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National Legal Summit
Created Equal: Reflections on the Unalienable Right to Life

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Thomas Paine, Common Sense, Abortion and the United States Supreme Court

By Thomas A. Glessner, J.D.
August 2, 2010

The American patriot Thomas Paine helped to fuel the American Revolution with his classic essay Common Sense. In this essay Paine proclaims:

"[A] long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason."

Paine, of course, was talking about the abuses that the American colonists suffered under the crown of England, and he was bemoaning the fact that many colonists had become so used to these abuses that over time they accepted their plight instead of rising up and overthrowing tyranny.

Perhaps Thomas Paine was prophetically observing twenty-first century America and the acquiescence of the public-at-large to the judicial tyranny that has imposed upon America abortion on demand. When the United States Supreme Court issued Roe v. Wade in 1973 it invalidated the laws of all fifty states that prohibited abortion. At that time an outcry was heard from some segments of society, most notably the Catholic church, but for the most part the public-at-large was silent. The decision was accepted by many as an advancement of an increasingly secular and humanistic culture that views moral values as relative and changing over time.

In 1992 the United States Supreme Court had an opportunity to correct its Roe decision but upheld it by one vote. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) the Court's decision argued that Roe could not be reversed. Under the judicial doctrine of stare decisis legal precedent, according to the Court, should be given great respect and requires that precedents not be overturned except for compelling reasons. According to the Court in Casey, a generation of Americans have come to rely upon the right to abortion given by Roe and thus, a reversal of this decision would create intolerable havoc in the social structure of our nation. Thus, the Court continued to give the horrendous wrong of abortion the superficial appearance of being a right, and over eighteen years have passed since this decision with the abortion edict of Roe still intact.

Since 1973 Americans have lived with abortion on demand as part of the culture. To be sure many have risen in protest to Roe and public opinion polls indicate that now a majority of Americans call themselves "prolife." However, this rising opposition to abortion has not yet reached a level where true societal change and the abolition of abortion has been achieved. It appears that still many members of the public, as described by Paine, have for too long not thought of abortion as a wrong and thus, have given it a superficial appearance of being a right.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg recently commented on the status of Roe and made it clear that, in her opinion, the decision would never be corrected because the American public has come to rely upon it. Participating in a discussion during the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, Ginsburg said the infamous decision won't be overturned because women and society have become accustomed to abortion as a convenient solution to unwanted pregnancies.

"Over a generation of young women have grown up, understanding they can control their own reproductive capacity, and in fact their life's destiny," Ginsburg said. "We will never go back to the way it once was. If people realize that, maybe they will have a different attitude."

It appears that Justice Ginsberg is saying that over time the wrong of killing innocent unborn children has taken on the "superficial appearance of being right" and thus, will continue. Can she possibly be correct in this assessment? After all, since 1973 more than 52 million legal abortions have occurred. Is this staggering number of deaths not enough to cause the public to rise up and demand an end to the killing? Apparently not. If the public had truly grasped the moral, ethical, spiritual and demographical implications of this number then Roe v. Wade and the annual multi-million dollar abortion industry that it birthed would have disintegrated by now.

The great challenge to the leaders of the prolife movement today is to successfully convict the conscience of the nation so that the necessary critical mass of public opinion is developed to bring about an end to abortion. This will take committed efforts on all fronts of our society. The church, the schools, the business community, and the political arena all must be impacted by the passionate cries of those who stand for an end to the killing of the innocent and for the establishment of a nation that truly embraces life, liberty and justice for all. Until then abortion will continue to be a wrong with the superficial appearance of being a right.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo is in the political winds and public dissension on a host of critical governmental policies is evident in the growth of the Tea Party movement. This movement is demonstrating that when sufficient numbers of the public demand a change in government policies such change can take place. We will not know until the November elections how successful the Tea Party currently is in galvanizing support for its issues. But it must be emphatically stated that those who oppose abortion must galvanize this same level of support and intensity for the life issues in order to achieve an abortion free America.

Thomas Paine successfully challenged his fellow countrymen to throw off the chains of tyranny and achieve a more just society through common sense and a commitment to truth. Eventually the American colonists banded together in a revolution not seen before in the history of the world. The American Revolution was based upon the foundational belief that all human beings are made in the image of God and thus, are afforded the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The value of each life comes not from what one achieves but rather from the Creator who breathes his image into each human life. A passionate and unshakable conviction of this truth propelled the birth of this nation. And this foundational truth laid the groundwork for the eventual abolition of the institution of slavery which, like abortion, denied the image of God in certain human beings.

Our Constitution was established to form a more perfect union. Perfection is something that never will be completely achieved because society is made of fallen and imperfect individuals. Yet, the American experiment in representative democracy shows that throughout history our nation continues to strive towards perfection by correcting injustices and wrongs that exist in our fallen world. Today the greatest wrong (which has the superficial appearance of a right) is the denial of the right to life to millions of unborn human beings who yearn to breathe free and live out the blessings of liberty promised to our posterity by our Constitution.

History was forever changed when common sense took hold and the American colonies threw off the chains of oppression. Likewise, may those who are fighting the good fight for the sanctity of human life continue in this noble struggle and through common sense and a commitment to truth also forever change history.

Copyright © 2010 by Thomas A. Glessner. All rights reserved.

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