In 1983, 10 years after the Supreme Court, in what Justice Byron White called an “exercise of raw judicial power” untethered to the Constitution, overturned the abortion-related laws of all 50 states in Roe v. Wade, Human Life Press published essays that Joseph Sobran (who died at the age of 64 in 2010) wrote for the Human Life Review between 1975 and 1982 in a book titled Single Issues. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, which overruled Roe and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, it is worth remembering Sobran’s brilliant literary contributions to the anti-abortion movement.
Sobran rightly called the pro-abortion movement a “sect,” an “integral world-view that sees man as an animal; an animal whose destiny is a life of pleasure and comfort.”
Former White House Communications Director Pat Buchanan, in a foreword to another collection of Sobran’s columns, described Sobran’s writing, saying, “His voice was unique, his style readily identifiable, his wit irrepressible, his range as wide as that of any columnist of his generation.” Sobran was a devoted Christian who loved his Catholic faith and knowingly “stood on the shoulders” of the great Christian apologists that came before him, especially C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. In the foreword to Single Issues, Sobran concisely captured the essence of abortion: “What single issue,” he wrote, “lies nearer the heart of civilization? What could be more barbarous than the killing of an unborn child, by the choice of its mother, through the agency of a doctor, and with the blessing of the state?”
Sobran refused to submit to the semantic camouflage wielded by pro-abortion forces in order to conceal the true nature of the mass killing of the unborn that they supported (and still support). The pro-abortion “orthodoxy,” Sobran wrote, refers to abortion as “terminating a pregnancy” and the aborted child as an “unwanted child.” Unborn infants, Sobran explained, are called “fetuses” or, at most, “potential life.” Mothers are not “with child” anymore, they are “pregnant” — although, as he noted, some confused or insufficiently educated mothers still “say things like ‘the baby is kicking.’”
Abortion opponents, according to pro-abortion forces, are “divisive” and want to “impose their values on everyone else.” Opponents of abortion are “injecting religion into public affairs,” and “opposition to abortion is inherently ‘theological.’” The question of when human life begins, pro-abortion forces say, “is essentially a religious question,” though science tells us otherwise. And, of course, no one is really “pro-abortion,” they are just “pro-choice,” and who can be against that? Sobran would have none of this.
Sobran rightly called the pro-abortion movement a “sect,” an “integral world-view that sees man as an animal; an animal whose destiny is a life of pleasure and comfort.” And, “if pleasure is man’s destiny,” then “it is his right.” Why should an “unwanted child” get in the way of a comfortable life, a potential career, or an established career?
Sobran also attacked the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Roe. He wrote:
The Court has now adopted, in opposition to the Declaration [of Independence], the great heresy of the twentieth century: that government has not the duty to recognize and protect (“secure”) innate human rights, given by God, but the arbitrary power to create and/or destroy positive rights — including the very right to live — at its whim.… The Court … is at war with the American tradition, with the whole Western tradition.
Justice Samuel Alito in Dobbs set forth in considerable detail the history and tradition of common law and statutes in this country that criminalized abortion throughout most of our history. Sobran was right — Roe v. Wade was “at war with the American tradition” and the “whole Western tradition.”
Sobran also recognized a general social and economic class division over the issue of abortion. “[I]t is the upper-middle classes — the most powerful and influential stratum … — who are the social ‘headquarters’ of pro-abortionism, as of liberal attitudes in general, in this country,” he explained. “Anti-abortionism,” he continued, “is, numerically speaking, concentrated further down the social ladder.” The “enlightened” class tends to favor abortion, while the working and lower classes tend to oppose it.
We have seen the truth of Sobran’s observation very recently as professional athletes, Hollywood entertainers, and corporate oligarchs vent their anger — often in vulgar language — at the Dobbs decision. Sobran also foresaw that abortion proponents would gradually shift from asserting that it is a “necessary evil” to proclaiming it to be a “positive good.” Today, the pro-abortion movement does not advocate for abortion by saying, as President Bill Clinton did, that it should be “safe, legal, and rare.” The protesters who have taken to the streets in the wake of Dobbs — in some instances in a violent manner — are holding sides and yelling chants that say they will happily “aid and abet” abortions.
And Sobran foresaw that legal, state-sanctioned abortion would lead to infanticide, as he recounted in an essay about the death of a baby in Bloomington, Indiana, and he warned that “further evil consequences may still ensue, unpredictably.” The Supreme Court in Roe, he concluded, “seriously distorted the moral compass of an entire nation.” Perhaps in Dobbs, the Court has begun the process of reversing that moral and legal distortion. If so, we can thank Joseph Sobran for his rigorous, unbending stance for life and his defense of American tradition and Constitutional integrity.
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