I hope everyone had a pleasant and safe Fourth of July. Of course, when we think of Independence Day we no doubt think about our basic freedoms that were articulated so elegantly in the Declaration of Independence. We think wistfully of our Founding Fathers, debating back and forth for months upon end in the steaming heat of that Philadelphia summer.
Or, I could be wrong.
Maybe most folks just think about tossing firecrackers at passing automobiles from the parkway overhang or pigging out on beer and hot dogs. Or maybe Independence Day is that Will Smith movie where the aliens blew up the White House. You decide. As for me, thinking me-self a scholar of sorts, I will take the high road.
We all know by now that the word “abortion” is not in the Declaration of Independence or in the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, I am no expert but I’ll venture to guess that the word never even came up during the deliberations over those two historic documents. Now, the pro-lifers will say: “Wake up, Pat, the framers were thinking about abortion when they wrote that we are guaranteed “LIFE, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” So, there’s the proof that Jefferson, Franklin, et al were opposed to abortion. That’s a bunch of horse dung and everyone knows it. Chances are that when Jefferson read that line aloud to the delegates, they all looked at him and said “good line, Tommy, let’s get on with it” and there was no discussion after that. They had more important things to discuss, like the question of slavery.
Ultimately, as we all know, on January 22, 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the landmark Roe v Wade decision. Ironically, the decision was not the headline of the day because on that same day President Lyndon Baines Johnson died. In the Roe decision, the Court said basically said that the constitutional right to privacy extended to the right of a woman to obtain an abortion. Yes, the word “privacy” cannot be found anywhere in the original Constitution but that document is a living document, our interpretation of it evolves (if it didn’t, blacks would still be using separate bathrooms) and in previous decisions the Court had determined that married couples had a right to privacy when it came to birth control. So, this decision took that right one step further.
In so many words, Blackmun and the 6 other justices who joined him, said that a woman could have an abortion through the second trimester with basically no questions asked. After the fetus became viable, the states could impose restrictions (which most of them have). Thus started the abortion wars. The pro-life movement was born, the battle lines were drawn and the public was subjected to decades of dueling bumper stickers.
Interestingly, the ONLY time the pro-life movement was able to force a vote reversing the Roe v Wade decision was in 1983, when the Senate overwhelming defeated the Hatch Constitutional Amendment. It was not even close. While pro-life forces needed 67 votes to pass the Amendment, they didn’t even get a majority. The final vote was 49 in favor and 51 against. Since then, despite the fact that pro-life Congressmen have chaired important committees (e.g., Cong. Henry Hyde chaired the House Judiciary Committee), no similar measure has ever been considered by the Congress. The bottom line is that the pro-life movement just does not have the votes to outlaw abortion. So, we’re in good shape there.
But watch out for the Supreme Court, folks. That’s another story.