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Roe v. Wade and the Sacred Heart by Sebastian Morello

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Commentary

Roe v. Wade and the Sacred Heart

Last week, on the 24th of June, the world was shaken by a decision that, frankly—to my shame—I never thought would come about. The Supreme Court of the United States of America overturned the decision that was made by justices of the same Court in 1973, namely Roe v. Wade. Five decades ago, the Court ruled that individual state laws banning abortion were unconstitutional. How such a decision can be inferred from a proper reading of the U.S. Constitution has mystified many for decades. The Court has finally arrived at the sane and correct decision that, in fact, it cannot be so inferred. Abortion will no longer be forced by law on those states that reject it.

Since Roe v. Wade, U.S. conservatives have campaigned for this horrendous abuse and misuse of the law to come to an end, and so it has. Whilst we should see this as an intermediate victory and in our respective countries always pray and campaign for the total criminalisation of abortion, there can be no doubt that last week’s decision marks an astonishing event worthy of much celebration. Among the many right-minded people who have worked tirelessly to keep the debate alive, who have continuously brought to the fore of public discourse the right to life of the unborn among us, Catholic Christians have been the most visible and most coherent.

Noteworthy it is, then, that this decision was made on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. As I have written elsewhere, the Sacred Heart devotion and its related imagery has long stood at the centre of the counter-revolutionary, conservative tradition. Indeed, as the Enlightenment’s political henchmen sought to realise their fantasies in the civic arena, their first thought was to isolate the individual and undermine the family, crushing familial rights in favour of the absolute state. Conservatives, uniting under the emblem of the Saviour’s heart, on fire with love for humankind, insisted that marriage and family had to be protected against the appetitive frenzy of the new revolutionary politics. Louis de Bonald, chief among those conservatives who defended the family, campaigned tirelessly to abolish the newly established law permitting divorce—and, indeed, he lived to see its abolition (fortunately, he did not live to see its reestablishment).

Can there be anything more revolutionary, anything that takes the atomisation of the individual to such an extreme, anything that is such an assault on the family, than the political endorsement of the killing of the unborn? Can there be anything that so freezes up the human heart? And so it was that the day on which U.S. legal patronage of abortion ended happened to be the Feast of the Sacred Heart, that great holy day on which the love of the Incarnate Word is celebrated, the Word who said, “before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

And, indeed, there was one who was sanctified before he came forth from the womb, and the day on which Roe v. Wade was overturned was not only the Feast of the Sacred Heart but the eve of the Feast of he who was so sanctified. When the Blessed Virgin greeted her cousin Elizabeth, at the Virgin’s voice the baby John—later the Baptist—leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. At that moment, the Christian tradition has always held, Jesus Christ, by the word of his mother Mary, sanctified John. For this reason, the feast is called ‘The Nativity of St. John the Baptist.’ Usually, a Saint’s Feast is on his or her day of death but, on account of that felicitous meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, the Baptist was born sanctified and therefore his feast is on his birthday. In the womb, he was loved.

The liturgical significance of the day on which Roe v. Wade was overturned is quite extraordinary.

The following day, the purportedly Roman Catholic UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke about the U.S. Supreme Court decision, saying “I think it’s a big step backwards.” Not only does such a remark presuppose a notion of historical moral progress that should be anathema to any thinking conservative, but it is also illustrative of how extreme the Leftism of the UK Conservative Party is (as if we needed more evidence). Johnson then proceeded to boast about the Tories’ success in forcing abortion on Northern Ireland from Westminster.

The decision on Friday of last week to overturn Roe v. Wade has shown conservatives around the world what real conservative activism can, in the end, achieve. The decision was not the direct effect of such activism, as the decision straightforwardly arose from a correct and clearly defensible reading of the Constitution. But that reconsideration of the 1973 decision was required was made evident by conservatives’ insistence that this was an issue that was never going to go away. 

Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic should draw enormous encouragement from this decision, with the take-home lesson being that history need not be just a sequence of victories by the increasingly noxious Left. Those conservatives in the UK who are demoralised by the awful sentiments of their Prime Minister should take heart—the political landscape could look very different before long. We have all been shown what conservatism can look like, what it can achieve, and why we should never give up the fight for what is good.

Sebastian Morello is a lecturer, public speaker, and columnist. Trained by Sir Roger Scruton, he has published books on philosophy, history, and education. He lives in Bedfordshire, England, with his wife and children. He is essays editor of The European Conservative.

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