News Too Good to Be True

October 1999

The newspaper headline blared: “Abortion Stopped by Supreme Court: Fetus Declared Historical Landmark.” The front page swarmed with articles about the incredible case of Baby Doe: A father had sued an abortion-bound mother to keep her from aborting their gestating child, and the case, bouncing ever upward on appeal, quickly reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where the stunning decision had just been handed down. The lead story reported that the father’s lawyer had reminded the Justices of their recent affirmation of the ruling in City of Boerne v. P.F. Flores, Archbishop of San Antonio (1997), in which a Catholic parish was prohibited from enlarging its church because the city council had declared the church building an historical landmark.

Said the lawyer: “The same principle that saved that building from the wrecker’s ball should save this fetus from the abortionist’s knife. Is Baby Doe an irreplaceable historical landmark? Why, yes. This is the only time in history that Baby Doe will have been conceived. If dismantled, she will be lost irrecoverably, and the community will never benefit from the presence of this unique entity. Does the community, then, have a compelling interest in the preservation of Baby Doe? Indeed it does, an interest more compelling than that which kept a mere church building untouched. Lath and plaster can be taken down and put up again and again. But once flesh and bone are taken apart, they cannot be put back together. Not just Baby Doe’s local community, but the whole human community is involved in Baby Doe’s fate. If I may paraphrase the poet John Donne: ‘No fetus is an Island, entire of itself; every fetus is a piece of the Continent…any fetus’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know on whom the abortionist works; he works on thee.’”

The Court voted 5-4 in favor of Baby Doe’s father, and page after page of news stories and opinion pieces reflected the instantaneous nationwide consternation. “Every Baby Is History in the Making” yelled exultant prolifers; “Baby Doe Demolishes Women’s Rights” howled the abortion activists. Prolife legal foundations promised a flurry of similar suits, while the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League and the National Organization for Women announced a joint campaign to….


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New Oxford Notes: October 1999

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