By Dave Andrusko
Talk about setting the narrative! From the very first news story, the New York Times demonstrated its utter determination to minimize the impact (and reach) of Roe v. Wade and its companion case Doe v. Bolton. (“Doe” explained what “Roe” meant by the “health” exception.) In case we missed the point, the no-big-deal interpretation was reinforced in a January 24, 1973, editorial.
The exact opposite was the truth. Justice Harry Blackmun offered a carte blanche definition of “health,” but just how expansive a “liberty” he found lurking in various “penumbras” and “emanations” was not entirely clear for several more years.
But it was the editorial that is most relevant to us today, the day after we commemorated the 47th anniversary of the methodical annihilation of defenseless unborn babies.
The Times synopsized its take in the first three sentences:
“The Supreme Court has made a major contribution to the preservation of individual liberties and of free decision-making by its invalidation of state laws inhibiting a woman’s right to obtain an abortion in its first three months of pregnancy.
“The Courts seven-to-two ruling could bring to an end the emotional and divisive public argument over what always should have been an intensely private and personal matter. It will end the argument if those who are now inveighing against the decision as a threat to civilization’s survival will pause long enough to recognize the limits of what the Court has done.”
The Times, it should be noted, was instrumental in establishing the myth that Roe “only” allowed abortion in the first trimester. The newspaper was hardly alone, but the Times remains immensely influential today, even more so back then.
And as part of its self-assigned role as cultural arbiter, the Times announced that it was time to move on. Time to “bring to an end the emotional and divisive public argument over what always should have been an intensely private and personal matter.”
Indeed the editorial came full circle in its final paragraph:
“The Court’s verdict on abortion provides a sound foundation for final and reasonable resolution of a debate that has divided America too long.”
That almost sounds quaint now, and no doubt there was much of the wish- being-father-to-the-thought in the Times’ imperious pronouncement.
But think about the situation 47 years ago. Pro-abortionists wielded almost total control of the media (much smaller in number and variety than today), headed much of the philanthropic community, and held almost total sway in academia.
What could possibly make that better? A Supreme Court decision, shallow in its reasoning but sweeping in its impact, portrayed by no less than Chief Justice Warren Burger as modest. “Plainly,” he wrote, “the court today rejects any claim that the Constitution requires abortion on demand.”
Evidently, he forgot to tell Harry Blackmun.
With such a purportedly “modest” accommodation, backed by all the right people and powerful institutions, the Times could be forgiven for expecting that we would meekly fall down in abject submission.
For pro-lifers, of course, Roe was not a stop sign, or a call for retreat, but a wake-up call. We forget how radical the decision was and how few people anticipated how in throwing out the bath—the abortion statutes of all 50 states—that the Court would also be throwing out over 61 million babies as well.
But for me, the most irritating, condescending passage came in the third paragraph from the end of the editorial:
“Nothing in the Court’s approach ought to give affront to persons who oppose all abortions for reasons of religion or individual conviction. They can stand as firmly as ever for those principles, provided they do not seek to impede the freedom of those with an opposite view.”
And by “impeding,” the Times meant putting up any resistance. If we failed to hang our heads and promptly go home, we were obstructionists who had missed the message–our betters had decreed that the debate was over.
Pro-lifers said thank you very much, but we are going to work tirelessly until the day comes that legal protection is returned to the littlest Americans. The opinion of seven unelected justices can hold sway for a time, but not forever, provided we do our job.
So instead of giving up, we vowed to pass laws at the state and federal level; to educate from early in the morning till late at night; to provide women in crisis pregnancies with moral and material support; and most of all to shout from the housetops that there MUST be a better way.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”