In one week during January 1973, President Richard M. Nixon was inaugurated to his second term, former President Lyndon B. Johnson died, the United States and North Vietnam entered into the Paris Peace Accords, and the Supreme Court legalized abortion. Only the last of these events continues to affect and haunt the moral and constitutional order every minute of every day.
The Court’s decision in Roe vs. Wade is arguably its most controversial in the post-World War II era. Its effect has been as pernicious to human life as was its 19th century intellectual progenitor, Dred Scott vs. Sanford, in which the Supreme Court ruled that African-Americans are not persons.
Roe declares that the states may not ban abortions during the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy because the states have no interest in or right to protect the baby during that time period. This made-up rule was a radical and unconstitutional departure from nearly 200 years of jurisprudence, during which the states themselves decided what interests to protect, guided since the end of the Civil War by the prohibition on slavery, and the requirements of due process and equal protection.
During the second trimester of pregnancy, the Court declared in Roe, states may regulate abortions but only to protect the health of the mother, not the life or health of the baby, in which, the Court found, the states have no interest. This, too, was a radical departure from well-settled law.
Under Roe, during the third trimester of pregnancy, the states may ban abortions or they may permit them; they may protect the life of the baby or they may not protect it. This diabolic rule, the product of judicial compromise and an embarrassing and destructive rejection of the Civil War era constitutional amendments, permits the states to allow abortions up to the moment before birth, as is the law in New Jersey, where the state even pays for abortions for those who cannot afford them.