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The toxic waste of Roe v. Wade

Far too many Catholic politicians have put a canine fealty to a shabby judicial diktat above the truth of science.

March for Life participants and counter-protesters hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, in 2018. (CNS photo/Peter Lockley)

Great Britain’s parliamentary democracy has no constitutional text, but rather a “constitution” composed of centuries of legal traditions and precedents. So when British courts make grave mistakes, those mistakes can be fixed, more or less readily, by Parliament. The American situation is quite different. Given a written constitution and the principle of judicial review, grave mistakes by the Supreme Court are exceptionally toxic and hard to remedy, as three wrongly-decided cases illustrate.

In 1857, the Court declared in Dred Scott v. Sanford that the Constitution recognized no rights inherent in black people the white majority was bound to acknowledge – and thereby accelerated the process of national dissolution leading to the Civil War, in which over 700,000 Americans killed each other. Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutionality of racially segregated public facilities in 1896, kept Jim Crow alive, delayed the full legal implementation of the 13th and 14th amendments, and poisoned the Democratic Party for generations by giving inordinate weight within party counsels to segregationists, who cowed even Franklin D. Roosevelt. It took a half century of civil rights struggle and the 1964 Civil Rights Act to begin repairing the damage Plessy had done.

Then there was Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton: the 1973 Supreme Court decisions that invented a constitutional right to abortion throughout a pregnancy. Denounced by Justice Byron White in his dissent as “an exercise in raw judicial power,” Roe’s effects on American political culture have been as toxic as Dred Scott and Plessy.

Defending Roe’s abortion license has become a prime imperative for the national Democratic Party. And because of that, far too many Catholic politicians, including the Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 and 2020, have put a canine fealty to a shabby judicial diktat above the truth of science (the product of human conception is a unique human being) and the moral truth we can know by reason (in a just society, innocent human life is protected in law). Roe has also jeopardized religious freedom and the rights of conscience, corrupted the medical professions, and eroded the authority of the states to regulate medical practice.

In an attempt to buttress Roe, a three-judge plurality in 1992’s Casey v. Planned Parenthood cheapened the “liberty” to which the Founders pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor,” reducing it to a sheer personal willfulness that turns “I Did It My Way” into the unofficial national anthem. And thanks to Roe, Supreme Court nomination hearings have become exercises in character assassination with no holds barred.

While political scientists may wonder why the defense of Roe’s abortion license has become so fevered, comparative religious studies may provide an answer: for those who worship the totem of the imperial autonomous Self (the false god of “Me, Myself, and I”), the abortion license has become sacramental – an outward sign of the inner reality of women’s autonomy; an outward sign, for men, of their acquiescence to forms of feminism that promote freedom-as-autonomy.

Unquestioning faith in that which is unworthy of faith darkens the mind, so that otherwise intelligent people are blinded to the reality of things. This was true of primitive religions, and sadly enough, similar phenomena are at work today. For other than a debilitating myopia caused by the credulous belief that abortion-on-demand is a “civil right,” why would so many black political leaders support a practice that, thanks to Planned Parenthood’s inner-city “reproductive health” clinics, has caused the mass slaughter of unborn black children, thereby making African Americans the second-largest minority group in the United States?

Today’s Supreme Court agitations involve many issues, including the oversized role of the judiciary in our constitutional order. Those issues deserve a serious, thoughtful, public airing. For many of those bending every effort to defeat Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Court, however, the meta-issue will be the defense of an abortion license they not only support, but revere. And that ultramundane reverence explains why their efforts will be so vicious. False gods often underwrite human cruelty.

A Supreme Court that hollows out or even reverses Roe v. Wade will not settle the American abortion debate; it will return the issue to the states, where there will be mixed results for the cause of life. But a post-Roe America will have expelled a rotting bone from the national throat. And that America will then have the opportunity to demonstrate, state by state, whether we are a people capable of morally serious democratic deliberation.

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About George Weigel 484 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. 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 Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Weigel concludes: “…America will then have the opportunity to demonstrate, state by state, whether we are a people capable of morally serious democratic deliberation.” Not an entirely optimistic situation….

    Yesterday’s Supreme Court fetus-cancellation fatwa conceived (!) the “cancel-culture” of today’s grown survivors. But historical memory is not totally erased….Indeed, the street-mob of Barrett assassins will actually maintain a tradition from yesteryear’s primitive New Guinea. New tribal-culture mothers were required to feed their first child to the pigs, and then (in his or her place) to suckle a sow’s piglet. Likewise, abortion—-the rite of passage into “modernity” and maybe a corner office in the job market.

    Today, how will “modern” society now question 73 million court-sanctioned abortions since 1973? Project Rachel? Amy Coney Barrett? Better to abort such “morally serious democratic deliberation.” Shoot the messenger. The multicultural (!) cancel-culture demands it.

  2. Brilliant polemic pointing out the insanity that even the best of minds can indulge; surely this illustrates what is meant by Original Sin and demonic obsession. The horror is that the experts accused Jesus of being the possessed – and they backed it up with the death penalty! And Jesus’ followers took flight. It is not easy to speak the truth in the face of seemingly overwhelming evil; we could not do it except for knowing that Jesus rose again! And that he sent his Holy Spirit to accompany us.

  3. Mr. Weigel is 100% correct. Roe has poisoned our political life for decades. We now have a bumper crop of politicians who loudly proclaim their Catholic identity while vigorously promoting abortion on demand until birth. Most disheartening is the stunning silence of so many bishops who welcome these politicians to the Communion table. Is it any wonder that people think the Church has changed its teaching on abortion? The bishops’ duty is to uphold the truths of the faith and to correct error. If they believe abortion is a terrible evil, the bishops should act like it is.

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