Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade: Judicial abominations that “denied the value of certain human lives”

By Dave Andrusko

Dred Scott
Image Credit: Digital image ©1998 Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis

One hundred and sixty two years ago today, the Supreme Court handed down its disastrous Dred Scott v. Sanford decision. Like Roe v. Wade, to which pro-lifers routinely compare it, the High Court’s vote was 7-2. Like Roe v. Wade, Dred Scott v. Sanford “solved” nothing because it was incompatible with justice.

As PBS put it

In Dred Scott v. Sandford (argued 1856 — decided 1857), the Supreme Court ruled that Americans of African descent, whether free or slave, were not American citizens and could not sue in federal court. The Court also ruled that Congress lacked power to ban slavery in the U.S. territories. Finally, the Court declared that the rights of slaveowners were constitutionally protected by the Fifth Amendment because slaves were categorized as property.

Each time the anniversary of Dred Scott comes around, I think of President Ronald Reagan’s analogy in his book, “Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation”:

Despite the formidable obstacles before us, we must not lose heart. This is not the first time our country has been divided by a Supreme Court decision that denied the value of certain human lives. The Dred Scott decision of 1857 was not overturned in a day, or a year, or even a decade. At first, only a minority of Americans recognized and deplored the moral crisis brought about by denying the full humanity of our black brothers and sisters; but that minority persisted in their vision and finally prevailed. They did it by appealing to the hearts and minds of their countrymen, to the truth of human dignity under God.

From their example, we know that respect for the sacred value of human life is too deeply engrained in the hearts of our people to remain forever suppressed. But the great majority of the American people have not yet made their voices heard, and we cannot expect them to—any more than the public voice arose against slavery—until the issue is clearly framed and presented.

It was one of the signature triumphs of his two terms in office that President Reagan help to clearly frame and present the issue: “to reaffirm the sanctity of human life, even the smallest and the youngest and the most defenseless.”

As I was looking for a particular quote, instead I ran across a law review article written by an eloquent pro-abortion advocate (eloquent in this piece at least). Dahlia Lithwick writes

To read the daily pro-life press [she cites a story in NRL News Today] is to experience Roe as an ongoing visceral assault on basic morality, a living, breathing judicial sin as grievous today as it was in 1973.

Yes, we oppose Roe because it was/is a judicial monstrosity, spun out of penumbras and emanations and held together by Justice Harry Blackmun’s overweening chutzpah.

And yes, we most assuredly agree that killing helpless unborn children is a sin, both in a strictly religious sense but also a secular sense.

We also agree with the late Malcolm Muggeridge, who succinctly summarized the equality-of-life ethic that undergirds our Movement: “Either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other.”

Pro-abortionists believe that human life is measured on a sliding scale. We don’t.

To return to President Reagan’s marvelous book, let me conclude this reflection on the anniversary of Dred Scott with the President’s final paragraph:

Abraham Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some men could decide that others were not fit to be free and should therefore be slaves. Likewise, we cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide. My Administration is dedicated to the preservation of America as a free land, and there is no cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have any meaning.