This editorial was published in the February 16, 1973 issue of Commonweal, which was merely weeks after the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.
The decision of the United States Supreme Court in favor of abortion is a fair measure of the growing secularization of American society and of the political impotence of the American Catholic Church.
We grant that law only imperfectly reflects a society’s values. We know that in a pluralistic society minorities must sometimes live with laws that violate their beliefs. We acknowledge that in some states too restrictive abortion laws needed reform; and we concede that good men have argued well that abortion should be allowed as a lesser evil in special cases—when the mother’s life is endangered, rape, incest, or a severely damaged fetus.
Yet, what a society values it protects with laws. In that sense, civil rights, minimum wage and welfare bills have a moral dimension in that they witness to the national community’s concern for every member; and state laws restricting abortion at least testified to some consensus that life in process is life and must be protected.
Now, says the Court, that consensus is gone. In limiting the term “person” to those already born, in making abortion a purely “private” decision, in applying that slippery term “meaningful” to a child’s life, and in trying to wash its hands of the question of when life begins by claiming that theologians, philosophers, and scientists had failed to answer it, the Court has, in effect, determined when life may begin. It has diminished the whole concept of what it means to be a person and succumbed to that cultural elitism that marks cultures content with their values while slipping into decline.