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Princeton University Professor Robert George on the 36th anniversary of Roe V. Wade

Friday, January 23, 2009
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HH: 36 years ago today, the United States took a severe turn in the wrong direction when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Roe V. Wade that there was a right to privacy that enabled a woman to abort children regardless of the laws of the states in which they resided. Joining me to talk about the 36 years hence, and the 36 years to follow, Professor Robert George of Princeton University, where he is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program On American Ideals And Institution. Professor George, welcome to the program, it’s great to have you on.

RG: Thank you very much, Hugh. You know, I love to listen to the program whenever I can, so I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to be on.

HH: Well, I read with great interest the speech you gave yesterday at the Cardinal O’Connor Conference On Life. And it’s very thoughtful, but it’s also very depressing. I began to think, it’s a little bit like in America today if you’re as pro-life activist, as you and I are, being around the Supreme Court when Dred Scott was handed down. You’re feeling rather defeated. At least I am. Are you?

RG: You shouldn’t be, and I am not. Yes, this is a dark hour. We’re facing some severe challenges. We have an administration now in office that’s deeply hostile to any effort to protect innocent human life in the womb. We have a Congress that is no less hostile, led by Nancy Pelosi and by Harry Reid in the Senate who had long claimed to be pro-life, but whose record is, in recent years at least, almost a perfect pro-abortion record. So yes, there are challenges, but Hugh, I want to take you back to the period before the abolition of slavery. There was a time when the pro-abolition cause, the cause against slavery, was in much worse shape than we are today. And still in the end, they prevailed. Now of course, it took a Civil War to do that, and we hope and pray and trust that there will never be such a thing over the abortion issue. But we have great strength. We have great resources, we have wonderful people. I was there in Washington today for the march, and I was struck as we walked past the Supreme Court, Hugh, that there continues to be a Johntocracy in that building protecting Roe V. Wade, and the so-called right to abortion. But marching in front of them were thousands and thousands and thousands of young people, high school students, college students, determined to undo the damage of Roe V. Wade and restore the right to life of the innocent unborn child. The future is with the pro-life movement, and the science is with the pro-life movement. Sonography is with the pro-life movement. We will prevail. We must not lose heart.

HH: Now one of the things you wrote about or spoke about in your address, and I do recommend it to everyone, it’s linked over at Hughhewitt.com, is that we, and I try not to lose sight of the fact that hundreds of thousands of babies are alive today because of pro-life activists who have worked long and hard, even through the era in which they have been unable to move Roe V. Wade, and even in the era when they’ve been unable to win many legislative victories at the federal level. That private action on behalf of the unborn remains a moral obligation for Christians and for good people. That’s an important note to hit.

RG: Absolutely an important note to hit. Pro-lifers have reached out to women in need, never depicting the rights or interests of the baby as contrary to those of the mother, but recognizing the interests of both mother and child, loving both, caring for both. And our political efforts have also saved many lives, Hugh. We know now from very rigorous social scientific studies that laws that require the notification of parents when minors are contemplating an abortion, laws that give women informed consent about abortion by making known to them not only the development of the child in the womb but the health risks, both physical and mental of abortion, laws of this nature. Lots of pro-life laws in the states have saved many, many lives. Those laws now are under threat from the Obama administration. He’s promised the pro-abortion lobby that he will repeal them. The reason they want them repealed, Hugh, is that those laws are preventing abortions from happening. That means babies are being saved. And that’s why in addition to our outreach to women in need, in addition to our prayer which is very, very important, the most important thing, there’s got to be the continued political effort, the intensified political effort. This is no time to lose heart. This is the time to redouble our efforts and rededicate ourselves.

HH: Now Professor George, throughout the period of the abolitionists’ efforts, leading up to the election of Lincoln, you could always sense, and often it would be written, that the slave owners understood that that which they were about was immoral. Even though they kept a brave, public face on it, they knew, they knew it was wrong. I’ve never seen that crack develop except on some high-profile crossovers. Do you think that recognition is there and just better hidden than the proponents of slavery were able to hold their guilt hidden?

RG: Hugh, Hugh, I have to disagree with you on this. I think not only is it there, it’s not even as well hidden as the guilt of the pro-slavery people. I work in a university. I teach at Princeton University as you mentioned to your audience. I live in a culture that’s a pro-abortion culture, where the majority of people accept the idea that there’s a woman’s right to abortion. But I go to homes for dinner parties, and I’m at events for friends, and I’m in their kitchens. And in their kitchens, I often see up on the refrigerator a photograph, a baby picture, a sonographic picture of a baby in the womb, often a grandchild in the womb. And I’ll point at that picture, knowing that these people are pro-abortion, and I’ll say to my hosts, “Who is that?” And they will say, “Oh, that’s little Sarah, our new granddaughter.” They’ve got a name for the baby, they recognize the baby as a granddaughter, even though the baby hasn’t been born. They consider that baby picture a picture of a baby, which is exactly what it is, and they’re absolutely right about that. That creates a kind of cognitive dissidence. That tells me that in their hearts, they know that what is being destroyed by the exercise of this so-called right that they favor is not a rock or a potato or an alligator. That’s a baby. They know it. We need to drive that point home.

HH: Well that’s, that’s what I guess…A) I’m encouraged by your piece today, and I don’t want to be overly somber, but it is that cognitive dissidence, and its unflappability in the face of huge advances in science that troubles me most within the Roman Catholic Church, although also within the Evangelical movement, Robert George. You know, Obama did very well, the new president did very well among Catholic voters. And if the Catholic Church can’t, with leaders like Archbishop Chaput in Denver leading the way this time, and across the United States rebuking Nancy Pelosi, rebuking Joe Biden when they attempted to distort the Church’s teaching, if they can’t break through, what happened?

RG: Well, we need to do a better job. There’s no question about it. We need to do a better job with our Catholic people. I am myself a Catholic. I’m engaged in that effort really every day in trying to send a message to my fellow Catholics that we have a fundamental obligation to protect the right to life of the unborn child. I think some Catholics have been led astray by people who claim that Obama is somehow really in truth a pro-life person because he’s going to enact enlightened social policies that will reduce the need for abortion. Now that’s of course a ridiculous, a ridiculous statement. We know that Obama in simply repealing the Hyde Amendment, which he’s promised to do, which is a part of federal law which prohibits taxpayer dollars from being used for the funding of abortion, we know that’ll increase the abortion rate probably by about 300,000 abortions a year. That’s what the pro-abortion lobby says. So we know that this isn’t true, but nevertheless there are a fair number of Catholics who have bought that argument. Now we have to persuade them that it’s wrong. Soon enough, it’ll be clear that it’s wrong, Hugh. Soon enough, if he gets away with this, and the abortion rate does increase as it’s certain to do, the facts will be on the table and it will be impossible to avert their eyes. But I don’t want to wait for that. I want to engage the argument with my fellow Catholics right now, to persuade them that this is a false move, it’s a false claim, it’s simply a piece of rhetoric by Obama and his supporters, and we’ve got to be about the business of making the protection of innocent life the number one priority as we act as citizens in the polling place.

HH: Now Professor George, we’ve got a couple of minutes left, and I want some practical advice for people. Who do you look to for leadership here? Where do you read the best writing? We’ve lost Father Neuhaus, and First Things was a powerful pulpit in the public square on this and many other important issues. Where’s the momentum now?

RG: I miss him terribly. He was a great friend of mine, a very dear friend of mine, someone who profoundly influenced my own thinking and career. Father Richard Neuhaus is a hero of the pro-life movement. And when we overturn Roe V. Wade, as we will eventually do, and begin to restore the right to life of the unborn child, that will be a day of triumph for the memory of Father Richard John Neuhaus. Now what should we do? Keep reading www.firstthings.com, because we’re going on with the magazine. I’m a member of their editorial board. First Things will continue, and it will exercise leadership. www.nationalreview.com is a pro-life magazine. www.weeklystandard.com is a pro-life magazine. I want people to go to the Public Discourse.com, www.thepublicdiscourse.com. That’s an online site. My piece that you kindly mentioned and reposted on your website was posted there. The Public Discourse is going to be posting plenty of very important pro-life literature. Go to www.moralaccountability.com. That’s another great website that will be providing counterarguments against these misleading arguments that try to take Evangelicals and Catholics off the cliff, talking them into voting for pro-abortion politicians. So there are resources out there, we’re going to make them available to people very easily, and we want people to make maximum use of them. And I hope, Hugh, that you will link on your own site, link to The Public Discourse and Moral Accountability just as often as we can be useful to you.

HH: And that will be often, and I hope to have you back early and often. Professor Robert George from Princeton, one of the great voices, one of the great energizers of the pro-life movement, 36 years after Roe V. Wade, the movement continues, it grows stronger in its arguments and its evidence, and hopefully in its numbers.

End of interview.

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