On November 18th, Encounter Books hosted “A Conversation on Roe v. Wade,” a panel discussion focusing on Clarke Forsythe’s highly acclaimed book, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade. Readers of the Human Life Review are likely to recall that Forsythe was honored with this year’s Great Defender of Life Award (along with Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life) and his book got a great review from Kathryn Jean Lopez in the Fall 2013 issue [http://humanlifereview.com/booknotes-the-inside-story-of-roe-v-wade/].
Joining Mr. Forsythe on the panel were Charmaine Yoest (President of Americans United for Life), Fr. Gerald Murray (Pastor of the Church of the Holy Family in Manhattan), Mollie Hemingway (Senior Editor of The Federalist), and myself. Perhaps I’m biased, but to me the evening provided one of the more thoughtful, well-reasoned considerations of the present state of the pro-life movement—a testament to Forsythe’s carefully and thoroughly researched book, which set the tone for the evening.
The main argument of Abuse of Discretion is this: When the Supreme Court first agreed to hear Roe v. Wade, the justices had intended to rule only on procedural questions; they certainly didn’t set out to settle the question of abortion rights in America. Then, due to retirements and deaths on the Court, a new configuration of justices decided to strong-arm the others and use the case (and its companion, Doe v. Bolton) to champion the cause of legalized abortion.
But here’s the real clincher: The primary contention used to justify the Court’s decision—that abortion is safer for women than pregnancy and therefore must be readily available—was based on bad science. This subject motivated much of our discussion.
Both Forsythe and Yoest were quick to note that we’re still reeling from the false claim that abortion is good for women—until it is soundly rejected, justices, politicians, and voters will continue to insist that abortion is a social good worth promoting.
I brought up the idea that Roe v. Wade has fundamentally changed the way we think about medicine. Enshrining abortion as a right encouraged people to think that medicine, traditionally intent on healing the sick and curing maladies, could be put at the service of personal desires and lifestyle preferences. Our understanding of healthcare has been perverted by a mindset that weakens medicine’s commitment to doing no harm, and encourages other assaults on human dignity, such as embryonic-stem-cell research, third-party reproduction, and physician-assisted suicide.
Fr. Gerald Murray highlighted the great role of ultrasound imaging in evidencing the scientific fact that life begins at conception. He also spoke movingly about how post-Roe generations have adopted “a survivor’s mentality,” knowing that in light of “choice,” every born human being has escaped the horrors of abortion.
Mollie Hemingway, who moderated the discussion, spoke of the tired language of pro-abortion-rights activists like Katha Pollitt, whose new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, defends abortion as “a moral good.” Hemingway—who, readers might recall, was one of the loudest media voices bringing much needed attention to Kermit Gosnell’s butchery—did a fine job of showing how the likes of Pollitt are fighting a losing battle trying to make abortion attractive. Anyone who is in need of evidence, she reminded us, should reflect on the failed political campaigns of Sandra Fluke and Wendy Davis and Mark Udall, whose overblown “war on women” rhetoric was rejected by voters of both sexes.
As thoughtful as our panel discussion was, and as powerful a contribution as Abuse of Discretion is to the pro-life cause, the evening concluded with a sober reminder that there remains much work to be done and many more hearts and minds to change. That’s why I’m hopeful that conversations like ours will help sow the seeds of eventual conversion.