Last updated on December 10th, 2021 at 08:33 am
“Roe versus Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey [affirming Roe’s essential holding] haunt our country. They have no basis in the Constitution. They have no home in our history or traditions. They’ve damaged the democratic process. They’ve poisoned the law.” So stated Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart to the United States Supreme Court on December 1, 2021, at the beginning of oral argument (transcript available here) in the highly charged case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
But America is also haunted by a countervailing voice to Roe, the voice of a now-departed tiny nun whose courageous plea to America has never been more urgent. Speaking at the 1982 Harvard graduation ceremony, Mother Teresa told this ultra-liberal institution, “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.”
Reporting her speech, the Harvard Journal related that “the ‘angel’ of Calcutta… spoke with almost mesmerizing conviction; her excellent English had an accent and cadence compounded of her native Yugoslavia and India. What she said struck many listeners as anomalous in Harvard Yard on Class Day, but she received a long, standing ovation from the unusually large crowd come to hear a saintly woman.”
Years later Mother Teresa would emphasize that Roe was not just a moral catastrophe but also a tragic betrayal of America’s founding principle. In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in the 1994 cases of Loce v. New Jersey and Krail et al. v. New Jersey, she reiterated the self-evident truths articulated in the Declaration of Independence—“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”—and spoke of America’s continuing obligation flowing from that Declaration.
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. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts—a child—as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered domination over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. 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.
Mother Teresa’s teaching goes to the very heart of our national ethos and the principles that define us, not only in the Declaration that severed ties with Great Britain but also in the document being scrutinized and argued over in the Dobbs case: the Constitution. It is grounded, according to Matthew Spalding, in those “permanent truths about man, politics, and liberty” articulated in the Declaration of Independence—to which the Constitution ties itself. For as Kevin Seamus Hasson points out, the Constitution does not claim to grant the blessings of liberty but rather to secure them, thereby referring back to the Declaration of Independence.
America has chosen—from the Declaration on—to accept the premise that it is “self-evident” that we are “all…created equal” and “endowed by [our] Creator with certain inalienable rights.” The Declaration further teaches that the proper role of government is to “secure” the people’s rights. Not to “bestow” or “grant” those rights, but to “secure” them. The rights already exist. We need the government only to respect our rights in the way it treats us, and to guard our rights against infringement by others. The preamble to the Constitution uses the same verb, secure, in order to acknowledge that point.
Clearly there is no right to abortion in the Constitution, whose very purpose is to secure our unalienable right to life as endowed by the Creator Himself. No wonder the jurisprudential and constitutional train wreck known as Roe v. Wade stands alone, as pointed out by Solicitor General Stewart at oral argument: “Nowhere else does this Court recognize a right to end a human life.” And no wonder Roe has wreaked such havoc, as emphasized by former Vice President Mike Pence the day before oral argument in Dobbs:
“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.”
After nearly half a century and some 62 million abortions, we call upon our nation’s most powerful tribunal to overturn Roe v. Wade, that “infinitely tragic and destructive departure” from our founding principles, as Mother Teresa called it. “I seek only,” she pled with America in her amicus brief, “to recall you to faithfulness to what you once taught the world… that human life is a gift of immeasurable worth, and that it deserves–always and everywhere–to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.” It is time for the Supreme Court to hear her plea.