by Robert G. Morrison
I became pro-life at University of Virginia. First, there was UVa founder, Thomas Jefferson. I memorized Mr. Jefferson’s quotes the way many Christians memorize Bible verses. He wrote: “The protection of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government” (March 31, 1809).
Jefferson in the Declaration taught us that we are created equal and are endowed by our Creator with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Second, of course, there is science. I took Biology 1. And I failed it. Had to take it twice. But I never flunked the part about human reproduction. Human life begins at conception. Dr. Howard Hamilton drilled that part into us.
Dr. Hamilton even told us a story about the entrance of the sperm into the egg. There had been a “panty raid” at McKim Hall the night before. Some beery UVa fraternity boys had put a ladder up to the second-floor dorm for nursing students.
But some of those young women had to lean out the window to keep the boys from falling off the ladder. They pulled those woozy lads through the window and safely into McKim dorm.
Mr. Hamilton taught us the egg actually draws the sperm into itself, forming the zygote. That’s conception. And human life begins.
Not only did UVa teach me the truth about human life, so did my Coast Guard boot camp company commander. I recently got an email from the son of Boatswain Mate Chief Clarence Ward Hollowell. He is grateful I thanked and praised Chief Hollowell in my writing.
I tell of my first time on the rifle range. We fired at targets, and beyond those targets was the Atlantic Ocean. I was thrilled. It was the first time I had ever held a lethal weapon. I even learned how to disassemble and re-assemble my M-1 Garrand rifle. It was vintage WWII.
I was scoring a bull’s eye with every shot. But Chief Hollowell brought down his swagger stick on my rifle barrel. THWACK! “Cease fire,” he yelled. “CEASE FIRE!” I was annoyed. He was stopping me from becoming an expert rifleman.
Chief Hollowell pointed out to sea with his swagger stick. A tiny white triangle was barely visible on the horizon. Had to be ten miles out to sea. Our WWII vintage M-1s couldn’t shoot that far.
Even so, Chief Hollowell bellowed to all of us in our Lima 74 company, ordering us to stop shooting.
“That could be a sailboat. There would be people in that sailboat. We are the Coast Guard. We are the life savers.
“We don’t take a chance with yooman lahf.”
I remembered all this when I was in Washington on January 22, 1973. As soon as Roe v. Wade was handed down, I knew it was wrong. It was wrong because it sought to make killing of unborn children a civil right.
It was also wrong, I knew, because it proclaimed we do not know when human life begins. That is a LIE. (No wonder even the pro-abortion Supreme Court clerks dismissed Blackmun’s opinion as “Harry’s abortion.”)
Before he joined the Supreme Court, Harry Blackmun had been the lawyer for Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Surely, there was not a single doctor at Mayo Clinic who did not know when human life begins. Harry had only to ask any resident or intern training there. First-year med students could have told him.
Now, we have the Dobbs ruling. It is right to say that Roe v. Wade was an erroneous diktat. Dobbs correctly and carefully shows how the methods used in 1973 to cut corners and falsify history and science, as well as law, rendered it an illegitimate interpretation of the Constitution. Reversed it should have been.
Still, the Dobbs ruling does not go far enough. It makes no reference to the right to life defined by the Declaration of Independence.
Abraham Lincoln viewed the Constitution through the lens of the Declaration of Independence. He poetically drew on Scripture to say, “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Psalm 25:11-13). Lincoln described the ideals of the Declaration as apples of gold. To protect them, he saw the Constitution as the picture [frame] of silver.
The Dobbs ruling takes no position on the rights of unborn children—if any—that are “enjoyed by prenatal life.” Rights that are enjoyed are not endowed. They are mere gifts that can be offered or denied.
Rights that are endowed by the Creator must be recognized as unalienable. They cannot be taken away. This is the guarantee of minorities.
They do not enjoy their God-given rights at the sufferance of the majority. Their rights are, by definition, human rights. On the sanctity of human life, the Dobbs majority takes no position.
From 1980 until 2016, the Republican Party platform asserted and reasserted that “unborn children have a right to life that cannot be infringed.” Dobbs says that right to life may be infringed—but only if a majority of a state legislature says so.
Roe v. Wade was also wrong in its attempt to introduce the variable concept of “viability” into our constitutional law. As early as 1983, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was right to note the inconsistency of the trimester system upon which Blackmun based his ruling. “The Roe framework … is clearly on a collision course with itself … As medical science becomes better able to provide for the separate existence of the fetus, the point of viability is moved further back toward conception.”
O’Connor saw it clearly then, but nine years later, even she and her plurality partners drove off the bridge together in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).
Viability, simply understood, says that when the unborn child is most under-developed and in most need of protection is the period when she is at greatest danger legally. If she is not capable of surviving outside her mother’s womb, she may be killed with impunity, says the viability notion.
Is this not the opposite of all moral thought? Why do we put our little children in car seats? Is it not because they need greater safeguards?
Lincoln faced the 1850s version of viability. Northern politicians tried to gain votes among people in Free States. These “doughfaces” argued that we are pro-choice about slavery, and we recognize that Negroes may not be viable in free society. Slavery, therefore, may be what is most appropriate for Black people—in other places.
Lincoln showed this reasoning was the opposite of all Christian morality. Even if we accept the argument that the Negro is not viable in freedom, shall we take from him “the little that God has given him?” Give to him that is needy is the rule of Christian morality, Lincoln showed.
He added: Although volumes have been written to show the good of slavery, we never see a man who seeks the good of slavery by becoming a slave himself. Thus, Lincoln, in an apple of gold of his own thinking, dismissed the stacks of volumes penned by John C. Calhoun and other slavery apologists.
More recently, the correct view of viability was taken by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Guard celebrated 200 years by announcing it had saved one million human lives. That was in 1990. By now, that figure has vastly increased, but not one of those saved lives was viable. That’s why we need a Coast Guard. (And I am grateful that I came to faith in Christ while serving in the Coast Guard. One of those lives saved was my own.)
Law is a teacher. Our abortion law teaches that violence is acceptable. That is why we read of mass shootings every day. Law cannot save all human lives, but it teaches us to respect them.
“I know a law cannot make a racist stop hating me,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “But the chances of him learning not to hate me are far better if law has prevented him from lynching me.”
The Dobbs ruling is a landmark. It is the necessary beginning of the restoration of the right to life, but it is not the sufficient resolution of this lethal attack against the Declaration.
Upon the Declaration of Independence our national existence rests. The Dobbs ruling does not teach us to respect all human life, but it does free us to strive for protective laws in every state and in the U.S. Congress. To that limited extent, I’m grateful for Dobbs.
For the labor of protecting human life, we must each be semper paratus—always ready. And we can see that ancient Coast Guard motto is a good paraphrase of 1 Peter 3:15.