for a quarter of the population – yes, there are Catholics who are tolerant of baby killing, but they are offset by a still considerable number of non-Catholics who are not, who would be quite happy to have some spokesman for their sentiments. What if the American bishops were to rise to the defense of innocent children with something like the urgency, the militance, the determination – the seriousness – with which innocents are being attacked by CBS, the Cowles and Luce publications, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Women’s Lib, the ACLU, Judge Bazelon, Senator Packwood, Dr. DuBridge, Dr. Egeberg, whoever has spoken last for the Nixon court? What if our shepherds were to become fierce?

What if they do not? Well, there is likely to be a judgment. It is a safe estimate of the next few years that the American civil authority will have authorized the slaughter of more innocents, within a shorter period of time, than the German civil authority did under Hitler. This will not be our bishop’s fault. The extermination of several million Jews was not the German bishop’s fault. But some questions will be asked, which will be somewhat more difficult to answer in the American case than in Germany.

The failure of the German bishops to intervene vigorously against the Nazi genocide is explained on several grounds: a) they were not apprised, or at least not reliably, that the atrocities were taking place; b) to the extent they were, they were helpless to oppose them – what could be more futile than denouncing the Gestapo? – and besides c) they had the agonizing pastoral obligation to avoid inviting a comparable persecution of Catholics.

May we agree that none of these explanations will be available to the American bishops? Knowledge of the American abortion mania could not be more widespread, more detailed. Mobilizing voter blocs, vigorous use of the media protests, demonstrations – far from being ineffective in America – are the way of getting things done in our pluralistic democracy. And while persecutions of Catholics may come sooner than anyone thinks, America at the moment is a paper state compared to Hitler’s; at worst, a Church Militant on the abortion issue would run the risk of losing the government’s financial favors.

There is a further ground of comparison. The Jewish innocents were, for the most part, able-bodied men and women, who could at least put up a struggle in their own defense. The American innocents are too poor even to do that.

This is hard talk to the bishops, because we wish to hear hard talk from them at their April meeting in San Francisco; not the usual jeremiads, but a fighting declaration of war against the whole abortion establishment – most definitely including the American civil authorities, legislative, judicial, and executive, who are fast establishing the most sordid of crimes as high national policy.”

IV. Groundhog Day

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.

II. Death Always Finds an Outlet

If any researcher out there is thinking about writing the definitive work on the history of abortion, don’t bother. It’s already been done. Joseph Dellapenna’s massive, and exhaustive work, Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History, is unlikely to ever be surpassed. Thirty years in the making, professor Dellapenna seems to have read virtually every published work on the subject, as the vast blizzard of footnotes attests. Don’t let the combative title fool you – this is a scholarly masterpiece. Dellapenna, far from being a pro-life zealot with an ax to grind, is in fact a pro-choice Unitarian.

The main myth that Dellapenna seeks to dispel is the ubiquitous claim that abortion was not illegal at common law in the United Kingdom, and then in America. In fact, Dellapenna shows, abortion was considered illegal from the dawn of English law right on down to the 2oth century. The most fascinating disclosure in the book, however, comes in the first few chapters. This is the historical phenomenon of widespread infanticide and abandonment.

Before early pregnancy tests, anesthesia, or the discoveries of Lister and Pasteur, abortion was anything but an ordinary and safe procedure. After carefully reviewing the historical record, Dellapenna concludes that before about 1800, only the truly desperate would even attempt abortion. The practice did not become common, even illegally, until the 19th century, when medical advances made it mostly safe for the mother.

And before then? Most women facing an unwanted pregnancy went ahead and gave birth. But after that, all bets were off for the newborn baby. If the baby was unwanted, there was a good chance he or she would be immediately suffocated or drowned, or else abandoned to die. Dellapenna shares some shocking statistics which show how common these practices once were. A mere 200 years ago, dead babies were occasionally found on the streets of London, or at the bottom of public toilets. In France, the the phenomenon was even more pronounced.

Laws were passed. And then, in the 19th century, as if by magic, infanticide and abandonment suddenly started fading away as social problems. But, of course, they had not really faded away. Only now the babies were being killed by illegal abortion rather than illegal infanticide. A century later, infanticide remained illegal, but the western world began warming up to abortion.

The lesson of history is that death always finds an outlet. Today, of course, death is easier than ever. Pregnancy can be detected unfathomably early, and new human life can be aborted out of existence before it assumes an even remotely human shape. A vast realm of euphemistic terms like fetus, embryo, and parasite are available as well. The usually unstated assumption of the abortion debate is that abortion would certainly be unacceptable if everyone could agree that it was a baby being killed.

But all the talk of fetuses, and personhood, and bodily autonomy ultimately turns out to be a smokescreen. They turn out to be not true justifications, but the lamest of excuses. Before abortion was medically feasible, babies were still killed, and worse yet, they actually were, indisputably, real babies – persons, separate from the mother. Abortion does not exist because infanticide is out of the question given human nature, abortion exists because it’s so much more convenient that infanticide.

One of the principal functions of the state – possibly the principal function – is to bridle human nature. We make and enforce laws against theft, abuse, and murder because we know full well that we will inevitably gravitate toward those sins in the absence of some authority. True, death always finds an outlet, but at least the outlet is not gilded by public at large. And that is why the legalization of abortion is so tragic. Death no longer needs to even search for an outlet. We are no longer ashamed of human nature, but openly celebrate it. And though we do not realize it, we tacitly admit that it was wrong to stigmatize those who killed and abandoned their children so many centuries before.

Disaster in the Philippines

This one really hurts.

It hurts when other nations abandon the cause of life too, but at least it’s predictable in those nations.

But the Philippines were different. It wasn’t supposed to happen there. Not in one of the few nations to prefer McCain to Obama. Not in the only nation in the world without easy divorce. Not in the nation that I have often called the greatest nation on earth.

For two decades, Filipinos had valiantly fought the RH bill, and the corresponding onslaught of international pressure from the west.  The fought to preserve the unique culture of life, and love that exists in the Philippines. But now, at long last, the bad guys have won. The RH bill has passed, and needs only the signature of President Aquino, who has pledged to do so before the end of 2012.

And thus, the Philippines – so long a single bright star of compassion and hospitality in midst of the cold, indifferent universe that is our world – seems fated to eventually become just another lifeless nation under the suicidal stranglehold of the contraceptive mentality. For the moment, abortion remains illegal, but notwithstanding the law, half a million abortions are already estimated to take place annually. At that level of lawbreaking, it looks all but inevitable that one day, the Constitutional right to life will too finally be abolished.

Way back in 1970, the United States Congress considered a bill very similar to the RH bill of today. In my previous post, I shared a speech by Representative Schmitz in opposition. So much of what he said 42 years ago still applies today. President Nixon signed that bill into law on Christmas Eve. As family scholar Robert W. Patterson noted, “Nixon missed the irony of starting a campaign to reduce “unwanted and untimely childbearing” just as the country was about to celebrate the “unplanned” birth of a baby born in poverty 2,000 years before.”

Less than 25 months later, abortion on demand was a Constitutional right in all 50 states. Now that the Philippines has likewise passed a bill to combat unwanted children during the season of Christ’s birth, one can only wonder how long they will continue to hold out before the citizenry embraces legal abortion.

The Ever Dimming Trophy of Iowa, 1978

It looked so simple back in 1973.

Less than three months earlier, Nixon had tarred McGovern as the candidate of abortion. He won 49 states. Referendums in Michigan and North Dakota rejected plans to liberalize the life-of-mother-only abortion laws in those states. In both referendums, the pro-life vote actually ran ahead of the vote for Nixon. Massachusetts, the one state which went for McGovern, was in the process of amending their Constitution to make unborn life even more legally secure. Even in New York, the legislature was now attempting to repeal its 1970 abortion-on-demand law. In December, 1972, National Review even ran a brief editorial lauding the apparent death of the “feticide” movement in America.

Then in January came Roe v. Wade, which was more radical than both New York’s law, and McGovern’s position in the recent election. Surely this decision would be overturned quickly by Constitutional amendment. And if not, surely voters would elect pro-life Congressmen at the earliest possible opportunity to pass such an amendment.

Well, not exactly.

Abortion did make a difference in one of the first post-Roe races. In early 1974, a special election was held in a Republican leaning district in Ohio. Tom Luken, the Democrat, pledged to back a right to life amendment. William Keating, the Republican, hedged. Luken won, but the victory was short-lived; when the election for a full term came around in November, Keating triumphed in the rematch.

A few states over in Kansas, Bob Dole narrowly edged out William Roy in a Senate election. For years afterward, Roy blamed his loss on the abortion issue. And yet the Dole-Roy contest was the exception. Everywhere else, the legally sanctioned execution of babies was essentially a non-issue. More important in the minds of most voters, apparently, was a trivial hotel break-in more than two years earlier.

We come now, to the great trophy of pro-life political activism: the Iowa Senate race of 1978. For more than 30 years, this race has been cited as proof of a pro-life voting bloc’s potential power. Democrat Dick Clark won an upset victory in 1972, and proceeded to become a loyal pro-choice vote for the ensuing six years. Republicans ran Roger Jepsen, a minimally talented candidate with little to recommend him other than a solid commitment to the right to life movement. Indeed, Jepsen’s campaign against Clark consisted of almost nothing else. He targeted heavily Democratic regions of the state with pro-life advertising, and in the end, enough Democrats crossed party lines to put Jepsen over the top.

For the next several weeks, the national media engaged in extensive concern trolling about the horrors of single-issue voting. How heartbreaking that such a hardworking Senator was thrown out because voters disagreed with him on one issue! Thankfully, Iowa paid no heed, and repeated the same performance two years later, ousting pro-choice Senator John Culver in favor of pro-life challenger Chuck Grassley.

But then, sometime in the early ’80s, Iowans finally did embrace the media’s advice, and got sick of making every election about abortion. In 1984, when Roger Jepsen ran for re-election, the issue played virtually no role in his loss to the virulently pro-choice Tom Harkin.

Single-issue voting returned with a vengeance in 1990, when Harkin ran for re-election. In contrast to the indomitably liberal Harkin, Republican candidate Tom Tauke was a moderate on virtually every issue. Except for abortion, that is. Like Roger Jepsen in 1978, Tom Harkin centered his campaign around abortion, but this time it was Tauke’s pro-life stance which was supposed to offend the majority of Iowa voters. Harkin’s gamble paid off, and Tauke went down to defeat. In twelve years, Iowa had undergone a complete 180.

With each passing year, the luster of Jepsen’s 1978 triumph dims a bit more. For whatever reason, voters will not throw out a Congressman just because he or she is pro-choice. Probably the saddest example of this general rule was former Texas Representative Chet Edwards. Edwards supported partial-birth abortion, and yet his lopsidedly conservative district sent him back to Congress time after time. It took the wave election of 2010 for Edwards to finally go down.

These days, it seems the only elections swung by the abortion issue are swung in favor of the pro-choice candidate. Akin. Mourdock. I need say nothing else. Voters will not send supporters of partial-birth abortion packing, but they will deny support to opponents of rape and incest exceptions.

Pro-choice candidates for president have now taken the majority of the popular vote in 5 out the last 6 elections. What’s that? Polls say that 50% call themselves “pro-life” and only 41% call themselves “pro-choice”? Well, you can keep your polls. I prefer to let the American electorate’s actions at the ballot box speak for themselves. Whatever the polls say, fellow travelers, I can tell you only this: we’re not in 1978 Iowa any more.

The 1971 Kennedy Letter, and the Tragic Mirage of Pro-life Liberalism

If you’ve been around the pro-life movement for a while, you’ve probably heard of the letter Senator Ted Kennedy wrote in 1971 defending the unborn’s right to life.

If not, read it for yourself right now.

Whether or not the letter really reflected Kennedy’s views at the time is unknown. On the one hand, it was almost certainly some staffer or intern who wrote the letter rather than the Senator himself. Furthermore, Kennedy proved a loyal pro-choice vote in Congress the moment the ink dried on Roe v. Wade, and there is also some good evidence that his pro-choice stance dates as far back as 1964. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that Kennedy’s office would bother writing such an extensive letter to a non-consituent if Kennedy did not strongly believe in what the letter said.

Regardless of the letter’s sincerity, I have always found it a very moving, and inspiring bit of writing. In just a few short paragraphs, the pro-life case is laid out clearly, lovingly, and convincingly. The very last sentence is especially poignant

When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.

As I read these words, I think about the vision for America they express. It’s a liberal vision, to be sure, but one where the unborn are loved, treasured, and protected. It’s a vision animated by uncorrupted and unadulterated kindness, empathy, and selflessness. And tragically, it’s a vision which is now lost forever.

But for one brief halcyon moment in the early to mid ’70s, tenderhearted pro-life liberalism had a real chance to become a major ideological stream within America. In those days, liberal icon Jesse Jackson would frequently speak in favor of the right to life. In 1972 the Massachusetts legislature approved an amendment to the state constitution to make all abortion illegal forever. Such was the status quo of the abortion issue in the only state in America which voted for McGovern the same year. Even after Roe, one of the strongest voices for life in Congress was Senator Harold Hughes, an ultra-liberal Democrat from Iowa. For a time, the heavily Democratic state of Rhode Island included a pro-life plank in the state Democratic party platform, and the legislature once called for a US Constitution amendment to recognize the right to life.

This was just some of the “seamless garment” pro-life liberalism which was quite common during the 1970s. But time marched on, and the glorious illusion vanished. Sexual libertinism rapidly and irrevocably invaded and took over liberal thought. Love for our unborn neighbors was just one casualty, along with respect for religious freedom. Care and concern for the entire human community fell by the wayside. In its place came an angry and self-centered generation, scornful of self-abnegation, and seeking freedom from all responsibility.

I write all this as a longtime conservative – I’d still rather have lived in early ’70s Utah than early ’70s Massachusetts. And yet, a lot of conservatism’s facets, like its slavish devotion to capitalism, its knee-jerk hatred of all taxes, its jingoistic flag waving, and its seeming aversion to peacemaking can often sadden me. But, given the current state of liberalism, it’s not as if I have anywhere else to go.

I wish the liberalism of Kennedy’s 1971 letter was still around, and that it could be the chief ideological rival to contemporary conservatism. America would be a nicer, more loving, and more responsible place, and a lot of conservatives wouldn’t have to worry so much about losing at the polls. A lot more children would be around too.

But what’s lost is lost. And I don’t see it ever coming back. Sadly, pro-life liberalism will have to remain a bittersweet memory which grows more and more distant with each passing year.

Hawai’i, 1970: Et tu, “devout” Catholics?

As the 1970s dawned across the United States, the unborn’s right to life remained relatively well protected. No state allowed abortion on demand, and about ten states had legalized it only for rare cases like rape, incest, and fetal deformity – understandable exceptions which even some pro-lifers support.  But before the first year of the decade ended, no less than four states opened the flood gates, and declared abortion every woman’s right.

Hawai’i led the way. The saga of legalization in the 50th state is especially poignant because of the conspicuous roles played by men and women who are described as “devout Catholics” by historians. These “devout Catholics” were responsible for the bill’s passage, and for making Hawai’i (at least for a few weeks) the most dangerous place in America for an unborn baby.

Robert Drinan, Jesuit Priest

Halfway across the world in Massachusetts, a Jesuit Priest named Robert Drinan launched a successful bid to become a US Representative. Few today in the pro-life movement know his name, but Drinan, more than anyone else, was the deadly fountainhead of ubiquitous pro-choice Catholic politicians that have plagued the world for the past half century. At first glance, he would seem to sound all the right notes, denouncing abortion as an unconscionable moral wrong, and demanding that the government not countenance such a brazen violation of human rights.  But the devil (perhaps literally) lurked in the details.

Even before Mississippi passed the first liberalization of abortion in 1966, every state allowed the practice in the tragic cases when the mother’s life was endangered by the pregnancy. Thus the law, in a tiny number of cases, did in fact allow for unborn babies to be killed. Drinan, with feigned outrage, denounced this exception as legally condoned murder, but conceded that states were unlikely to eliminate the exception.

His conclusion about this state of affairs tortured logic and reason. Because states were unlikely to eliminate the life-of-mother exception, argued Drinan, the best way to remain faithful to Catholic teaching was to completely repeal all laws affecting abortion. With no laws about abortion on the books, the state is therefore not in any way condoning the practice.

Of course, without any laws about abortion, it would for all intents and purposes become legal without restriction. And although Drinan was never so stupid as to openly admit it, that was exactly the point. It was a fiendishly brilliant line of argument – it used ostensibly pro-life reasoning to bring about an extremely pro-choice state of affairs. Catholic advocates of abortion on demand could now cloak their disobedience as faithful application of church doctrine.

One such covert pro-choicer was Hawai’i state Senator Vincent Yano, who headed the Senate’s Public Health, Welfare, and Housing committee. The father of ten children, he projected the image of a faithful Roman Catholic. After reading Drinan’s work, he introduced a repeal bill, and publicly justified it using Drinan’s argument. John Scanlan, the local Bishop, immediately denounced the proposed legislation, but he was too late – other Catholics were already lining up on the pro-choice side. Among them were two prominent local nuns, Maureen Keleher, and Mary Heenan.

As the legislature debated repeal, it became obvious that some guidelines regulating legal abortion would be necessary, like a requirement that it be performed in a hospital. For Senator Yano, these regulations were a huge conundrum, because if passed into law, they would completely negate Robert Drinan’s argument. In conference, Yano fought against anything other than a pure repeal bill, but eventually he caved, and accepted the additional regulations. Tacitly, Yano admitted what was already obvious: the Drinan argument was nothing but a pathetic smokescreen.

After the bill passed the legislature, it went to Governor John Burns for approval. Another “devout Catholic” who attended Mass each day, he agonized long and hard about what to do. Eventually, he settled on allowing the bill to become law without his signature. He released a lengthy note explaining his decision.

I have declined to sign this bill after much study and soul-searching; after receiving competent advice from island and national specialists in law, medicine, theology, human rights and public affairs, and after sincere prayer to the Creator named in our Nation’s Declaration of Independence as the Source of our unalienable rights

It was telling that he cited the god of the Declaration of Independence rather than the God of the Bible. Much like the Second Continental Congress, which couldn’t be bothered with a God who might disapprove of race-based chattel slavery, Burns likewise found refuge in a man-made god created purely for political convenience.

I have made my decision. I stand by it. It is the decision of the Governor of Hawaii, not the private and personal whim of John A. Burns. It reflects my best judgment as Governor, made after consultation with the best minds in the State, in regard to what is in the best interest of all the people of Hawaii

Had Burns truly been concerned about the best interests of “all the people of Hawaii,” he might have considered the interests of unborn babies.

I have felt that in the heated debates over the abortion question, my reputation has been unfairly and seriously attacked, and sadly enough, by a number of my fellow Roman Catholics who do not appear to understand precisely the separate roles of State authority and Church authority

In a breathtaking display of hubris, Burns accused Bishop Scanlan, and the entire Roman Catholic hierarchy of not understanding the dividing line between church and state. In decades to come, Catholic politicians claiming to know more about Catholicism than Popes and Bishops would become an enduring theme.

There is reported to be ample evidence that traffic in illegal abortions is considerable in Hawaii – as well as in other jurisdictions covered by restrictive abortion laws. It seems to me that to continue a breach of the law because of a change in the public’s attitude on a moral question is inconsistent with the democratic philosophy that the rule of law should prevail at all times. If community standards have changed, we should then change the law rather than continue violating an outmoded law

In the world of Governor Burns, the right to life was apparently dependent on community standards. One wonders what other classes of people could have their right to life taken away should the community change its mind.

in the future a growing awareness of the dignity and value of human life will develop steadily among our young people as they discuss wars, capital punishment… I have a tremendous faith that what the future holds in store for Hawaii and the rest of our Nation is good

More than forty years, and fifty million legal abortions later, the Governor’s optimism has become laughable. In fact, it was Governor Burns himself who contributed to the devaluation of human life. As well as Senator Yano, Maureen Keleher, and Mary Heenan.

Four decades later, innocent lives are still paying the price for the good intentions of “devout” Catholics.

What if Roe v. Wade were Overturned?

Which side would win in a democratic debate if Roe v. Wade got overturned?

As we recognize the 39th anniversary of the most controversial decision in Supreme Court history, there is one crucial question we cannot afford to leave unanswered: Just what would happen if Roe v. Wade actually did get overturned?

According to this rather demagogic ad from the 2008 presidential election, overturning Roe would result in women being sent to prison en masse. The creators of the ad are either shameless deceivers, or painfully ignorant. Right up until 1973, women never faced criminal penalties for obtaining illegal abortions – only the doctors did. And even today in the pro-life movement, those who desire to give abortive mothers jail time remain a fringe within a fringe. For a far more accurate idea of what America would be like if Roe were to be overturned, set your time machine to 1989, and then watch how debate on the issue played out over the subsequent three years.

At the beginning of the Supreme Court’s 1988-1989 term, Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe, predicted that his most famous ruling would be overturned during the term. “You can count the votes,” he told a law school audience. Indeed they could: the two original dissenters (Rehnquist and White) were still on the Court, and the three Reagan appointees (O’Connor, Scalia, and Kennedy) made five. Not only that, but shortly thereafter the Court agreed to decide an abortion related case out of Missouri called Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.

The Webster ruling, handed down on July 3, 1989, was very complex. Basically, four Justices appeared to take the position that Roe should be overruled, four Justices angrily huffed that Roe should be left alone, and O’Connor, alone in the middle, provided the fifth vote to uphold Missouri’s pro-life law, but asserted that the Court should not re-examine Roe at the present time. Without delving too much into to boring details, the most widely accepted interpretation of the fragmented Webster ruling was that it represented an invitation to pro-life states. Go ahead, the Court seemed to be saying, pass the biggest, baddest, most restrictive abortion law imaginable – even one outright outlawing the practice – there’s a great chance that you’ll be vindicated here at the Supreme Court.

In 1990 and 1991, pro-choice stalwarts William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court, ostensibly allowing President Bush to augment the anti-Roe wing of the Court even further. When the Court agreed to consider Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, the uncontested consensus was that Roe was finished. Except, as it turned out, it wasn’t. To the bewilderment of court watchers, O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter teamed up to save Roe. Four months later Bill Clinton was elected President, and within the year he had replaced Justice White with the pro-Roe Justice Ginsburg, securing Roe‘s safety for the foreseeable future.

But what about that three year period between Webster and Casey when it looked like Roe was doomed? What was the political discourse on abortion like then? Pro-lifers won’t like the answer, but history is history. When Webster was handed down, pro-choice became chic and pro-life became toxic overnight. A steady stream of previous pro-life politicians began announcing that they had changed their mind, and now supported a woman’s right to choose. Major elections actually turned on the issue. The Freedom of Choice act gained amazing momentum in Congress and came close to passing. Let’s take a more detailed year-by-year look at the “highlights” of the era.

1989: Governor Bob Martinez of Florida called for a special session of the legislature immediate after Webster was decided. He was roundly thrashed within the state for this move, and in the special session, not a single bill even made it out of committee. Only Pennsylvania passed any sort of pro-life bill, and it only introduced a few extra hoops to jump through rather than actually banning any abortions. In the New Jersey gubernatorial race, Republican Jim Courter abruptly switched to the pro-choice side, and still lost decisively. Meanwhile in Virginia, Marshall Coleman stuck with his pro-life stance, and managed to do what had been thought completely unthinkable in the late 80s: lose to a black Democrat in the south.

1990: Early on, the territory of Guam outlawed abortion except to save the life of the mother, but it was downhill from there. Among the states, only Utah, Idaho, and Louisiana seriously consider bans. Utah ended up postponing further debate until 1991. In Louisiana, Governor Buddy Roemer (yes, the fringe 2012 candidate for President) vetoed a bill without a rape and incest exception, and then vetoed the bill again when one was added. Idaho passed a bill allowing rape and incest exceptions. Democratic Governor Cecil Andrus vetoed the bill, and in the elections for state legislature in November, pro-choice candidates won majorities in both houses. Both Roemer and Andrus had previously considered themselves pro-life. Many other states considered more incremental legislation, although this too frequently got bogged down.

1991: In South Dakota, a ban passed by the House failed by one vote in the Senate. In Wyoming, a ban didn’t make it out of committee. In Alabama, the Senate just ignored a ban passed by the House. The North Dakota legislature passed a ban, but it was vetoed by Democratic Governor George Sinner. Utah actually did get a ban put into law, but it contained a rape an incest exception. Mormon doctrine allows abortions for rape and incest, but Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist doctrine does not, and accordingly, debate over those exceptions raged in the Louisiana legislature. Finally, the ‘purists’ were defeated, and a bill containing the rape and incest exceptions was passed – over yet another Buddy Roemer veto.

1992: Serious legislative attempts to overturn Roe dried up. Only Guam, Utah, and Louisiana have passed bans, and only Guam’s lacks a rape and incest exception. In the November elections, following the Casey decision, pro-choice candidates for President took 62% of the popular vote. With the help of EMILY’s List, 27 new women were sent to the United States Congress. All 27 of them, even the Republicans, were pro-choice.

In the 1994 elections, after the threat to Roe had abated, the pro-life movement came back in a big way. To this day, the movement remains on the offensive, much as it was from 1973 to 1989. But as the reader will see, during the one time it really mattered – from 1989 to 1992 – it was the pro-choice side which was on the offensive. Conclusion: it’s politically easy to be pro-life when there’s no chance that you’ll have to deliver on your right-to-life rhetoric, but hard when banning abortion is a realistic possibility. Some liberals, like this guy here, even want to see Roe overturned because they quite reasonably assume that it will benefit them politically in the long run.

And there is the conundrum for us in the pro-life movement. We can observe that pro-life sentiment is (arguably) on the increase, but you can bet that this sentiment would drop like a stone were Roe to be seriously jeopardized again, as it could well be if Obama loses this year. Abortion is not a question of changing laws vs. changing hearts. Both must be done. In order for laws to actually be changed in the wake of Roe‘s demise, hearts will need to be changed first. It would be the saddest thing in the world for Roe to be overturned, only for the pro-life movement to finally realize that all along, a democratic majority of Americans really did support a woman’s right to choose.

1962: The Battle is Already Lost.

A great nation is not evidenced by high GDP, long life expectancy, and democratic freedoms. Rather, a great nation is evidenced by the character and hearts of its people. And one key indicator of a nation’s heart is its attitude toward abortion. Is abortion seen, as it is in the Philippines, Ireland, and many Latin American nations, as a heartbreaking violation of the right to life? Or is abortion seen, as it is in most of the western world, as a ticklish and complex problem best left to the individual conscience?

With this in mind, I turn to the depressing story of Sherri Finkbine. The year was 1962, and abortion was illegal in all 50 states with exceptions only for the mother’s life and (in a small handful of states) for serious threats to the mother’s health. It wasn’t even a political issue. NARAL did not yet exist, Planned Parenthood strictly limited their business to contraception, and no politician could ever expect to be asked for their position on abortion. One might easily think that America’s character was different in 1962. Maybe back then, Americans understood that there’s something fundamentally wrong about killing unwanted babies. That’s certainly the narrative that social conservatives often peddle these days.

In the early 1960s, Sherri Finkbine hosted an educational children’s show that aired in the Phoenix area. She sought an abortion after discovering that she had accidentally taken some Thalidomide pills that her husband had acquired overseas, thinking they were sleeping pills. When taken during pregnancy, Thalidomide causes all sorts of birth defects, most often turning limbs into tiny malformed appendages.

The Finkbines arranged for an abortion at a local hospital, in violation of state law. At the time, hospitals often quietly did this sort of thing if the patients were rich and well connected. But Sherri made the mistake of blabbing to a newspaper about it. Within a few days, her story had literally become front page news all across America, and the hospital hastily backed out of its prior commitment. Now unable to have an abortion in the US, the Finkbines flew to Sweden and had the operation performed.

Sherri Finkbine’s sad saga represented the entrance of abortion into the political realm. For the first time ever, the issue was being debated in the public forum. Perceiving the new political issue, Gallup conducted a poll asking whether Finkbine had done the right thing or the wrong thing. 52% said “right thing,” and only 32% said “wrong thing.” On day one, the battle had already been lost; as early as 1962, more than half of America found it justifiable to kill a baby if it had malformed limbs. America’s true heart was revealed.

The more one digs into the story, the sadder, and more merciless it becomes. First, Thalidomide did not always result in birth defects – there was still a good chance for a healthy baby. Ultrasound technology was virtually non-existent in 1962, so there was no way to find out for sure until birth. Finkbine was willing to potentially kill a normal baby as a hedge against a deformed one. As her story became public, she was inundated with pleas from less heartless couples. ‘Let us adopt and raise your baby’ they all pleaded. She remained unmoved, and instead reacted with indignant rage.

When Finkbine spoke with reporters, she gave them quotes of truly stunning callousness. In fact, I can think of no pro-choice advocate in the fifty years since who could so reliably provide such soul-chilling quotes. Here’s an example:

It would be the cruelest thing in the world to let my baby be born with only a 50-50 chance of being normal. And I am concerned about our other children. How would it affect them? Some people think that what I want to do is wrong. If it would make them happy, we would be glad to start again next month and try to have a normal baby (TIME, 1962)

She raises a good question: how will it affect her other children to learn that she only loves them because they’re “normal”? How will it affect them to learn that she considers them fungible commodities? How will it affect them to learn that being abnormal is considered worthy of death?

Again, this is what 52% of Americans in the Gallup poll said was the “right thing.” It was only a matter of time before the nation’s laws began reflecting its moral coarseness. The following three years were fairly quiet, but then in 1965 a German measles epidemic caused hundreds of babies to be born with birth defects. Abortion once again resurfaced as a political issue – this time for good. A mere eight years later, Roe v. Wade codified what was already in American hearts.

1966-2011 – Mississippi Remains Unchanged

As soon as I saw the poll showing initiative 26 as a statistical dead heat, I realized that it would most likely lose. Instinctively, I knew that in the privacy of the voting booth, thousands of “pro-life” voters would reveal their true, ugly nature. It hardly mattered that the retiring governor, and both candidates to succeed him endorsed the measure. It hardly mattered that, this Sunday, Baptist churches all over the state urged their members to vote ‘yes.’ Taking refuge in the sweet security of anonymity, a decisive number of conservatives took the disgraceful, but easy, path of cowardice.

Let’s make one thing very clear from the get-go: initiative 26 was never going to have any legal effect if passed. Roe v. Wade held that “a state may not adopt one theory of when life begins.” The courts would have struck it down in the blink of an eye. Initiative 26, from beginning to end, was only about making a statement; the statement being that Mississippi could not tolerate the legal execution of innocent human lives. By voting it down, the populace made clear that they were in fact perfect willing to tolerate abortion on demand.

If pro-lifers can’t get a majority in a state like Mississippi to agree that abortion is wrong, we’re in huge trouble. If Roe v. Wade were overruled tomorrow, how many states would actually make abortion illegal? Would there even be one? Utah? North Dakota? Louisiana? Idaho? I can’t even say with certainty that any of those would do it. Last night, the Republican candidate for Governor ran 17 points ahead of initiative 26. At least one third, and possibly as much as one half of Republican voters voted ‘no’ on initiative 26. And this in one of the most churchgoing states in America. Depressing? That’s an understatement.

In my second substantive post on this blog, I laid out the truth that the pro-life movement has too long ignored: a substantial majority of Americans approve of legal abortion on demand. Sure 51% may call themselves “pro-life” in some meaningless poll, but once presented with a real choice in the voting booth between life and death, Americans can’t help but choose death. As we learned yesterday, conservative Baptists in the deep south are no exception to this general principle.

As a painfully ironic coda, I should point out that Mississippi remained true to its roots in voting down initiative 26. For in 1966, Mississippi became the very first state in America to make abortion legal for any reason other than a serious threat to the mother’s life or health. A year later, Colorado, North Carolina, and California followed suit, and within a decade, Roe v. Wade was the law of the land. Legal blindness toward human life began in Mississippi 45 years ago. And yesterday’s election made it obvious that the end of this blindness will not begin there.

The 1966 liberalization remains shrouded in mystery. Not a single national newspaper reported it, and most late sixties-era law review articles on abortion legalization don’t even seem to be aware of its existence. This is surprising because a great swarm of media coverage attended the passage of the Colorado law one year later. Even today, many sources mistakenly continue to claim that Colorado’s law was the first liberalization. To this day, I have been unable to discover any source whatsoever which sheds some light on why Mississippi changed its law. In David J. Garrow’s encyclopedic work Liberty and Sexuality, which is probably the most thoroughly researched account ever written of pre-Roe activity in state legislatures, Mississippi’s law is completely ignored.

Literally the only thing we know is the text of the law, which states that abortion is legal “where pregnancy was caused by rape.” The laws passed by Colorado and subsequent states also allowed exceptions for incest, and fetal deformity; what’s more, they were clearly inspired by a 1959 proposal by the American Law Institute (ALI), which recommended legalizing abortion for precisely those exceptions. Why would Mississippi only allow a rape exception?

While I have absolutely no direct proof, I do have an extremely plausible theory. Mississippi legislators were not inspired by the ALI, but simply by racism. Remember, in 1966 the Civil Rights movement was at a crescendo, and the political powers in the state were absolutely horrified by the prospect of integration. In passing the law, it was not just any sort of rape the legislature had in mind, it was interracial rape. A Mississippi legislator, aghast that an innocent white girl might be forced to give birth to a black rapist’s baby, introduces the bill, and it rapidly flies through the legislature. And thus began the tragic opera of legal abortion in America.

Last night, Mississippi might have come full circle, and been the first state to draw a line in the sand, however judicially unenforceable. Instead, voters revealed that a period of 45 years had not softened their hearts in any way. Pro-lifers must be sober-minded and take note – our work is plainly cut out for us.