Roe v. Wade: Its Logic and Its Legacy -- By: Francis J. Beckwith

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 07:2 (Summer 2003)
Article: Roe v. Wade: Its Logic and Its Legacy
Author: Francis J. Beckwith

Roe v. Wade:
Its Logic and Its Legacy

Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith is Associate Professor of Church-State Studies, and Associate Director of the J. M. Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies, Baylor University. Dr. Beckwith is a graduate of Fordham University (Ph.D.) and the Washington University School of Law, St. Louis (M.J.S.). His most recent book is Law, Darwinism & Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.” (Thomas Jefferson)

“Anyone in America who writes these days about abortion must take account of the landmark decision of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade; and in estimating the ‘quality of mind’ manifested by the Court, he would have to regard that profundity which stands near the beginning of Justice Blackmun’s opinion for the majority: ‘Pregnancy often comes more than once to the same woman, and ... if man is to survive, [pregnancy] will always be with us.’ One becomes aware instantly that one is in the presence of no ordinary mind.” (Hadley Arkes, 1986)

It is no exaggeration to say that no U. S. Supreme Court opinion has been more misunderstood and its arguments more misrepresented in the public square than Roe v. Wade (1973).1 There seems to be a widespread perception that Roe was a moderate opinion that does not support abortion on demand, i.e., unrestricted abortion for all nine months for virtually any reason. Even a philosopher of such erudition as Mortimer Adler did not seem to understand fully the legal implications of Roe: “Mr. Justice Blackmun’s decision in the case of Roe v. Wade invokes the right of privacy, which is nothing but the freedom of an adult woman to do as she pleases with her own body in the first trimester of pregnancy.”2

This is not merely a theoretical issue. It has practical implications that bear on the case pro-lifers may make in the public square in attempting to sway their fellow citizens. For example, in the 1990 pro-life campaign in Nevada to defeat an abortionchoice referendum, KLAS-TV (channel 8), a CBS affiliate, refused to air a commercial that featured former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball star (and son of its former coach, Jerry Tarkanian), Danny Tarkanian. In the commercial, Danny, a licensed attorney, claimed that current Nevada law permitted abortions for all nine months of pregnancy for reasons as trivial as sex-selection (i.e., a woman has an abortion because the child is...

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