I’ve been thinking a lot about my friends on the other side of the Dobbs business. Several of them have said they don’t know what they’re even celebrating this year, as we mark our Independence Day. I get it. I feel them. If I could talk to each and every one of them directly and personally, I’d tell them so.
For many of our fellows in citizenship, the Dobbs decision was deeply traumatic.
For women especially, though not exclusively, Roe protected a kind of bodily autonomy closely linked to hard-won social liberty and political equality. Many of the advances women especially have made in society over the past fifty years, have not only been concurrent with the Roe regime, but won by marshalling the political and social energies of persons who were champions of Roe. The smashing of such a bulwark cannot but be traumatic.
I struggle for words to express acknowledgment of the fact, even as I continue to believe the advancements of women in society a great good, the work of achieving equality for all citizens really only barely begun, and the overturning of Roe the removal of a significant roadblock on the way to it in America. I also know that the work of achieving a modus vivendi post Roe depends upon our ability to be good neighbors to one another.
I’ve been tempted to say that pro-life people of all stripes celebrated Independence Day under Roe for nigh on five decades, without stint. I’m glad I haven’t deployed that as a line of argument. It cuts no ice. There’s no way it comes off as anything but chauvinism or one-upmanship or plain callousness.
When Dobbs dropped, Robert P. George called on pro-lifers to remember Lincoln: to eschew the kind of triumphalism that rejoices in the downfall of an enemy; and, to embrace the spirit of charity that must inform the mind of people who would be reconciled to one another and animate any nation as would be reconciled to itself.
“Pro-life friends,” he offered, “please read Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and be guided by its spirit.”
“Let us not exult over those of our fellow citizens—good people who are sincerely concerned about women’s welfare—who see the demise of Roe as a disaster,” he continued. “Malice towards none; charity for all.”
When I read that, I thought of the first March for Life I ever attended. It was, if memory serves, in January of 1995. Republicans had gained sweeping victories in the midterm elections. I bent my ear to the stump speeches being delivered along the way to the staging area, and heard promises of “taking back our country” from wicked people who hate America and are thirsty for the blood of innocent unborn children. “Democrats” could have been their shorthand.
The people against whom those speechifiers inveighed were my friends, family, neighbors, fellow parishioners. I knew how well they loved our country. I knew them for good neighbors. I daily felt the blessing of their friendship. I loved them as family. I cherished their fellowship.
I never attended another March for Life.
I am glad Roe is overturned, and glad it is done as the Supreme Court has done it: returning the matter to the states. Now, we can have a conversation about how we should order our lives together. There can be no permanently satisfactory modus vivendi absent full legal protection for the unborn in every American jurisdiction. That will take time.
The work of achieving such order in our affairs will also necessarily involve reform of selves, souls, laws, and societies so they are more hospitable to unborn life, more careful of all and every human life born into them, and more generously disposed to lives reaching the end of their earthly courses.
Such reform is never easy. That work can never be perfect this side of celestial Jerusalem. That is all the more reason to rejoice that an obstacle to its partial achievement is at long last removed. It is all the more reason to be about it in earnest.
Prof. George may not fully share my prudent appreciation of the way the Justices decided Dobbs. He filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court, in which he and Prof. John Finnis argued that the unborn enjoy constitutional protection through the 14th amendment. Their learned arguments are powerful. I may one day (and that soon) discover them to be compelling.
For now, what is certain is that we must together be about the muddling business of citizenship – of citizenship in a great republic, powerfully organized as one nation and one people in fifty discrete political societies – for which there is nothing that will do but thinking all the good we can of those with whom we disagree, and finding ways to keep the conversation that constitutes us one nation and one people going.
For what it’s worth, the turnout for the fireworks was encouraging, as were the signs of genuine patriotic spirit on display and the diverse constitution of the citizenry. The beach from which we took in the spectacle on Sunday night looked and felt like America. I was glad of that.
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