by Susan E. Wills, Esq.
October 21, 2005
What's going on at The Washington Post? Last week this predictable well-spring of pro-choice thinking ran an op-ed by longtime Post columnist Richard Cohen questioning the legitimacy of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. This is the third time since January that Post commentators have tackled the subject.
Appearing as they do in a newspaper known for its staunch support of the abortion license, recent Post op-eds seem to reflect a dramatic shift in cultural attitudes that has already taken place.
A nation that has more or less acquiesced in Roe – out of ignorance of its extremism, respect for federal courts, and a desire to be nonjudgmental – has awakened in recent years to three realities. If Roe means that partial-birth abortion is legal, Roe is far worse than once thought. If abortion cheapens life and hurts women, maybe it's not a "tolerable evil," but just plain evil. If the Supreme Court's adherence to Roe prevents restricting abortion in ways that 70% of Americans favor, maybe Roe has to go.
Thanks to the Internet and several effective media campaigns, the constitutional objections to Roe have finally made the leap from scholarly journals and pro-life literature to widely read websites, the great blogosphere, and even the mainstream media. Three campaigns by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – Roe Reality Checks, the Second Look Project ("Abortion: Have we gone too far?"), and End the Roe Litmus Test – have no doubt prompted some to consider abortion in a new light.
And they've reasoned that a right of privacy broad enough to encompass abortion (Roe) or a liberty interest that includes "the right to define one's own concept ... of the mystery of human life" (Planned Parenthood v. Casey) is "not just comically cosmic but infinitely elastic" (Krauthammer). Cohen was recently persuaded by Princeton professor Robert George's argument that such an ill-defined right would also include recreational drug use and prostitution. Why not pedophilia and polygamy, too?
Mainstream pro-choice commentators have also noticed, if somewhat belatedly, that the Constitution vests legislative powers in the states and Congress, not in the Supreme Court. So they suggest that the matter of abortion should be returned to the States, where it would better reflect the will of the American people.
Let us rejoice that such prominent members of the pundit class have grown weary of defending the morally and constitutionally indefensible abortion decisions. Let us rejoice that The Washington Post calculated it would lose little by running these commentaries, and let's keep reminding people how wrong and how flawed Roe is, until it is no more.
Susan Wills is associate director for education, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops