A 6-3 Ruling Ends 50 Years of Federal Abortion Rights
—New York Times headline, June 25, 2022
When Roe v. Wade was issued on January 22, 1973, it surprised just about everyone, including our founder J.P. McFadden. He read the text of the sweeping opinion the next day in the New York Times—back then “the paper of record” still was a paper of record—and, as he later recalled, his life changed: “It was a day-long road to Damascus for me. I hadn’t realized these kinds of things were going on. I hadn’t realized that anyone was making these arguments, that the Supreme Court of the United States could put the moral suasion and moral power of this country behind killing babies.”
From that day on, McFadden (then assistant publisher at National Review) made mounting a campaign against abortion his priority. He set up a lobbying office in Washington DC, and, convinced that every movement needed an intellectual arm, established the Human Life Foundation, which, since 1975, has published the Human Life Review. In his introduction to the first issue, McFadden wrote that “Those of us who care about the value of life— about abortion, euthanasia, and other present-day challenges to the sanctity of life—need such a publication, and need it badly, as a vehicle for the widespread public dissemination of intelligent (even scholarly) and informed viewpoints on these vital matters.”
Disseminating intelligent, scholarly, and informed viewpoints on vital matters of life and death is precisely what this unique journal has done for going on half a century. Platforms for arguments against abortion, euthanasia, and other assaults on human dignity have proliferated in recent decades, yet none has amassed the Review’s unparalleled archive—a richly detailed record of the human life debate as it has unfolded in political, legal, philosophical, theological, and medical discourse since a rogue Supreme Court, running roughshod over the Constitution, pronounced mothers had a right to kill their unborn children.
Helen Alvaré, professor of law at Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University (and the Human Life Foundation’s 2019 Great Defender of Life), has called the Human Life Review “the place where the movement for life goes to do its thinking.” In a recent column, Alvaré wrote that the July 24 Dobbs decision overruling Roe “is a win for the unrelenting efforts of pro-life scholars . . . This body of scholarship never simply stamped its feet and demanded that everyone adopt a moral respect for unborn life. It argued the biological case for their humanity and their right not to be killed. It argued about the history and meaning of the 14th Amendment’s ‘liberty’ clause. It made the case that traditional judicial respect for past precedents— stare decisis—could not apply to past decisions that are egregiously wrong, legally unworkable and totally devoid of respect for the text of the Constitution, for history and for precedent. Today, the majority’s opinion in Dobbs, which relies upon this impressive trove of scholarship, vindicates these 49 years of effort.” (The Human Life Review’s archive is a repository of much of that scholarship.)
Since May, when a draft of the Dobbs opinion first leaked, pro-abortion zealots have stamped their feet in public squares and media venues, demanding that everyone adopt moral respect for the unrestrained abortion license sanctioned by Roe. Enraged protesters threaten Supreme Court justices, camping outside their homes while the Department of Justice refuses to end these unlawful acts. Churches and crisis pregnancy centers are desecrated and vandalized. And, in corporate America and academe, efforts to expel those holding pro-life views from public—and professional—life are coalescing into a nationwide crusade.
“With the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, it is no longer enough to be pro-choice,” opined the highly regarded law professor and pundit Jonathan Turley after scores of medical students and their families staged a walkout at the University of Michigan’s July White Coat Ceremony, snubbing a speaker who had previously espoused pro-life views though her speech had nothing to do with abortion. “Today,” he went on, “it seems you must be anti-pro-life to be truly pro-choice—and, across the country, pro-life viewpoints are being declared virtual hate speech.” Today, millions and millions of citizens, heretofore mostly unburdened by abortion concerns in the voting booth, are compelled to figure out, perhaps for the first time, exactly what their position on baby-killing is, and how (if at all) it will affect their vote. Norma McCorvey’s “great mushy middle” is the prize “anti-pro-life” crusaders have in their sights.
Law is a great teacher, and for almost 50 years Roe v. Wade has “taught” Americans that legal abortion is a matter of women’s liberation—that “control over reproduction” is needed to assure their equality and success. Generations have been propagandized with this message. And the damage is incalculable. Starting with over 63 million unborn children who are dead— sons, daughters, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, as well as potential friends, spouses, parents, innovators, heroes, peacemakers . . . a constellation of individual human beings casually consigned to a black hole of human depravity.
During these dark decades, we have also seen the passive and active killing of disabled infants . . . and adults. In an article in the Summer 1975 issue of the Review, Malcolm Muggeridge observed that “The logical sequel to the destruction of what are called ‘unwanted children’ will be the elimination of what will be called ‘unwanted lives’—a legislative measure which so far in all human history only the Nazi Government has ventured to enact.” One could argue that such a legislative measure was enacted by a Florida court in 2005 when it ordered what Paul McHugh (in an essay reprinted in the Review thirty years after Muggeridge’s), called the “annihilation” of Terri Schiavo, a disabled and unwanted wife whose husband, rejecting her family’s offer to take over her care, insisted instead on her death. And got it.
On May 31, 1973, four months after the Supreme Court gave baby-killing its blessing, James Buckley introduced a Human Life Amendment in the Senate, warning that “Such a situation cannot continue indefinitely without doing irreparable damage to the most cherished principles of humanity and to the moral sensibilities of our people. The issue at stake is not only what we do to unborn children, but what we do to ourselves by permitting them to be killed.”
Now that the Court has returned the “authority to regulate abortion . . . to the people and their elected representatives” we will see if the damage is reparable. We know we are in for another long hard fight. One that many of us who lived to see Roe overturned won’t be around to finish. But we are here for its beginning. Many states have so-called trigger laws in place, some (like New York) granting unlimited abortion access, others (like Texas) severely restricting it. Already courts have put restrictive laws on hold while abortion providers attempt to resurrect Roe in the “penumbras” of state constitutions. Democrats have made “the right to choose” their rallying call and will pound the mushy middle with deceptive advertising as elections approach. Blue-state governors are already promising to underwrite abortion tourism. Self-identified pro-life politicians at all levels of government, not rhetorically taxed until now, will either make a winning case for life or lose elections.
And the Human Life Review will continue to be the place where the movement for life does its thinking, providing readers with thoughtful analysis and informed opinion as the campaign to move Americans away from careless abortion acceptance moves to state legislatures and closer to home. And we will continue to do what we’ve done since J.P. McFadden launched this much needed journal in 1975: keep the record. Because as he said then, “No one should be able to say, whatever happens, that they didn’t know what’s actually going on here.”