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Dobbs and the vindication of American democracy

The Supreme Court has struck a blow for civil rights as important as the blow it struck in Brown v. Board of Education.    

The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. / Shutterstock

Prior to June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court’s most important civil rights decision was handed down on May 17, 1954. Then, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Court declared racially segregated public facilities unconstitutional, effectively reversing its 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld state-mandated segregation laws.

Now, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court has effectively buried the gross errors of constitutional interpretation made in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania (1992), the first of which invented a spurious right-to-abortion that was affirmed by the second.

Roe and Casey are now consigned to the dustbin of history. The highest court of the world’s pre-eminent democracy has determined that the U.S. Constitution includes no “right” to terminate the life of an unborn human being. In doing so, the Supreme Court has struck a blow for civil rights as important as the blow it struck in Brown v. Board of Education.    

There will be ample time in the months ahead to reflect upon the political, cultural and social ramifications of the Dobbs decision, which are sure to be tremendous. For the moment, and in the immediate aftermath of a decision that at least some pro-lifers privately feared they would never see, it is good to celebrate the heroes of the pro-life cause. They fought for the truth against immense cultural and political pressures; they refused to accept the dictum of the New York Times editorial board, which, the day after Roe was issued, harrumphed and declared the abortion debate over; and they respectfully declined to follow the instruction to cease-and-desist addressed to them by the Supreme Court’s plurality opinion in Casey.

Those pro-life heroes have been, and are, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and secular. Permit me to mention several Catholic heroes living and dead, whose conscientious work won the scientific, medical, philosophical, and legal arguments while creating thousands of pro-life pregnancy and maternity centers where women in crisis pregnancies can find a humane response in their immediate hour of need, and beyond.

I think of then-Msgr. James McHugh, who created the pro-life office at the U.S. bishops conference. Often embattled, that office became a bulwark of the pro-life movement’s argumentation and advocacy thanks to such stalwart leaders as Gail Quinn, Richard Doerflinger, Helen Alvaré, Deirdre McQuade, Amy McInerny and so many others.

I think of Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York, who refused to let his brother bishops flag in their pro-life advocacy when some were growing tired of the struggle.

I think of public officials of both parties: Henry Hyde of Illinois, the powerful and effective leader of congressional pro-life forces for decades; Chris Smith of New Jersey, who assumed Hyde’s mantle on his retirement; and Governor Robert Casey of Pennsylvania.

I think of scholars and authors: John T. Noonan, Jr., who briskly eviscerated Roe v. Wade in A Private Choice; James T. Burtchaell, CSC, whose Rachel Weeping is perhaps the most elegant book-length statement of the pro-life case; Richard John Neuhaus, a pro-life champion as both Lutheran pastor and Catholic priest, whose 1967 article in Commonweal, warning his liberal friends in the civil rights movement against being seduced by the “pro-choice” mantra, won a Catholic Press Association award (those were the days…); Mary Ann Glendon, whose impeccable scholarship has kept the pro-life flag flying boldly at Harvard Law School and throughout the world.    

I think of Jeanne Mancini, who, with the unflagging support of the Knights of Columbus, has built on Nellie Gray’s work and made the annual March for Life bigger, more powerful, and ever more insistent that the pro-life movement is a pro-women movement.

I think of the Gabriel Project, Project Rachel and the volunteers who staff those expressions of Christian love and compassion, which demonstrate the mendacity of the charge that pro-lifers only care about babies before they’re born and ignore women who’ve suffered the trauma of abortion.

There are so many more. God bless them all.

One final point as the debate over the right-to-life moves into state legislatures: After Dobbs, it will be harder to argue that the abortion license decreed by Roe v. Wade was gestated in the womb of the Declaration of Independence and latent in the concept of liberty prevalent at the American Founding. Properly understood, the civil rights triumph of June 24, 2022 will help clear the ground on which the hard work of rebuilding a culture of life can continue — a culture that does not mistake liberty for license, which was a notion foreign to the Founders and Framers.


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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).

8 Comments

  1. Plessy vs. Ferguson upheld the right of each state to make its own laws with regard to segregation. Dobbs does the same with regard to abortion. Brown was an abomination, and no conservative should be praising it.

  2. One correction: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka effectively was a harbinger of a blow AGAINST civil rights. It in essence prohibited people from deciding to conserve their ethnic identity and protect their progeny. So much for a free country.

    • In fact he adamantly told Catholic America not to vote for Trump, publicly, on The World Over, then had the audacity to lie and deny it years later claiming that Trump was just not his preferred Republican candidate.

    • No.
      In March 2016, Robert P. George and Weigel (with 7-8 signatories of Weigel’s EPPC and some 20 other Catholic elites) penned a screed against Trump. National Review published it.

      “…the Republican party has been a vehicle — imperfect, like all human institutions, but serviceable — for promoting causes at the center of Catholic social concern in the United States: (1) providing legal protection for unborn children, the physically disabled and cognitively handicapped, the frail elderly, and other victims of what Saint John Paul II branded “the culture of death”; (2) defending religious freedom in the face of unprecedented assaults by officials at every level of government who have made themselves the enemies of conscience; (3) rebuilding our marriage culture, based on a sound understanding of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and (4) re-establishing constitutional and limited government, according to the core Catholic social-ethical principle of subsidiarity.”
      ….

      The diatribe’s final sentence was:
      “Mr. Trump’s record and his campaign… promise only the further degradation of our politics and our culture.”

    • Francis, about Trump offered: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” said Pope Francis on the papal plane returning from Mexico,…

      Evidently locking church doors during the pandemic and suppressing Masses of certain patrimony inside Catholic churches is not wall-building, the speaker is not Christian, or the above is just one more fiction. Meanwhile, Nan and Joe are warmly welcome to receive Holy Communion with no manifest note of magisterial work of mercy by the current franchisee.

  3. I thank the Supreme Court justices most of all. They need our prayers of gratitude and prayers for their protection.

    I’m truly very tired of Marching for Life in my state capitol. I’m tired of providing prayerful, peaceful, present vigils on sidewalks outside Planned Parenthood clinics, Forty Days for Life during Lent and Advent. I’m tired of having to fight parish priests to get a spot on the parish web site about our parish pro-life group, for permission to place announcements in the parish bulletin, for any parish fund for any of our group’s activities. The parish fights are now gone, so yes, we’ve had some ‘success,’ thank God.

    The state fight remains. Our commitment to fearful, friendless, lost and forlorn young women remains. God please give the warriors in these new battles the strength, courage, and protection to continue till all families in all states are free from abortion’s scourge. There is so much more work to be done, and I’m tired.

    • Yeah I noticed Mr. anti trump didn’t give any credit to the person most directly responsible for the overturn besides the judges themselves. Donald Trump.

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  1. Dobbs and the vindication of American democracy – Via Nova Media
  2. Dobbs and the vindication of American democracy | (FMSH) - Franciscan Missionaries Sisters of Hope

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