Monday, January 23, 2006

The Children of Roe

Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that struck down almost all legal restrictions upon abortion and created out of whole cloth the fictive "right" to abortion. There have been several articles in the last few days, such as this at National Review Online, examining, especially in view of the Samuel Alito nomination, the likely future of the abortion license.

I won't attempt to prognosticate whether Roe is likely to be struck down in the foreseeable future, though I eagerly long to see such a day come, and pray for it fervently. But what is clear to me is that, regardless of the legal status of abortion in our nation, much still needs to be done, in converting hearts, to change its moral status.

Before I entered the seminary, I spent a couple of years teaching Latin, both part and full-time, in public schools in suburban Maryland. In my last year teaching (knowing that I was going to seminary the following fall and perhaps, thereby, feeling emboldened), I announced to my classes that I would be absent the following Monday because I was participating in the March for Life (I took one of my "personal" days to do this). The reaction of my students was instructive.

Several of my students were outspokenly supportive and expressed their own pro-life convictions. A majority of them, however, were not. What was most striking were the reactions of a number of the girls in the class. They regarded abortion quite simply as their "right" - that was their only frame of reference. Considerations of the humanity of the unborn child or its claims on a right to life simply did not enter their thinking. They regarded efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade and outlaw or limit abortion as "taking something away" from them.

These kids had grown up in a world which had always had abortion. Their world-view was in part defined by "choice" and its consequences. They had assimilated the toxic self-absorption that the logic of Roe entails. It wasn't so much that they had a principled "pro-choice" position, as that they had internalized the mantra of "choice" which the organs of our culture have propagated for the past 30 years. And many of them had never heard anything approaching a reasoned defense of the pro-life position. These students are the children of Roe: pro-abortion by cultural osmosis.

Regardless of what becomes of abortion legally, the work of informing and changing the hearts the Children of Roe has barely begun. Even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the poison of that decision, and the whole intellectual-cultural edifice built upon it, will continue to circulate through our society for decades to come. Ultimately, the Culture of Life will not be built of laws, but built of the lives of a people who have come to see the meaning and dignity of human life, and embrace it as a gift to be treasured, rather than a thing to be tolerated, used, or destroyed according to our own purposes.

If Roe is overturned, it will not be the end of a struggle, but only a beginning. And that is why our primary weapons must be spiritual: Today was marked by our bishops as one for prayer and penance. Much more of these will be needed in the months and years to come.