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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Roe v Wade’s Toxic Impact



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National Right to Life News asked me to ponder Roe v Wade as it turns 41. I have nothing new to add on the abortion debate. But I do think the case has had broad influence beyond that issue, so I agreed.

Many see Roe as promoting freedom for women. I see it more in the line of Dred Scott–and even more, the infamous pro-eugenics case, Buck v BellFrom, “Roe v Wade’s Toxic Fruit:”

Roe relativized nascent human life by making the moral value of a fetus dependent on whether he or she is wanted. Perhaps even more destructively, it also legitimized the dangerous notion that taking human life—killing—is a morally acceptable answer to human suffering.

That meme expanded beyond abortion, for example, leading to the view that born people like Terri Schiavo can be dehydrated to death over two weeks in all ethics and morality. There is now, as I have often described here, much talk of killing them for their organs.

Assisted suicide advocates have consciously tried to tie their agenda to the Roe license:

Meanwhile, assisted suicide advocates explicitly tie their death agenda to the abortion license, claiming that anyone who supports the right of “pregnancy termination” should also support the right of for the sick and disabled to self-terminate.

Following Roe’s legal playbook, assisted suicide advocates have repeatedly sought court rulings creating a constitutional right to what they euphemistically call “aid in dying.”</p>

Those efforts failed. But a New Mexico trial judge just danced to that tune, as I wrote about here.

Roe has also influenced the ongoing campaign to legitimize infanticide. More immediately, it sparked a huge cultural struggle, known as “medical conscience,” over whether medical professionals will one day be coerced into performing abortions or assisted suicide–or lose their careers.

I conclude with praise for the pro-life movement, which I see as a force for good in society:

There is a great old Talmudic saying: “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world..” If that is true—and I think it is great wisdom—how many worlds have been saved by the pro-life movement since Roe v Wade? Beyond counting! I have met some of them, and so have you.

People certainly differ whether these and other impacts that I didn’t have space to mention–such as the prenatal search and destroy mission against fetuses with Down syndrome–have been positive or negative. But I don’t think my perspective about how Roe v Wade materially impacted society far beyond abortion can be denied.



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