Randall Smith: If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, expect lawlessness. A nation so dedicated to a fundamental evil will not simply give it up without a fight.
Some friends were kind enough to invite my wife and me to the Texas Right to Life banquet a few weeks ago. For those who don’t know, Texas Right to Life is among the most successful, if not the most successful, pro-life organization in the country. Hence, we have the Texas Heartbeat Law, requiring that an abortionist check for a heartbeat of a child in the womb and making it illegal for anyone to terminate the life of that child if a heartbeat is found.
The banquet this year was much like those in past years, with one major difference: the presence of heavy security. There were uniformed police officers with bulletproof vests in evidence everywhere. For Texas Right to Life is an organization under fire, part of a nationwide movement under fire, suffering harassment and maltreatment that I predict will only get worse in the coming months and years.
Texas Right to Life gets over a thousand hate messages via voice mail per day. And I mean hate. The organizers played some during the banquet, bleeping out the frequent expletives in the lengthy streams of invective. They had to clear their offices recently due to a credible bomb threat and must have 24-hour police protection on their offices. They get 750,000 attacks per day on their web site, including from such notorious hackers as the group Anonymous. Who would have thought trying to preserve the lives of innocent children would lead to such vitriol and loathing from so many people?
But I remember watching film of demonstrations when the first black students were escorted into the University of Alabama and seeing crowds of angry white girls in poodle skirts, bobby socks, and button-front sweaters screaming – screaming until they nearly fainted from the intensity of their anger – at the very thought of allowing a black student into the university. I remember thinking: “Wow, that’s a lot of anger at one black person walking into a college building.” But there they were on a nice summer’s day, spitting vile hatred, turning themselves into models of shame for the whole country.
So let’s just be honest with ourselves about something. If the Supreme Court does its duty and strikes down Roe v. Wade, it will likely set off a firestorm of violence that will engulf the country. Which is why, personally, I am not optimistic the Court will do it. It will be viewed as too risky.
Everyone knows who promotes violence and who doesn’t. Which is precisely why I worry that the Roberts Court will find a way not to overturn Roe: namely, for much the same reason that cities were boarded up before the results were announced of the last presidential election. The fear was that if the country reached the “wrong” outcome, the progressives would riot in the streets. Everyone knows that if Roe is not overturned, pro-life forces will be disappointed, but they will not become violent. If deciding one way guarantees violence but deciding the other does not, which way do you think that decision is likely to go?
But if the Supreme Court shows courage rather than cowardice, and Roe is overturned, at that moment the pro-life battle will begin. And it will not be pretty. Expect persecution. Expect intimidation. Expect lawlessness. A nation so dedicated to a fundamental evil will not simply give it up without a fight. If you think a culture that has devoted itself for so long to the “right” to do away with inconvenient and disabled babies will act any differently than it did when it was defending the “right” to own slaves or its “right” to white supremacy with Jim Crow laws, then you haven’t learned the lessons of history.
People rarely surrender the “right” to dominate others without fighting tooth and nail. When what is at stake is admitting that your entire worldview has not only been wrong, but based on supporting an institution that is fundamentally unjust and a violation of human dignity, people do not surrender gently.
In the 1850s, plenty of “genteel folk” preferred that slavery not be talked about in public company. So too now, there are many, even among Catholic priests and bishops, who would prefer we just not talk about our current “peculiar institution”: abortion. I mean, it’s so unnecessarily embarrassing. Such a distraction. So likely to provoke anger from the sophisticated elite. Best, therefore, to keep it under wraps and avoid looking the evil squarely in the face, such as men in chains or babies in trash cans.
Langdon Gilkey, in his remarkable memoir, The Shantung Compound, based on his experiences in a Japanese internment camp in China during the Second World War, reports that, as each moral issue arose in the camp, a pattern repeated itself, over and over. The more educated and respectable the people, the more elegant and advanced were their arguments defending their own self-interest. Gilkey writes that, “The ethical issues of human community life are, therefore, the outward expression in action of deeper, more inward issues, we might say religious issues. For religion concerns men’s ultimate loyalty – that which gives them their ultimate sense of meaning and sets the standard of their life. . . .When our ultimate concern is directed to some partial or limited interest, we can scarcely avoid inhumanity toward those outside that interest.”
As we move further and further into the post-Christian age and people’s ultimate concern is no longer directed to their Creator, no longer guided by His wisdom and law, we can expect more of man’s inhumanity to man. When men tire of divine order and tie their identity idolatrously to an ideology, it is not long before they “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”
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Randall B. Smith is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Guidebook for Beginners and Aquinas, Bonaventure, and the Scholastic Culture of Medieval Paris: Preaching, Prologues, and Biblical Commentary (2021). His website is: randallbsmith.com.
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