Will a conservatively configured Supreme Court finally put a brake on “top-down enactments like Roe” that attempt to “cram great moral determinations down people’s throats”? That fateful decision, writes senior editor William Murchison, by “shielding pro-choice advocates from the need to give an account of their moral thinking,” paved the way for today’s widespread “culture of assertion,” in which those with differing viewpoints seek to overpower their opponents rather than persuade them. “Is it possible,” Murchison wonders in “Life after Dobbs,” that “somewhere down the line, though probably not without more shouting and roughness . . . we might recover somewhat our lost gift for moral discourse?” We will surely need it should the Court send the abortion question back to state legislatures, where there is already much shouting and roughness.
In “An Enduring Legacy: Ronald Reagan’s Pro-life Influence on America,” Chuck Donovan, who worked in the White House Correspondence Office during the Reagan years, reminds us that “unlike those who argue that abortion is a matter to be decided by the states,” the 40th president believed unborn children had “existing legal protection under the 14th Amendment.” (Might a Supreme Court justice or two agree?) While he directed his administration to implement pro-life policies, notes Donovan, Reagan himself used his command of the written word to sow the pro-life message: in scores of letters to private citizens, in national proclamations, and in the “unprecedented presidential essay” he wrote for this journal in 1983. (We reprint the ever-relevant “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation” in Appendix A.)
In that essay, Reagan cited a California medical journal editorial that—three years before Roe—predicted an emerging “quality of life” ethic would soon erode the foundation of Western bioethics. “Medicine’s role with respect to changing attitudes toward abortion,” the editors ventured, “may well be a prototype of what is to occur” (see Appendix B). No kidding. In “The American College of Abortion Advocacy,” National Review reporter Alexandra DeSanctis takes a hard look at “medicine’s role,” concluding that “the modern political movement pushing for legal abortion was led in large part by ideologically motivated doctors seeking to make it easier for them to perform elective abortions without facing legal consequences.” Indeed, adds DeSanctis, Harry Blackmun’s opinion in Roe “hardly mentions women’s rights and focuses instead on deferring to the judgment of doctors.” The judgment of doctors is very much on Grace Emily Stark’s mind in “Overpromising and Underdelivering: Birth Control’s Failed Promises.” Stark—a fellow at the Center for Bioethics and Culture/Paul Ramsey Institute—writes that ever since the Pill passed FDA muster in 1960, “hormonal contraception has shaped both the healthcare system’s approach to women’s health and society’s treatment of women in the workforce.” The Pill, she argues, “made women’s bodies more like men’s,” and in doing so “burdened women with the expectation that they would function like men.” In both higher education and the workplace, women have been accepted “as long as they played by the rules: Be like a man, don’t get pregnant— and if you do, make sure you ‘take care of it.’” Or in other words, get an abortion. Georgette Forney has become a powerful voice for those who, like her, “take care of it” but then go on to suffer remorse. “Abortionists,” she tells us in the interview following Stark’s article, “are counting on women being silent so that no one will learn how badly they treat us, and how awful the procedure is.” In 2002, Forney went public with her remorse, standing alone on the steps of the Supreme Court after the March for Life, holding up a sign that read “I Regret Aborting My Baby.” Since then, she reports, her Silent No More Awareness Campaign has brought thousands of women—and men—together to share “their abortion testimonies,” including a substantial number who tell their stories every year on the steps of the Court.
For “more than 40 years,” writes Brian Caulfield in “Life in the Face of Death,” Chris Slattery, another pro-life leader, has cheerfully faced “lawsuits, fake clients, sting operations, financial hardship, gag orders, crippling fines, subpoenas, and harassment of every kind by rabid abortion advocates.” But today, the “determined, fearless, and unflinching” founder of the EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers in New York “faces a diagnosis that puts his life dedicated to life in sharp perspective.” Slattery has cancer, Caulfield relates, “and doctors give him two to three years to live.” All who admire Slattery’s “tireless commitment” to baby-saving are praying along with him for an “extension.” As he tells Caulfield: “We have a lot more pro-life work to do.”
That is for sure. As we anticipate for the first time in decades at least a partial “win” in Dobbs, we must also acknowledge that a court ruling won’t restore what has been lost under Roe. Baby-killing is now a cult whose denizens proudly “shout” their abortions in public (see eye-opening columns by Richard Stith and Seth Barron in Appendix C and D). And previously unimaginable attacks on the traditional family are commonplace. “Those sworn to the progressive ideology,” writes Edward Short in “Henry James and the Ties of Family,” our next article, “even go so far as to insist that children denounce parents” who refuse to bow to that ideology’s “implacable gods.” But while “our more agitated neighbors seek to deliver up our unravelling social order to the direction of family-hating scolds,” our literary contributor invites readers to “find solace and sanctuary in the family-friendly Henry James,” whose short story “The Marriages,” he describes as “a witty, moving tribute to the potency of familial love.”
Progressivism’s “implacable gods” have been well-served by the pandemic. “Things did seem apocalyptic,” writes journalist David Quinn in “Covid in Ireland,” a kaleidoscopic account of how his country has fared since the first case “was confirmed on the island in late February 2020.” The government responded like the “bluest of blue states,” he reports, imposing “some of the longest lockdowns anywhere.” And “no other nation in Europe prevented public worship for a longer period.” But unlike in other European countries where clerics at least protested restrictions, “there was little pushback from church leaders of any denomination,” some of whom “seemed happy to become glorified health and safety officers.” It was, Quinn says, “an excellent opportunity for religious leaders to address big, ultimate issues,” but “for the most part they failed.”
Can big, ultimate issues even be seriously addressed after “several centuries of adulteration and dilution of Christian belief”? In our final essay—and it is a corker—senior editor Ellen Wilson Fielding observes that in her experience, “debates on life issues that could once be conducted across religious divides founder on materialist or individualistic or emotionally based ethics—or on someone’s unwillingness to ‘impose their beliefs’ on other people.” Are we capable, she asks, of “Perambulating in Mid-Air?” That is, can the “morally ‘evolved’ nations of the West, having jettisoned their Origin Story in favor of a myth of infinite progress,” survive for much longer, “unsupported philosophically and ethically by any real foundation of meaning”?
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“Every time abortion intervenes,” writes John Grondelski, “a voice goes missing from the conversation.” In this edition of Booknotes, he reviews two books: Survivor, Claire Culwell’s “gripping” account of her life as an abortion survivor; and Steven A. Christie’s Speaking for the Unborn, a primer for rebutting pro-choice arguments—in 30 seconds. Both books, he says, are “intended to invigorate and arm prolifers in the ongoing abortion battle,” and both “merit a place on every prolifer’s bookshelf.” From the Website features thoughtful commentaries by Jason Morgan, David Mills, Tara Jernigan, Diane Moriarty, and W. Ross Blackburn. We close the issue with John Hirschauer’s “She Buried Their Bodies” (Appendix E), the story of Lauren Handy, a 21st-century Antigone who wants to see aborted unborn children in graves not incinerators. “Beneath the slogans and weasel words of the abortion debate,” Hirschauer writes, “is a human person. Burial is an affirmation of that most uncomfortable fact.”