Clinical Notes: Gonzalez v. Carhart

The day after the Supreme Court upheld the federal partial birth abortion ban by a 5-4 vote, the pseudonymous "Diogenes" offered a rather chilling commentary on the Catholic World News Web site:

"In her angry dissent in Gonzalez v. Carhart, (Justice) Ginsburg writes that the majority decision '…cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court — and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives.'

"Now imagine you're speaking to an anthropologist who has just returned from a previously undiscovered primitive tribal community on a remote island in the South Pacific. If he reports that the ability to bear children is a central factor in the lives of the tribe's women, you might figure that you'd met another one of those remarkable social scientists who has found a way to earn a living by saying the blatantly obvious. But if he told you that the right to kill their own children was essential to these women, you'd have to conclude that the island is a terrible place, populated by bloodthirsty pagan savages, and any sane traveler should stay away."

Yet that seems to be precisely what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asserting: that the legal right to kill their offspring is "central" to the lives of American women. Not good.

 The anti-Catholic bigots quickly exposed their hand in the wake of Gonzalez v. Carhart. The morning after the decision was handed down, Philadelphia Inquirer cartoonist Tony Auth depicted nine Supreme Court justices behind the bench, five of them wearing miters. University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone noted in a blog posting that "[a]ll five justices in the majority are Catholic" and charged that the papist quintet had "failed to respect the fundamental difference between religious belief and morality." About which my colleague, Edward Whelan, made two telling observations:

(1) It is absurd on many levels to suggest that Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito were imposing their religious beliefs on the nation. Rather, Whelan wrote, "they were deferring to the entirely reasonable moral judgments of the American people, manifested through bipartisan majorities in Congress." How is it an imposition of religious belief to uphold the constitutionality of a law democratically enacted with bipartisan support? Were all the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives who voted to ban partial birth abortion imposing Catholic dogma on the republic? Please.

(2) The legal and historical facts of the matter, Whelan continued, are that the four dissenting justices in Gonzalez v. Carhart — Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter, and Breyer — "have a consistent record of misconstruing the Constitution to impose their own substantive preferences" — which is to say, their preferred policy outcomes, like an unrestricted abortion license.

Thus the attempt to defend the constitutionally indefensible (i.e., Roe v. Wade) continues to unhinge prominent legal scholars like Geoffrey Stone. To suggest that Roe can only be opposed on grounds of religious dogma is to betray an ignorance one would prefer not to associate with faculty members of a distinguished law school: an ignorance of both elementary embryology (the product of human conception is a human being) and the first principles of justice (do no harm to the innocent). Like Justice Ginsburg's assertion of what's "central" to women's lives, this intellectual bewitchment bodes ill on many fronts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who had voted for the partial birth abortion ban, criticized Justice Samuel Alito for upholding the ban, which suggested a certain, er, senatorial inconsistency. But perhaps the truer consistency here is the consistency of political expediency, for Senator Reid knows that the pro-abortion lobby, a crucial component of Democratic fund-raising, will brook no dissent from its extremism. This puts Democrats who may have qualms about infanticide (as Senator Reid evidently once did) in a very tight box.

A smart Democratic presidential candidate would embrace the Court's decision as the beginning of a new, rational consideration of the abortion issue in American public life. As things stand now, Democratic candidates are expected to defend infanticide. That's not a task the more thoughtful of them are likely to welcome.

George Weigel


George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Guest

    Once again the Supreme Court has come down on the side of political expediency, and shown a stunning lack of common sense.  How can a baby badly wanted be a "baby" but an unwanted baby be a "fetus"?  What does a female dog bear but puppies?  What does a human female bear but a child?  Is the dog ever pregnant with anything but puppies?  Is the human ever pregnant with anything but a child?  Of course not!  This legalization of murder has, as predicted, greased the slippery slope of all other sorts of horror, among which is euthanasia, etc.  No society so arrogant as to think it can change essential law, beyond any political system, can flourish.  So to think this society can escape God's justice by declaring Him an anomaly, is equally ridiculous.  In such a society, all the rest of us can do is to stand firm on the side of right, which is to say, the will of God.  May He have mercy on us all.

  • Guest

    Excellent article. Excellent points.  Thank you, Mr. Weigel!

  • Guest

    Is that a red halo around Judge Ginsburg?

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    What I find incredible is how degrading this whole business has become! It shows how lost the other side is when we have to compare animals to babies! The value of human life has seemed to be lost… but i guess you are right when you say that we just need to stay on the side of God. He will show us a way.

  • Guest

    Thanks, CE. Great article.

    We certainly grow very attached to our sins, especially sexual sins. 

    Perhaps those expressing intense anger over Gonzalez v. Carhart understand that this will eventually take away their "right" to destroy the evidence of the (dare I say) inconvenient truth of our dearly beloved sexual sins.

    They are correct in seeing this as a bellweather change. May God grant us the perseverence to see it though.

  • Guest

    "The morning after the decision was handed down, Philadelphia Inquirer cartoonist Tony Auth depicted nine Supreme Court justices behind the bench, five of them wearing miters. "

    Did any of the cartoonists put the star of David on Ginsberg's robe? They should because she tows the line of liberal Jews. No "freedom of expression" preaching cartoonist would dare knowing that the next morning he or she would be looking for another healthcare provider. Catholics should take a second look at the Republicans who gave us these excellent appointments. I always look forward to George Weigel's articles.


  • Guest

    To Protect the Rock: I LOVED your comments!  (And, yes, I "got" the pun: good one!)  Thought you'd like a comment I read recently (I've forgotten the name, unfortunately) to the effect that America's obsession with sex just verifies to the world how juvenile our society is.  As I've watched current events (news and entertainment) unfold since, I've had to agree.  Any society that can't think of anything more important than what's between their legs (or someone else's) is sad indeed.