An exercise of raw judicial power” is the way Justice Byron White described “Roe v. Wade” in his dissent back in 1973. It was that, and so much more. Referring to the Declaration of Independence, G.K. Chesterton described the United States as “the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” In his famous 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King gave voice to his dream that “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”
Roe v. Wade, by trumpeting a right to privacy that encompassed the right to take the life of tiny human beings, explicitly rejected the Declaration’s profession of belief, and moved this country to a practical embrace of atheism as a state religion.
A good many years ago, inspired by the example of the late Bishop Austin Vaughan, I had the privilege of participating in “Operation Rescue,” the program of non-violent civil disobedience that took place in front of abortion facilities. After an arrest in front of the clinic in Dobbs Ferry and a brief stay in the Westchester County jail, I returned to St. Teresa of Avila parish in Sleepy Hollow, in time to be present for the Tuesday night Spanish prayer group. During the prayers, one of the participants expressed gratitude for the activities of “Operation Rescue”—an effort, as she described it, “para defender los derechos de Dios”—to defend the rights of God.
It was a profound comment, and a perspective that I have not heard often enough during these past 50 years. The tendency to treat abortion as just one issue among many does not come to grips with Roe v. Wade’s unique challenge to the sovereignty of God. When God given rights are brazenly denied and idols like “raw judicial power” are set up, the type of slaughter that we have seen since Roe v. Wade becomes inevitable.
The great blessing of the Dobbs decision is that it sets aside the bogus “right” claimed by Roe, and thus places the country on an entirely different path. It is a limited triumph, of course, because the right to life of the unborn is not defended nationwide, but it is an important first step, in that many states have already enacted laws in order to protect the most defenseless among us.
Here in New York state, of course, we are faced with unique challenges. Our state government manifests a diabolical hostility to unborn lives, embodied by the “Reproductive Health Act” passed in 2019. In the face of governmental intransigence, a tremendous grass-roots effort will be required here, including education and all manner of support for women in crisis pregnancies. It is important to acknowledge, of course, the tremendous contributions of so many people over so many years that have led to the present movement. Maternity homes, crisis pregnancy centers, education efforts and public advocacy have all been part of the pushback against the evil decision that was Roe v. Wade, nationwide and here in the Archdiocese of New York. Fueling these efforts were the prayers and sacrifices of countless individuals
The late Cardinal O’Connor focused on the importance of prayer and fasting as the ultimate antidote to the satanic spirit that motivates the “culture of death.” New York State is a national disgrace because of the official embrace of that culture, but when sin abounds, grace does also. The Sisters of Life are the cardinal’s lasting legacy, and they serve as very special models for all pro-lifers, not because of anything they might do, but because of who they are. Their lives of prayer and fasting, and their benignity in the face of malice, are examples worthy of imitation.
In a memorable speech during his 1987 visit to the United States, Pope St. John Paul II called the belief in a God-given right to life and its defense as “the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival—yes the ultimate test of her greatness.” Trusting in God may we help our country pass that test, as we strive always to promote the “culture of life.”