Pro-Life?: New Thoughts on the Subject (Part 3)

Note: This is the third part of an ongoing article.  To see part 1, click here.  To go to part 2, click here.

2.  The Problem of  Party Politics

In 1803, the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Marbury v. Madison, that they would serve as the final authority in establishing law in the United States.  They declared, in a unanimous decision, “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

There are only two ways to overturn a decision of the Supreme Court and neither of them comes easy.  The States voting to amend the federal Constitution, but this would take a three-fourths majority.  The second route would be for the Supreme Court to overrule itself.

Roe v. Wade (1973) would seem a mountain too vast to scale.

Yet, these two options do exist and both have worked on at least ten different occasions.  The 13th and 14th Amendments reversed the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott v. Sanford decision of 1857 which refused all rights and citizenship to blacks.  The Supreme Court has also reversed itself, as found in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling which reversed Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) – a decision upholding segregation or the “separate but equal” treatment of the races.

These decisions bear out, not only that the Supreme Court’s decisions can be reversed, but that such reversals are likely to follow a change in the culture of the nation.  The two cases cited above were reversed because race relations were changing and, if Roe v. Wade is to be successfully challenged, it can be assumed that cultural change must precede it.

Such cultural change should be brought about by the Church, as demonstrated in the powerful example of St. Basil’s church mentioned earlier.  Modern Evangelicalism has fallen prey to a powerful error, however, that leads us far away from this real solution.  Rather than diligently practicing the “persistence of compassion,” Evangelicalism has succumbed to partisan politics, linking itself with the Republican Party.  In other words, rather than fulfilling its responsibility to be a “city on a hill,” the Church is content to look to the government as the source of cultural change.

It has been oft-observed that, when Evangelicals vote, Republicans win, as clearly seen in the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004.  Sadly, however, what can also be observed is that the Evangelical vote comes cheap, offered up to any candidate who promises to be “pro-life” while offering no specific plan of action that will make any significant difference in preserving life.

Presidential historian Doug Wead compiled very helpful data in which he demonstrates the Evangelical community’s bent towards the Republican Party.  In the presidential elections from 1976-2004, Wead found:

1976 1980 1984 1988 1992* 1996 2000 2004
Republican 50% 61% 78% 81% 59% 49% 57% 62%
Democratic 50% 34% 22% 18% 21% 43% 42% 38%

*In 1992, Ross Perot’s independent candidacy drew 19 percent of the born-again white vote.

The Republican presidential candidates in those elections included Gerald Ford (1976), Ronald Reagan (1980 & 1984), George H.W. Bush (1988 & 1992), Bob Dole (1996), and George W. Bush (2000 & 2004).

Each of the Republican candidates above billed themselves as “pro-life” and, consequently, gained what Wead called the “white born-again” vote.  But, on closer examination it seems that each of the candidates planned for failure; that is, none of them aimed for anything other than temporary appeasement of their voter base.

President Ford had the opportunity to appoint one Supreme Court justice and chose John Paul Stevens, a pro-abortion judge who upheld Roe v. Wade in 1992.

President Reagan claimed that he would support a Constitutional amendment banning abortion, but the matter went no further than that.  As Governor of California, Reagan actually signed the permissive Therapeutic Abortion Law (1967) which allowed for abortion if the mother thought it would benefit her physical, mental, or emotional health.  Additionally, Reagan was able to successfully appoint four justices to the Supreme Court – Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O’Connor, and William Rehnquist.  Two of them (Scalia and Rehnquist) voted to overturn Roe v. Wade in 1992 and two did not (O’Connor and Kennedy).

The work of President George H.W. Bush is similar; strong talk with little action.  He called upon the Supreme Court to reverse the Roe v. Wade ruling and allow states to decide the issue, but no legislative action was taken and no official proposals were written up.  While Bush only had occasion to appoint two justices to the Supreme Court, like Reagan, he split his appointees on the abortion issue: Clarence Thomas wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade and David Souter did not.

Finally, President George W. Bush was hailed as a strongly pro-life Governor of Texas and he did overturn the hideous partial-birth abortion practice put into law by Bill Clinton.  Bush, however, never pushed for a Constitutional amendment to end abortion, claiming that Americans did not want it and, when given the task of selecting Supreme Court nominees, took a major step backwards.  Samuel Alito, one of Bush’s appointees, argued that it was unconstitutional even to restrict partial-birth abortion.  And Bush’s other selection, John Roberts, seems confused on the issue, at best, claiming that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, but is nonetheless settled law.

So, the question remains: What has the supposedly “pro-life” Republican Party done to address abortion?  No move has been made to gauge the consensus of the States regarding a Constitutional amendment (though this is the most unlikely course of action) and Republican Presidents have actually appointed more pro-abortion justices to the Supreme Court since 1976 than they have pro-life justices by a count of 6 to 3.

If Roe v. Wade seems a mountain too vast to scale, it may well be because both Republicans and their Evangelical supporters are content to remain at its base and stare.

To be continued…


6 thoughts on “Pro-Life?: New Thoughts on the Subject (Part 3)

  1. Thank you, Brian. You provide good perspective.

    To respect state jurisdiction, wouldn’t a constitutional amendment need to be worded so as to put us back where we were prior to Roe v. Wade, when each state had abortion laws on the books?

  2. Yes, I think so. Now, some people argue that this does not go far enough, but constitutionally, it does belong with the states. Abortion will never fully be eradicated in an immoral society, but putting it within the authority of the individual states does allow for more accountability (political officials at the state level are much easier to call into account) and reduction of abortions.

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