On Jan. 22, my wife Cathy and I participated in the Lake Charles March for Life. It was a chilly January evening with a forecast calling for rain, yet around 1,000 people showed up to make the 1.2-mile trek from Veterans Memorial Park to the courthouse, where several speakers addressed the crowd about the consequences of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
Although the gathering was predominantly Christian and most likely conservative in perspective, it was not a partisan political event. There were no “Make America Great Again” hats nor was there any mention of political parties or candidates for office. In Louisiana, Democrats are nearly as likely as Republicans to be pro-life.
For those who don’t recall the Roe v. Wade case or what it was about, the case involved a woman named Norma McCorvey. She was born in Simmesport, La., but her family moved to Texas, where she had a very troubled childhood that included drugs, alcohol, frequent encounters with the law and a marriage at the age of 16. In 1969, when she was 21, divorced and unemployed, she became pregnant with her third child and sought an abortion (her first two children had been taken from her). At the time, every state had laws banning abortion; each state’s laws differed.
McCorvey believed (incorrectly) that Texas allowed abortion in the case of rape, so she falsely claimed she had been gang raped. She was denied an abortion due to lack of evidence supporting the rape allegation. She was then put in contact with attorneys who filed a suit on her behalf, claiming the Texas law violated her constitutional right to privacy. In order to protect her privacy, McCorvey became “Jane Roe” and the defendant was Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade — hence Roe v. Wade.
The case eventually made its way through the appeals process to the Supreme Court, where it was decided in favor of “Jane Roe” by a 7-2 vote on Jan. 22, 1973. While it wasn’t a narrow one-vote decision, it has been marked by more controversy and assailed by more legal scholars than perhaps any Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott in 1857.
The primary issue considered by the Supreme Court wasn’t abortion, per se, but privacy from government interference. The concurring justices held that the U.S. Constitution prohibited state governments from unduly interfering in people’s personal affairs.
Abortion came into play as the court maintained that abortion was largely a personal decision. Recognizing that states have a compelling interest as a pregnancy progresses and the fetus becomes more viable, the court set up a trimester framework to balance these competing interests, stating that a woman’s right to choose an abortion was absolute during the first trimester while the states’ interest in protecting a woman’s health and “the potentiality of human life” was greatest in the third trimester. This brought all state abortion laws under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.
The greatest criticism of the Roe v. Wade decision has been that it was “judicial activism” in which the court invented a woman’s right to an abortion out of thin air when there was no hint that the writers of the constitution ever intended for there to be such a right.
Women’s rights advocates were thrilled with the decision, although the court specifically stated that the primary right being preserved was that of the physician to practice medicine freely absent a compelling state interest — not women’s rights in general.
Prior to Roe, state laws banning abortion generally punished the physician who performed the abortion and viewed the woman who sought an abortion as a victim rather than a perpetrator. Thus, Roe v. Wade opened the way for abortion clinics to operate without state interference during the first trimester of pregnancy, something especially abhorrent to persons who hold the conviction that life begins at conception, such as Catholics. For them, abortion is tantamount to infanticide.
Ironically, the Roe v. Wade decision came after oral contraceptives became widely available in the 1960s. One might have thought “the pill” would have reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies. But it ignited a sexual revolution that saw young people having sex more often, beginning at a younger age, and waiting longer before getting married. In 1960, the average age at first marriage for a woman in the United States was 20.3 years; today it is 27.8 years. In 1960, 15 percent of teen pregnancies were unwanted; today 89 percent of teen pregnancies are unwanted, and 25 percent of those are terminated by abortion. Thus, in many cases, the abortion issue today is radically different than it was in the 1960s, and the surest path to poverty and government dependency now is for a young woman to become pregnant out of wedlock.
In response, many abortion opponents have shifted their focus. In the 1960s it was common for women who became pregnant out of wedlock to be shamed and shunned. The wealthy sent their pregnant daughters to out-of-state abortion clinics while the poor just suffered the consequences. Today, like it or not, premarital sex among teens is commonplace, and many pro-life advocates recognize the dilemma faced by young women with an unwanted pregnancy and encourage them to give birth to their child, supporting them in their time of emotional and financial need through pregnancy crisis centers as an alternative to abortion.
But while some women may be able to have an abortion and carry on as if they had just had an exterminator remove a skunk from their attic, others suffer emotionally for the rest of their lives with the knowledge that they killed their unborn child.
Another twist to the Roe v. Wade story is that in 1970, nearly three years before the Supreme Court decision, Norma McCorvey gave birth to the baby girl whom she had sought to abort and immediately put her up for adoption. Initially, McCorvey was featured prominently at pro-abortion rallies, but in 1995 she had a religious conversion, accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, and went to work for Operation Rescue, a pro-life organization. She later converted to Catholicism and continued to be a prominent activist in the pro-life movement that encouraged young women to have their babies, even if they put them up for adoption.
McCorvey died in 2017. She had reunited with her first daughter but was unable to learn what happened to her child, “baby Roe.” Because of privacy in adoptions, it is not known if the family that adopted McCorvey’s daughter even knows of the child’s parentage.