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“Roe v. Wade” Derangement Syndrome

The defense of the indefensible leads to rage, and rage becomes a form of madness.

March for Life participants and counter-protesters hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. (CNS photo/Peter Lockley)

The defense of the indefensible often leads to a kind of derangement in otherwise rational people. That was the case with the defenders of slavery and legalized racial segregation; it has become the case with abortion.

I’ve long thought that the most callous, coldhearted contribution to the national debate on abortion was penned by the feminist ideologue, Barbara Ehrenreich, in a 1985 column for the New York Times. There, Ms. Ehrenreich deplored the “lasting … damage” done by the pro-life movement by “getting even pro-choice people to think of abortion as a ‘moral dilemma,’ an ‘agonizing decision,’ and related code phrases for something murky and compromising … Regrets are also fashionable, and one otherwise feminist author wrote recently of mourning, each year following her abortion, the putative birthday of her discarded fetus. I cannot speak for other women, of course, but the one regret I have about my own abortions is that they cost money that might otherwise have been spent on something more pleasurable, like taking the kids to movies and theme parks.”

Ms. Ehrenreich remains in a class, so to speak, of her own. But now comes Ruth Marcus, op-ed columnist and deputy editorial page director of the Washington Post, who, while admitting in a March 9 column that “the new Gerber baby with Down syndrome is awfully cute,” went on to announce that, “I can say without hesitation” that, had pre-natal testing shown her carrying a child with Down syndrome, “I would have terminated those pregnancies … grieved the loss and moved on.” Ms. Marcus went on to praise “families that knowingly welcome a baby with Down syndrome into their lives,” but candidly confessed that such a baby was “not the child I wanted … You can call me selfish, or worse, but I am in good company. The evidence is clear that most women confronted with the same unhappy alternative would make the same decision” to abort the Down syndrome child.

“Not the child I wanted.” There, in a single phrase, is the moral dereliction at the center of Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome: if a pregnancy is inconvenient for career purposes, or the child to be born seems unlikely to tick all the boxes of one’s expectation, one makes the choice – “tragic,” as Ms. Marcus admits, or No Big Deal, on the Ehrenreich scale of values – to destroy the indisputably human life one has procreated. Lebensunwertes leben, “life unworthy of life,” German eugenicists and legal scholars called it in the 1920s. And we all know, or should know, where that lethal logic led when the definition of the “unworthy” was extended beyond the mentally handicapped to include certain ethnic groups, thought not to be the kind of people other people wanted as neighbors and fellow-citizens.

The refusal to recognize that lethal logic is another facet of Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome. There can be no denial that the object of an abortion is a human being; elementary genetics teaches us that. What is at issue – what has always been at issue – is what is owed, morally and legally, to that human being. And if the lethal logic of Lebensunwertes leben prevails, where will the proponents of an unrestricted abortion license stop, when it comes to eliminating the inconvenient? Will the fourteen self-identified Catholic U.S. senators who voted recently against a late-term abortion ban stand firm against euthanasia?  Will they defend the conscience rights of Catholic medical professionals who refuse to participate in those euphemisms known as “pregnancy termination” or “death with dignity”? Don’t hold your breath.

Which brings us to the recent Democratic primary in Illinois’s 3rd congressional district. There, the heroic Dan Lipinski, a stalwart pro-lifer, survived a vicious challenge from another victim of Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome, Maria Newman, who got serious financial and ground-game support from Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Emily’s List. A few weeks before the primary, Ms. Newman told a rally of her supporters, “I know what’s in his heart, and it’s called hate. This guy is dangerous. His views are dangerous.”

That is what Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome has done to our politics: it’s made it possible to say that what’s in the heart of a mild-mannered gentleman like Dan Lipinski is “hate” – and get away with it. The defense of the indefensible leads to rage, and rage becomes a form of madness.

About George Weigel 184 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times (Ignatius Press, 2018). Mr. Weigel received a B.A. from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore and an M.A. from the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto. He is the recipient of eighteen honorary doctorates in fields including divinity, philosophy, law, and social science.

11 Comments

  1. How can we change a deranged mentality? I can understand some of R v. W when RTLers want to outlaw the procedure entirely. The medical field must provide guidance for a mother in trouble and needing an abortion. The church may want to attack abortion on demand or convenience abortions. That may be a first step in returning to sanity.

    • Yeah, Roe v. Wade is understandable with some of those abortions.

      Those hard sayings of the Church should be ignored and the medical providers should be followed instead.

      Some unborn are more ‘equal’ than others. Death is certainly the answer in those difficult cases.

      • Thanks Ramjet for that reply! Morgan in the following statement, maybe trying to be understanding, says it all…The medical field must provide guidance for a mother in trouble and needing an abortion…. The pro-abortion side believes that the baby is not worthy of having its life considered in the decision about the future. Fortunately there are many Catholics and others who will stand and speak for the children.

  2. The pursuit of truth is concomitant with the pursuit of knowledge a natural love in Man. That desire is prejudiced when a moral decision based on sentiment rather than what is true has been made that colors our perception. Love of life and that of others specifically the unborn surpasses the practicality of natural law. Aristotle the great philosopher ethicist perceived a utilitarian approach and thought abortion in his day licit exposing the post natal infant to the elements and death. The Christian revelation and grace raises human sensitivity of right and wrong and sharpens a clouded intellect. In America the abandonment of Common Law, specifically the Common Law of England initially mandated for the colonies in the Royal Charter based an argument on tradition and Christian ecclesiastic doctrine regarding sanctity of human life in the womb. That moral rational law was transgressed in an age when that grace inspired acumen was abandoned following the great economic abundance and life of leisure pleasure available to the citizen. Persons who favor indulgence in sensual pleasures personal well being above all else have already decided the issue of the right to life of an infant in the womb. Any rational argument demonstrating that a human life exists in the womb with a right to enter the world is refused not on the basis of reasonable argument rather the premises that lead to that conclusion are already jettisoned. In our culture of death this turn can only be reversed by the ‘primitive’ Christian notion of prayer and sacrifice.

    • Hi, Fr. Morello,

      Aristotle the great philosopher ethicist perceived a utilitarian approach and thought abortion in his day licit exposing the post natal infant to the elements and death.

      Can you give me a reference to look at for Aristotle’s views on infanticide?

      Thanks

      • Aristotle Politics VII, I section 1335b: As to exposing or rearing the children born, let there be a law that no deformed child shall be reared; but on the ground of number of children, if the regular customs hinder any of those born being exposed, there must be a limit fixed to the procreation of offspring, and if any people have a child as a result of intercourse in contravention of these regulations, abortion must be practiced on it before it has developed sensation and life.

        • Hi, Fr. Peter,

          Thanks for that.

          It is interesting that Aristotle thought that “abortion must be practiced” only “before [the child] has developed sensation and life.” One would think that his opposition to abortion after a sentient human being existed (he had no way of knowing that human life begins at conception) would have led to his opposition in all cases to letting infants die of exposure, yet he allows letting infants die that way in the case of a child born with deformities. He probably mistakenly thought that that was the humane thing to do.

          It seems to me that the seeds of respect for all human life were present and planted in Aristotle’s thought, but couldn’t grow into a flourishing sanctity-of-all-human-life ethic until watered by Christianity.

          • Harry your assessment of Aristotle’s perspective on abortion is feasible. Although I studied his Nicomachean Ethics and Aquinas’ Commentary it didn’t seem consistent with his overall ethical thought. Aristotle believed in a monotheistic Godhead but had to be cautious not to meet the fate of Socrates. He accepted an invitation from regent Philip of Macedonia to tutor his son. That son became Alexander the Great. He likely taught Alexander the virtues the moral being that even virtues can be used for evil ends.

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