Reversing Roe

by Roger Resler

I’m a little late to the game but I just discovered a 2018 documentary on Netflix called: “Reversing Roe.” Intrigued by the title, I dove in. It was well produced, although obviously slanted in favor of the pro-choice position. While it clearly couldn’t be described as “fair and balanced,” at least for the most part it wasn’t overt, over-the-top pro-choice propaganda. The majority of the views presented were from those in favor of Roe v. Wade, but a few pro-life proponents were also given time to make their case – or at least to make various pro-life counter points while the film was making its case. And, as the producers themselves point out on a separate Q & A session, the term “pro-life” is used often rather than “anti-choice” or “anti-abortion” out of respect for the fact that that is the term pro-lifers use to describe themselves. Kudos for that.

That said, however, there are still some major flaws.

First, – and this is one of my pet peeves – the pro-life position is taken for granted as being fundamentally religious in nature while the pro-choice position is assumed to be factually and scientifically based. This is a serious skew. While it is obviously true that many pro-life proponents are deeply religious people, it is also true that there are plenty of religious people who are pro-choice – ironically, as casually revealed in the film itself. Case in point: the film features several comments from Rev. Tom Davis of the United Church of Christ, who was a member of the Clergy Consultation Service in the years prior to Roe v. Wade and identifies himself in the film as an “abortion counselor.”

It is also true that various religious groups are opposed to abortion to one degree or another while others are in favor of it to one degree or another. But the pro-life point of view itself is not based on religion; it is based on morality. The same is true for the pro-choice position. In both cases, the relevant question is whether or not abortion is morally acceptable, not whether it is religiously acceptable. Even prominent members of various pro-life groups recognize their opposition to legalized abortion doesn’t ultimately rest on the positions taken by their various churches, but on the broader notion that legalized abortion (in most cases) is simply morally wrong. Yet, just as many individual pro-choice proponents are in the habit of doing, Reversing Roe characterizes the pro-life position as being integrally tied to religion. If you were only going off information presented in the film, you might easily come to the conclusion that it is impossible to be pro-life without also being religious. Try arguing that with pro-life atheist Kelsey Hazzard or the members of Feminists For Life.

If the abortion debate is framed as religion vs. science or dogma vs. facts (with science and facts residing on the pro-choice side), it doesn’t take a genius to see who’s going to win. OBGYN and Missouri abortionist, Dr. Colleen McNicholas is featured prominently in the film, at one point arguing that there are allegedly “factual inaccuracies” in pro-life legislation. The irony is this: biological facts and science in general support the pro-life position, not the pro-choice position. And what is even more ironic, the pro-choice position is actually founded on ignorance of scientific facts and it must perpetuate that ignorance in order to remain viable.

I realize if you’re pro-choice you may find that offensive. But it’s true and the film itself proves it.

Sarah Weddington is the attorney who argued in favor of the pro-choice position in Roe v Wade. While giving the history of Roe in the film, Weddington makes the following statement:

“At one point a Justice had said to me, ‘When do you believe human life begins?’ And I said, ‘Well, your honor, we did not try to say exactly what moment that was.’ There is no one answer to that. Different religions have different answers to that question. But there is no legal standard that said at this point the fetus becomes a human. So the question is: who gets to make the decision? Is it the woman or is it the government? And my position has always been: it’s not the government.”

So here we have multiple factual inaccuracies resting on one another and ultimately resting on an appeal to ignorance. When does human life begin? “We did not try to say exactly what moment that was.” That, of course, is lawyer mumbo-jumbo for: “We don’t know.” But the truth is we do know. And in fact we knew in 1972 when Sarah Weddington was presenting oral arguments in Roe v. Wade. There are many sources that could be cited to prove this easily researched fact. For example:

“…upon fertilization, parts of human beings have actually been transformed into something very different from what they were before; they have been changed into a single, whole human being. During the process of fertilization, the sperm and the oocyte cease to exist as such, and a new human being is produced.”

When Do Human Beings Begin?
“Scientific” Myths and Scientific Facts
Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D.
(copyright February 1999)

This excellent paper is only one, but I cite several other sources in my book (Compelling Interest: The Real Story Behind Roe v. Wade). So the first “inaccuracy” in Sarah Weddington’s statement is the implication that in 1972 science did not know when human life begins and apparently she wants us to believe it still doesn’t. This, of course, is utter nonsense. But notice Weddington’s phraseology. She does not even mention the words “science” or “biology” or “embryology.” Pretty sure that’s intentional. Not surprisingly, what she does mention is religion. And her point in bringing up religion is to muddy the waters. Religions disagree on when human life begins? So what? If there were consensus among all religions that human life begins at fertilization, would Sarah Weddington then be willing to give up a woman’s right to choose abortion? I seriously doubt it. So her use of alleged disagreement among religions as to when human life begins is purely a red herring and is completely irrelevant.

Another serious problem with Weddington’s “logic” is that the decision to have or not have an abortion is only a valid decision if both options are equally morally acceptable. Weddington takes for granted that the decision is morally acceptable because, as she freely acknowledges, people disagree about when human life begins (despite the lack of disagreement among embryologists). Her position makes no attempt to resolve the question (as doing so would be self destructive). Therefore, even according to Weddington’s way of thinking, it’s still quite possible that each legal decision for abortion her advocacy in Roe has permitted is the killing of an innocent human being. Her appeal to ignorance on the central question leaves her position glaringly vulnerable to this line of criticism.

But then Weddington’s “logic” devolves even further into the absurd when she asserts that: “…there is no legal standard that said at this point the fetus becomes a human.” Sheer and utter nonsense. A human fetus is always a human. Humans can only reproduce other humans. Therefore the notion that there needs to be a “legal standard” declaring that at a certain point in human development a “fetus becomes a human” is patently ridiculous. Yet here is the most prominent advocate for a woman’s right to choose abortion resting her case on both ignorance of genuine scientific facts and rhetorically twisting those facts into absurdity.

The fact is the notion of personhood became the gold standard for Roe v. Wade. It was recognized that the scientific question of “when does human life begin” would not provide the desired answer on which to base the legalization of abortion on demand. Accordingly, the science was ignored and the debate shifted into the metaphysical realms of philosophy and religion. The new question became: “When does a living human become a ‘person’?” As I point out in my book, the ambiguous concept of personhood was then easily manipulated to accommodate the pre-existing desire for legalized abortion. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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