A 21st Century Guide to Roe v. Wade

By Maria V. Gallagher, Legislative Director, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation

Editor’s note. This appeared in the monthly digital edition of National Right to Life News.

We have a new college intern at the National Right to Life affiliate where I work, the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation. Because of her youth, most of her memories are of this century. Therefore, I will need to explain to her one of the cruelest developments of the past century—the tragic 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Roe v. Wade.

As one of the youngest members of the Millennial Generation, Katy is hardly alone in her astonishment at Roe. She comes from a family which celebrates every birth and is especially smitten by their youngest member, a toddler cutie named Quinn. For Katy, it is inconceivable how an atrocity such as Roe could have come about.

So here are a few of the many people whose roles were influential in creating the right to abortion that culminated in Roe.

In the 1970s Dr. Bernard Nathanson performed tens of thousands of abortions and was one of the prime leaders in the battle to legalize abortion. He was so insistent on making abortion legal (as he later admitted ) that he grossly inflated the number of deaths that were occurring from illegal abortions. He helped found the pro-abortion lobbying and political action group now known as NARAL.

In the early ‘70s a woman named Norma McCorvey found herself in the midst of a crisis. She was single and pregnant and in dire financial straits. Desperate, she turned to a lawyer, Sarah Weddington, who exploited her mercilessly. Weddington and another lawyer took the case, which challenged the Texas abortion law, all the way to the Supreme Court. The outcome was Roe v. Wade.

Norma admitted later that she had lied about being gang raped, which was one of the more sensational elements of her case. Also, she ended up giving birth to the baby, so the Roe of Roe v. Wade never had an abortion.

The High Court decided Roe along with a companion case known as Doe v. Bolton. Taken in tandem, the two cases brought us abortion on demand—for any reason or for no reason—during all nine months of pregnancy. Still, in subsequent years states were able to enact restrictions on abortion such as informed consent, 24-hour waiting periods, and parental consent, which helped to cut abortion rates (In Pennsylvania, for instance, the Abortion Control Act cut abortion totals in half.)

The U.S. Supreme Court Justices who ruled in favor of Roe, and in favor of legalizing abortion in all fifty states, were all men. They did not have access to the 4D Ultrasounds we have today—ultrasounds which can show babies smiling…crying…and yawning in their mothers’ wombs.

Justices Blackmun, Berger, Marshall, Brennan, Powell, Stewart and Douglas thought, wrongly, that a so-called right to abortion would grant women more freedom. They were unfamiliar with the tear-filled testimonies of women who had abortions, and who regretted them. They were not exposed to the body of research that shows women suffering physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual harm as a result of abortion.

Interestingly enough, both Dr. Nathanson and Norma McCorvey later renounced their roles in legalizing abortion and became staunch advocates for life. Although both are deceased now, their legacy for promoting life continues in the books they wrote and the people whose lives they touched.

Those people who have been born post-Roe have never known a world in which abortion was illegal. And yet, there are so many individuals, such as Katy, who are determined to restore legal protection for innocent human life. They may not have lived in an America without abortion, but they can envision it—and it is that vision which propels their marching, lobbying, and advocating.

The 21st century needs to be the century of a rebirth of a pro-life culture, where every human being is treasured as the gift that he or she is. With people such as Katy around, that cultural rebirth can happen sooner than we can imagine.