On July 4, 1776, in the Second Continental Congress, fifty-six delegates declared—at the peril of their lives—not only their independence from Great Britain but also the foundational truths for which they were willing to die:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
On June 24, 2022, in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, five Justices of the Supreme Court implicitly declared—also at the peril of their lives—that they adhered to those same truths, even as they honored their oath to “support and defend the Constitution.” Exposing the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling as “egregiously wrong from the start,” the Justices held that it “must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision…. It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
Roe exceeded its constitutional authority by usurping power that, under the Tenth Amendment, is reserved to the States—“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”—and did so by attacking the most precious right the Constitution was created to secure: Roe has cost the lives of over 63 million babies. Its blatant departure from the nation’s founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as expressed in the Declaration of Independence was pointed out to the Court by Mother Teresa in 1994.
A nation founded on these principles holds a sacred trust: to stand as an example to the rest of the world, to climb ever higher in its practical realization of the ideals of human dignity, brotherhood, and mutual respect. Your constant efforts in fulfillment of that mission, far more that your size or your wealth or your military might, have made America an inspiration to all mankind…. Yet there has been one infinitely tragic and destructive departure from those American ideals in recent memory. It was this Court’s own decision in Roe v. Wade to exclude the unborn child from the human family…. America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation…. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.
Never has any Fourth of July celebration in the last fifty years been so authentic as the one we will now commemorate by remembering the Declaration’s Creator-endowed right to life. And as we honor the courageous Founders of 1776 who refused to be silenced as they declared that right, we also honor the courageous Justices of 2022—Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett—who refused to be silenced as they rescued that right from one of the most egregious constitutional violations in our history.
Even so, this dramatic course correction does not end the issue of abortion, which now goes back to the States, making Mother Teresa’s words to the 1982 Harvard graduating class still urgent.
It is something unbelievable that today a mother, herself, murders her own child, afraid of having to feed one more child, afraid to educate one more child. This is one of the greatest poverties. A nation, people, family that allows that, that accepts that, they are the poorest of the poor.
Poverty indeed, both spiritual and physical, has followed in the wake of Roe. Former Vice President Mike Pence recently observed,
Nothing has been more destabilizing in our society for the last 50 years than legalized abortion. I believe it’s no coincidence that the last half century has seen a persistent rise in family instability, single-parent households, a decline in family formation, increase in unplanned pregnancies, and an explosion in sexually transmitted disease [while] unborn children have been relegated into a caste of second-class citizens—devoid of the most basic human rights.
On the day Roe was overturned, I texted my friend and colleague Jeanne Head, with whom I have been privileged to work at numerous United Nations conferences in New York and around the world. No one has done more to prevent abortion from being classified as an international fundamental human right than Jeanne. If you have never heard of her, it is because she has never sought the limelight. But her impact has been colossal. She has been honored, for example, as the recipient of the 2011 Gerard Health Foundation’s Life Prize, and of the 2022 Maximilian Kolbe Friend to the Nations Medal.
In my text, I mentioned what a beautiful and memorable day this was, and thanked her for dedicating her life to protect the world’s unborn children. She characteristically deflected the praise and then commented, “I thought I wouldn’t see this in my lifetime. But, of course, now the harder work is ahead.”
As we seize this remarkable opportunity to rebuild a culture of life, Jeanne’s words from years ago ring in our ears. “I encourage people who think they can’t do anything to get involved. The pro-life movement is made up of ordinary people doing extraordinary things with God’s help. We can make a difference. We have no idea what we can do until we try.”