Belding: After Roe, we still keep public from private while allowing moral decisions

Michael Belding

An important and highly controversial Supreme Court case was decided a generation ago Sunday. 39 years ago, the Supreme Court pronounced its judgment in the case of Roe v. Wade. Since then, abortion has become an issue on which there is next to no compromise available. I propose a truce, an agreement to disagree.

When I took this position of Opinion Editor, I made it clear to my columnists that, while I by no means want to stifle conversation by refusing to publish columns on abortion, I would immensely prefer new ideas to the same old talking points that say “Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do with my own body?” or “All law should be God’s law, and God forbids murder.”

The Supreme Court was right to rule as it did in Roe. In doing so, they held that there are certain spheres which no government can legitimately touch. They held there are fundamental aspects of our lives into which government cannot intrude. That is the whole idea behind a republic — that issues only affecting one person in his or her private capacity will remain untouched by politics, government and law. How much the generations who fought our war for independence and ratified the Constitution feared God or were even Christians had nothing to do with it.

It is also within the design of our Constitution. The federal government deals with federal issues. The moral health of each American individual is not within its purview. State issues are left to the states for their resolution, and if state constitutions permit it, local issues are left to their respective local governments.

While I did not caucus for him, I have always been impressed with Ron Paul. He is the only candidate among the Republicans who possesses any understanding of federalism. That is the most distressing part of this.

Whereas Paul rightly said in Thursday’s Southern Republican Debate that the main problem was not law, other candidates disagree. “Law will not correct the basic problem,” he said, “and that’s the morality of the people.”

The Constitution is decidedly federalist, but social conservatives such as Rick Santorum think that government needs to be involved, as he put it in that same debate, in going out, fighting the battle, defending life and coming “out of the trenches … to make sure that the dignity of every human life, innocent human life in this country is protected.”

But people can and do lead good Christian lives and go to heaven even if their governments do not enact the laws God promulgated to the Hebrews in Deuteronomy.

I think abortion is tragic. I think every pregnancy involves two patients who are two unique individuals. I think it far better to have the child and put him or her up for adoption than to deny that fetus, that bag of chemicals, a chance to live simply because it is inconvenient for the mother. If a woman I know contemplates an abortion, I will do everything in my power to persuade her not to.

But once she decides, I will leave the matter. It is not my place to judge; if God is indeed involved in the issue, then it is a matter between him and the woman.

The true test of righteousness is whether a person acts morally when he or she is allowed to do otherwise, not whether a person acts morally because there is a legal benefit for preferring morality. Laws requiring you to be good do not force you to make a moral judgment of your own.