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FIRST-PERSON: Before it is too late

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision will pass with little notice from most Americans — and that is itself part of the decision’s legacy.

The nation’s conscience is no longer seared by the scandal of abortion, and abortion on demand has become a routine part of everyday life. The culture of death has an address just down the street.

Great civilizational shifts usually require decades or centuries of development and struggle. The tragic shift in American culture symbolized by the Roe v. Wade decision compressed that span into just a few years. Abortion had been almost universally condemned as a form of murder. Abortionists lurked in dark corners, accessible only through dark passages, hiding their death work from public scrutiny and law enforcement.

No longer. Abortion is now big business in America. Commercial abortion mills offer death for convenience. Organizations supporting abortion rights offer escort services and other enticements. Every single American is complicit in a web of tax-supported organizations that support abortion. There is no escape.

America’s rejection of a revealed morality set the stage for this cultural revolution. Once human life and human dignity rested on nothing more than our secular consensus, the culture of death was inevitable. Human beings display a readiness to discard human dignity for something so small as convenience.

The abruptness of the Roe v. Wade decision is a graphic illustration of moral confusion. One day, abortion was illegal in most jurisdictions. The next day, it was legal. An entire structure of moral reasoning, legal precedent and cultural conscience was discarded by a court that rested its judicial decision on a legal contrivance.

By the action of the Supreme Court, abortion was declared to be a legal right. A “right to privacy” was contrived and contorted in order to reverse millennia of moral knowledge and legal precedent. The Supreme Court of the United States may have the power to reverse legal precedent, but it does not have the authority to reverse moral truth.

Though abortion may have been illegal one day and legal the next, it was not morally wrong on one day and morally right the next. The moral horror of abortion is unchanged. Roe v. Wade is a blight upon the nation’s character — a graphic symbol of moral rebellion cast in a cry for individual rights.

Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon warns that our ability even to think in moral terms is undermined by the “rights talk” that replaces genuine moral conversation. If individual or group rights are the greatest possible good, morality itself disappears.

It was perhaps inevitable that the reasoning behind the abortion revolution would come down to something as morally slender as “choice.” A “right to choose” becomes the highest moral and political good. Choice becomes the idol and the act of choosing becomes the liturgy. Even life itself — preborn and precious — is willingly sacrificed on the altar of choice.

“I choose therefore I am.” — this may be the limit of self-knowledge in the culture of death.

Once human life is reduced to an accidental product of blind naturalistic mechanisms, human dignity is destroyed and the culture of death is inevitable.

Roe v. Wade did not emerge from a vacuum. The inheritors of Christian civilization had been ransacking the culture for decades. Sexuality was celebrated as the driving force of entertainment and popular culture. A spirit of moral rebellion undermined the integrity of marriage and the family. A spirit opposed to all authority suffused the culture with a rebellion against any law that would inhibit personal choice, personal convenience or personal fulfillment.

The Roe v. Wade decision was produced by this cultural erosion. The decision would have been unimaginable if the nation had not already decided to cast aside a cultural inheritance shaped by the Christian conscience. We knew what we were doing. We are not innocent.

Thirty years later, can we rebuild and recover? The signs are not hopeful. Three decades of post-Roe v. Wade experience reveal a downward spiral from abortion to euthanasia, from embryo research to human cloning, from assisted suicide to advocated infanticide. What is left? Only a thin veneer of moral reticence separates us from future horrors of unthinkable magnitude.

The believing church is now perhaps the last outpost of moral sanity in the culture of death. If recovery is to come, it must arise in a new generation who sees through the moral insanity and possesses the courage to reverse course before all moral knowledge is lost. Let us pray that God will give us that generation before it is too late.
Mohler is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

    About the Author

  • R. Albert Mohler Jr.