The Corner

Law & the Courts

Opposing Roe Isn’t about Religion

Planned Parenthood president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest against anti-abortion legislation at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., May 21, 2019. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

Supreme Court writer Linda Greenhouse has a New York Times column this morning indulging in the lazy argument that those who favor pro-life policies wish to impose their religion through the law. Because of pro-lifers we are, in short, “lurching toward theocracy.”

“Republican politicians used to offer secular rationales for their anti-abortion zealotry: They claimed that abortion hurt women or that abortion procedures demeaned the medical profession,” Greenhouse writes, adding,

I could go on with this list, but these examples are sufficient to raise the question for those of us not on board with the theocratizing of America: Who let God into the legislative chamber?

The answer is that we did. Our silence has turned us into enablers of those who are now foisting their religious beliefs on a country founded on opposition to an established church.

She enumerates the Catholic justices on the Court, and while she notes that two of them voted the way she would have preferred on the Texas Heartbeat Act, she fails to acknowledge that this undercuts her case. She admiringly cites former New York governor Mario Cuomo, who pioneered the incoherent notion that a politician could “personally oppose” abortion because of his religious beliefs while prudently refusing to “impose” his own morality on the populace. This argument makes no more sense now than it did when Cuomo debuted it in 1984.

For one thing, all laws impose some vision of morality. Laws against theft, murder, and slavery similarly echo the theology of several major religions — and are based on a certain notion of right and wrong, ie., morality — yet few would oppose those laws on the grounds that they improperly inject religion into public life. This argument rarely arises in the context of any law other than those regulating abortion, and it would be dismissed out of hand if it did. It functions merely to silence abortion opponents without addressing their actual arguments.

Meanwhile, only ignorance or intellectual dishonesty could explain Greenhouse’s refusal to acknowledge that the central arguments against Roe v. Wade and legal abortion are not religious in nature and are shared by any number of non-religious Americans. Roe is an anti-constitutional travesty. It’s bad law. Legal scholars across the political spectrum and with divergent views on abortion have said as much. Arguments in favor of striking down the Court’s groundless and unworkable abortion jurisprudence have nothing to do with religion.

Likewise, one need not be religious to acknowledge biological reality: The unborn child is a distinct, living human being. Abortion therefore is an act of violence. It is a procedure that, when successful, kills that distinct, living human being. It should be obvious that attempting to restrict or abolish such a procedure does not require imposing God or religion on other citizens; it doesn’t even require belief in God.

Greenhouse is far from the first commentator to insist that opposition to abortion stems from a desire to impose one’s faith on others. It’s a highly unoriginal argument most often advanced by zealous abortion-rights activists, who disparage their opponents in lieu of defending their own position — and Greenhouse should know better than to indulge in it.

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