Pushing Roe v. Wade Over the Brink
Authors: Clarke D. Forsythe & Alexandra DeSanctis
Publisher: Americans United for Life
Bioethics in Law & Culture Fall 2023 vol. 6 issue 4
Joe Kral, M.A.
Society of St. Sebastian
It has been nearly 17 months since Roe v. Wade was overruled. The Dobbs Era has begun and America is now witnessing the battle for the protection of human life at all stages in a different way than in years past. In the last few years, we have had Fetal Heartbeat laws go into effect, along with Abortion Bans being triggered into effect. There is even a push to pass Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinances. In this midst, one organization has done a masterful job to show its part in the fight to overturn Roe. Pushing Roe v. Wade Over the Brink is rightfully a masterpiece in showing those interested in pro-life public policy just how important Americans United for Life’s role was in this battle.
While many reviews have focused on how the book chronicles AUL’s efforts to help overturn the unjust decision, this review will focus on the preeminent cardinal virtue that permeates the entirety of the book.
The Role of Prudence:
Prudence is paramount within this book, and to be honest seeps into the mission and work of AUL. While Forsythe and DeSanctis don’t begin the first or even second chapter of their book discussing the virtue, it is evident how the virtue had an impact on AUL’s strategy to defeat Roe. As they state,
As an intellectual virtue, prudence requires discernment, understanding the problem, deliberation about the solution, a clear decision about what to do, and effective execution of the decision. Each stage is complex, and greater experience and understanding may lead to renewed deliberation, new decisions, and better strategies.[i]
Here, in this section of Chapter 3, one is able to see the guiding principle that AUL followed. And it is at this point one is able to properly understand the how and why of AUL’s strategy. The authors proceed, “It is a legitimate debate as to whether more could be achieved in any particular circumstance, but prudence grounds a campaign for justice in the natural law, the cardinal virtues, and a focus on moral purpose for the common good, radically different from the modern political focus on rage and power.”[ii]
So, it is within this vein one is able to better understand 1) why AUL was founded as a public law firm and 2) how it strove to promote justice as the common good. AUL’s goal was not to become the most powerful voice in the pro-life movement. Rather, it was truly seeking the good of the unborn. In this first act of humility, to serve the other, we see the idea of prudence firstly seeking the common good.
So, prudence, and in particular regnative prudence (the type of prudence used in public policy decisions), is used to help limit the evils of abortion within the public policy realm. As stated above, “prudence grounds a campaign for justice in the natural law…” This of course mirrors the idea of St. Thomas Aquinas who recognized that prudence is in every act of the cardinal virtues, “Right reason, which flows from prudence is included in this definition of moral virtue, not as part of its essence, but as something belonging by way of participation to all the moral virtues, in so far as they are all under the direction of prudence.”[iii]
One must understand that it is prudence that can help direct what ought to be done legislatively. It is in this way justice for the unborn can be achieved by these prudent actions. This really seems to be the ultimate goal in explaining in this book.
Again, we see prudence in action particularly at the very end of Chapter 8,
These bioethical principles – the sanctity of human life at all stages of development, the care for the chronically and terminally ill, and freedom of conscience – are essential to defend and protect in their own right. But AUL also knew that faltering in these areas would threaten public support for the campaign against abortion and the legal strategy against Roe. If Americans were not vigilant in protecting human life at all stages of development, AUL feared that support for the prenatal human being might diminish. There would always be a need to protect human life in the law at every stage of development.[iv]
Forsythe and DeSanctis are not just pondering the philosophy of the legislative and legal strategy here, but rather discussing just how prudence plays a role in implementing this strategy to protect unborn human life in the law. The need to be active in other areas beyond abortion is necessary in order to show all stages of life should be protected.
By acting prudently, one can act justly. Furthermore, by acting prudently, it can lead others to justice. This is really the aim of public policy – to affect the common good which is justice for all. Roe relied on a false history and false information. Dobbs corrected the injustice of Roe by grounding its decision in truth,
Few have noticed that Dobbs also decentralized the debate over the risks to women from abortion. The Roe Court in 1973 pronounced abortion “safer than childbirth.” That was the key sociological fact on which the Roe Court relied to formulate the superstructure of Roe and the rules that would govern abortion, even though there was no trial or evidence in Roe or Doe which supported that assumption. And the Roe Court assumed the self-appointed role of national abortion control board. In that role, the Court continued to dismiss data on the risks (proffered by abortion activists) over the decades. By striking down state limits on abortion after Roe, the Court said or implied that the risks of abortion did not justify the state laws. With Dobbs, the Court will no longer act as the national abortion control board.[v]
Forsythe and DeSanctis show the injustice of Roe by showing what the Court became. This national abortion control board was 1) not supposed to be the role of the Court and 2) refused to look at the facts surrounding abortion itself. By prudently pushing for a strategy that would eventually lead to the overturning of Roe justice prevailed. The Dobbs Court recognized the injustice of Roe itself and correctly overturned it allowing for the states to properly oversee what they had traditionally overseen. As the authors state, “Virtually all other bioethical issues are decided, first and foremost, at the state level.”[vi] The issue of abortion rightly rests with the states.
This, of course, does not mean the fight regarding abortion is over. “The key challenge for the cause of life after Dobbs is shaping public sentiment in favor of respecting and protecting human beings.”[vii] This will have to be done at the federal, state, and even local levels now where elected representatives will be asked to make these decisions regarding abortion policy. As Forsythe and DeSanctis rightly note, “Abortion is not just about “the babies.” It is about human flourishing, caring for women in need, and hope for the future.”[viii] Ultimately, what both of them are discussing is how virtue can fulfill human nature. It is acting properly as a social and intellectual creature that lives in community and has obligations towards one another.
In the end, this is an excellent book. For those who wish to study the relationship between virtue and the law, this is a must-read. Little is spoken about this relationship in modern-day literature and articles which is a shame. The relationship is real and has a profound impact on the very real activity of human flourishing. Good law is meant to help people blossom. Bad law, such as Roe, hamper human flourishing by making people vicious. The end of Chapter 15 asks the question “how can we identify harm?” Other than the physical aspects, one needs to realize the harm to the soul. Bad laws can make bad people which in turn makes a society ill. Forsythe and DeSanctis do a masterful job showing the reader why we need good law that mirrors the moral law.
[i] Forsythe, Clarke & DeSanctis, Alexandria, Pushing Roe v. Wade Over the Brink, Americans United for Life, 2023, page 50.
[ii] Ibid, page 51.
[iii] Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 58, A. 2.
[iv] Forsythe, Clarke & DeSanctis, Alexandria, Pushing Roe v. Wade Over the Brink, Americans United for Life, 2023, page 156.
[v] Ibid, page 265.
[vi] Ibid, page 89.
[vii] Ibid, page 276.
[viii] Ibid, page 277.