The end of Roe v. Wade is perhaps the greatest political and cultural event in a generation. It will change American politics forever, and — what’s more important — it will save the lives of countless unborn children. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs is a great victory for the U.S. Constitution, for the American people, and for justice and truth and the common good.
It is also a turning point. We should now expect Democrats and the left to call more explicitly for violence, initially against places like crisis pregnancy centers and Catholic churches, as we have already seen, and eventually against ordinary people who disagree with them. We should expect not just calls for physical attacks against the justices in the Dobbs majority, but, as we have also already seen, attempts to carry out such attacks.
This violence will likely be accompanied by rhetoric that more explicitly posits abortion not just as a positive good — “shout your abortion” — but a necessary one for women to enjoy their full rights as citizens under the Constitution. The argument, already gaining steam in public discourse, is that without a constitutional right to kill the unborn, women are relegated to a kind of second-class status, stripped of their full humanity. This rhetoric will be used in part as a justification for violence, but it also reflects the actual views of Democrats and the left on abortion.
Indeed, the very first paragraph of Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent in Dobbs makes this claim: “Respecting a woman as an autonomous being, and granting her full equality, meant giving her substantial choice over this most personal and most consequential of all life decisions.” Note the phrase “full equality.” Without a right to abortion, women do not have full equality, goes the argument.
It is not the first time Democrats have asserted absolute constitutional rights that for their vindication require the total abnegation of rights or even personhood of entire classes of people. The modern Democratic Party’s stance on abortion rights is almost indistinguishable from its antebellum stance on the constitutionality of slaveowner rights.
Prior to the Civil War amendments, Democrats asserted that the inherent rights of white men, not just property rights but all of them, required the complete denial of the rights of black Americans. Today, Democrats assert that the inherent rights of women require the complete denial of the rights of the unborn.
Chief Justice Roger Taney in his infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision perhaps captured this view best when he argued that when the Founding Fathers wrote “all men are created equal,” they did not really mean it. They only meant white men are created equal. If they had really meant that all men are created equal, including black men, wrote Taney, the Founders “would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and instead of the sympathy of mankind, to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.”
Taney’s view, and the view of all pro-slavery Americans at the time, was that the Constitution held no protections whatsoever for black people. They had zero rights, and indeed only the formal recognition of this could fully vindicate the constitutionally protected rights of southern slaveowners. After all, if a white man could be equal to a black man, then a white man was nothing: he could be enslaved, segregated, subjected to all the deprivations the black man was subjected to. The inherent rights of the white man depended on the denial of all rights to the black man.
That’s why, three years after the Dred Scott decision, the southern slave states seceded from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln. If slavery were to be curtailed or prohibited, even in the territories, southern slaveowners believed their entire way of life would be destroyed, and with it their constitutional rights. Given the stakes, and the principles in question, they felt they had no choice but to secede.
For example, Mississippi’s declaration of secession, passed on January 8, 1861, states the case plainly:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world… Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.
Lawrence Keitt, a congressman from South Carolina, expressed the same idea in a speech to the U.S. House of Representatives on January 25, 1860:
African slavery is the corner-stone of the industrial, social, and political fabric of the South; and whatever wars against it, wars against her very existence. Strike down the institution of African slavery and you reduce the South to depopulation and barbarism.
Those quotes are broadly representative. Southern Democrats believed the denial of all rights to black people — and indeed the denial of their personhood — was integral to what they understood to be their constitutionally protected rights, without which they would cease to be citizens with equal rights as their northern counterparts.
The exact same thing can be said of today’s pro-abortion Democrats. They believe that the denial of all rights to the unborn is integral to what they understand to be women’s constitutionally protected rights, without which they will cease to be citizens with equal rights as their male counterparts. If women are not allowed to kill their unborn babies, they will be stripped of their full humanity, just as stripping slavery from southern whites meant, to them, stripping full humanity from white people.
The Dobbs decision and the end of Roe have exposed the Democrat view of the Constitution for what it is: not, as Frederick Douglass called it, “a glorious liberty document,” but a slave Constitution that relies for its operation on the total subjugation, indeed the extermination, of an entire class of people whose very humanity must be denied for the rights of women to be vindicated.
We should rejoice in the end of Roe, but we should also be realistic about what lies ahead. It took a civil war and three constitutional amendments to correct the Supreme Court’s error in Dred Scott. This time it took 60 million unborn dead before the Supreme Court corrected the error of Roe.
In the coming days and weeks, expect Democrats to sound the same notes of secession their forebears sounded. A constitutional order that vindicates the rights of the unborn is not a constitutional order they want to be a part of. We will hear the same arguments we heard in the 1850s and 60s, but instead of objecting to the emancipation of black Americans they will object to the emancipation of the unborn. Understand what this means. The last time Democrats openly made these kind of arguments, war soon followed.