Personhood and Roe v. Wade

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s twin rulings in 1973, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolten, abortion on demand became the law of the land. But more fundamentally, the court denied the protection of personhood to those most in need of it—our tiny preborn brothers and sisters. Importantly, the Supreme Court never declared abortion itself to be a constitutional right. Rather, the Supreme Court said:

“We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins… the judiciary at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”

Then, in the very text of the Roe v. Wade decision, the High Court made a key admission:

“[Texas] argues that the fetus is a ‘person’ within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment…If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case (or Roe’s case) collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”

In other words, the Court recognized the power of personhood and that legal abortion would be impossible if personhood was applied to the unborn.

Exceptions undermined personhood

But tragically, the state of Texas already had a statutory exception to abortion on their books (the so-called life of the mother exception) that completely undermined their personhood argument.

In his famous Footnote 54, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote:

“When Texas urges that a fetus is entitled to Fourteenth Amendment protection as a person, it faces a dilemma. Neither in Texas nor in any other state are all abortions prohibited. Despite broad proscription, an exception always exists…But if the fetus is a person who is not to be deprived of life without due process of law, and if the mother’s condition is the sole determinant, does not the Texas exception appear to be out of line with the Amendment’s command?”

In other words, the Court recognized that exceptions to legal personhood are illogical and, more importantly, unconstitutional. Either you are a person, or you are not. There can be no exceptions to personhood.

Ending Abortion in America

The very text of the Roe v. Wade decision itself, then, contains the key to its own demise. According to Judie Brown, president of American Life League, “Establishing personhood for the preborn child is the most fundamental step in reversing the decriminalization of abortion…”

For far too long, pro-lifers have limited themselves to protecting a life here and there — passing laws which slightly regulate abortion in the most outrageous cases. Legislative proposals that expressly deny the personhood of certain preborn children through exceptions for rape, incest, or the so-called life of the mother must be opposed. Politicians who support such exceptions cannot be called pro-life.

Instead of regulating the killing of preborn children, the pro-life movement must begin to focus on furthering the public’s acceptance of the humanity and the personhood of the preborn child from the very beginning of his or her life. This is the only way to truly end abortion in America.