"The end of a war and the death of a president got bigger headlines. But in a quiet way, a third event last week may have as lasting an influence on American life."
So began the Newsweek article from the February 5, 1973 edition about the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America. The article goes on to explain why the decision matters:
"(F)or all practical purposes, the U.S. Supreme legalized abortion, saying that the termination of an unwanted pregnancy is between a woman and her doctor."
We can now see clearly that Newsweek was correct. The decision on abortion would fundamentally change American society. Eventually (it would take a few years and a few more Supreme Court decisions) abortion would be legal in nearly all situations.
Writing four days after the Court's decision, William F. Buckley was blunt. "It is, verily, the Dred Scott Decision of the Twentieth Century" ("The Court on Abortion," January 27, 1973), recalling the Supreme Court decision of 1857 that upheld the right of slaveholders to own slaves because slaves were not protected by the Constitution and could never become American citizens. That controversial decision helped set the stage for the Civil War. Buckley was right. Nearly 40 years later, Roe v. Wade remains controversial because Americans remain deeply divided on abortion.
I pause to reflect that I was in college when Roe v. Wade was handed down. The abortion decision came and went, and I knew or thought nothing about it. It would be another seven years before the issue would become personal for me. In May 1980 Moody Monthly published a cover story on abortion, featuring famed surgeon C. Everett Koop (later to become Surgeon General of the United States) holding a baby in his arms. That picture and the accompanying article made me think deeply about abortion for the first time. Looking back, I am sure the issue finally gripped my heart because when I read the article our first child was six months old. As I write these words, my heart is gripped again because our first grandchild (Knox Samuel Pritchard) is five months old. Issues like abortion are political on one level, moral on another, and ultimately deeply personal. We all have our ways of finding the truth of the matter.
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