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Historic abortion ruling raised more questions than it resolved

NOTRE DAME (CNS): “Abortion itself remains perhaps the most unresolved of all modern public issues,” Richard Doerflinger told participants at a June 19 lecture in the Notre Dame Vita Institute, Indiana, the United States of America (US). 

The associate director of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities said that in 1973, many people thought the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision would resolve the abortion debate, but “in fact, it was no resolution at all.” 

Doerflinger, who analysed the 40 years of pro-life efforts since the legalisation of abortion on demand, said the court’s decision raised more questions than it answered about the status of unborn human beings—both inside and outside the context of abortion. 

The historic decision and its companion ruling, Doe v. Bolton, also opened debate about the legal status of other vulnerable humans already born, including physically disadvantaged, elderly people  and the terminally ill. 

“In short, it (Roe) has forced us to confront the question of whether human life in general has dignity and inherent value simply because it is human life,” he said, “or whether life has a sliding scale of value and can be set aside or diminished, depending on the apparent usefulness or burdens of that life.” 

Roe v. Wade and the debate on abortion have raised the question of “who has a right to life (and who, therefore, has any human rights at all), and on what basis?” Doerflinger said.

Thus, Roe v. Wade has affected other important life issues, including the legal status of immigrants, society’s obligation to support the poor and needy, and whether there is a justification for capital punishment. 

“As our Catholic teaching recognises, the right to life may not be our supreme right—religious freedom is our supreme right because it allows us to have a relationship with God—but it is our most basic one, the one without which all other rights are meaningless,” he said. 

Doerflinger said the US Supreme Court has not backed down from the essence of its original ruling, but there has been plenty of activity around the abortion issue with some setbacks and some successes. Those successes have been “hard won,” he said, and “especially today are constantly in danger of being reversed.” 

One area of success has been in conscience, giving health care personnel and institutions the right, without penalty or discrimination, to refuse to participate in procedures they consider immoral. 

Doerflinger said that until two years ago, there was bipartisan agreement that such conscience protection was appropriate.

However, he added, “That long tradition is under attack today,” especially since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. 

“That fight on conscience has become the centre of some dozens of lawsuits,” he continued.

“It is part of a new trend, beginning in the second half of President Obama’s first term, in which the federal government has turned sharply against the idea of conscience rights on abortion and similar topics for the first time since Roe was decided,” he explained. 

Doerflinger said that another area of pro-life success has been federal funding of abortion.

He cited the Hyde amendment, first passed by congress in 1976, as “one of the great victories of the pro-life movement.”

That legislation prevents funding of abortion in Medicaid, and he said that its basic policy has been replicated in every subsequent major federal health programme. 

“However, on funding, as well as on conscience, decades of hard-won progress are now being contested,” Doerflinger explained. 

He went on to say that the Affordable Care Act “departs from a decades-long consensus about federal funding of abortion, in at least two ways.” 

He pointed out first of all that it has its own appropriations bill, saying that consequently it bypasses the usual appropriations bills covered by the Hyde amendment.

Second, the act violates longstanding policy under Hyde that federal funds cannot be used to subsidize any part of a health plan that includes elective abortions, he said......

 

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