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TOWARD A THOMISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON ABORTION AND THE LAW IN CONTE:MPORARY AMERICA M. CATHLEEN KAVENY Yale University New Haven, Oonnecticut Introduction W;HEN THE SUPREME COURT handed down its abortion decision Webster v. Reproductive Health Services 1 in the summer of 1989, it was widely prel 109 S. Ct. 3040 (1989). All further citations to Webster will be given parenthetically in the text. To summarize the most significant aspects. of the decision: A. Chief Justice Rehnquist authored an opinion of the Oourt (of the highest precedential value) which was joined by Justices White, Kennedy, Scalia, and O'Connor. The majority found the lower courts to be in error in striking down as unconstitutional the preamble to a Missouri statute which asserted that "the life -0f each human being begins at conception." The opinion of the Court also found that Missouri could constitutionally prohibit the use of public employees and facilities in the performance of abortions not necessary to save the mother's life. B. The Court also upheld the Missouri statute's provision requiring a. doctor to perform viability tests before aborting a fetus the doctor believes is of 20 or more weeks gestational age. In the plurality opinion (of less precedential value than an opinion -0f the Court, since it is not joined by a majority of the justices), Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice White, and Justice Kennedy argued that since most fetuses are not viable at twenty weeks, the provision would impose substantial restrictions unrelated to the health of the mother upon what are, in fact, simply sec-0nd trimester abortions. Because they believed such restrictions to be in tension with Roe's trimester system, the plurality decided to abandon that system, along with its stipulation that the state's interest in unborn life became compelling only at viability. The plurality contended, however, that Webster presented no occasion for reconsidering Roe's holding, which deemed unconstitutional a statute prohibiting all abortions except those necessary to save the life of the mother. In a concurring opinion, Justice Scalia went further, arguing that the Court should explicitly overrule Roe v. Wade. On the other hand, Justice O'Connor, 848 344 M. CAT'HLEEN KAVENY dieted that this would exaicerbate a dangerously bitter social·struggle. In its 1973 decision Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 113), the court had e1abo:raJted .a woman's right to abortion, and, in rthe sixteen years that fo11owed it, it ga,V'e that right unwavering support. Webster 'seemed to mark a retl.'eat from that support. The new scope it offered for state regulation of rubortion promised rto ignite gra,ss-roots forvor and a stiate..:by-state battle between those seeking rto maintain the abortion rights est1ab1isihed by Roe and its sequalia and those st:dving to limit the s1oope of these rights in 1 significant ways. Much of the criticism of Webster has fooused narrowly upon how weM the ,decision has aiocorided with various views on the morality of abortion. Yet important 1as this issue is, thorough ethicaJ ana:lysis of Webster must address severa1l additional fac~ tors. The ethiicatl aidequacy of positive law, induding judicial interpretations of faw siuch as Webster, must he ev1alruated in terms of whetheir it aidvanices or impedes the common good. The common good requires not only that we consider the moml substance of legal requirements but tha:t we ailso attend to the manner in which law is made, promulgated, ml!d interpreted . Such an analysis is ,sorely needed; it should. specify the severa1l factors involved in determining whether any given legal also concurring in the plurality's judgment, maintained that this provision of the statute could be upheld without any reconsideration of Roe, since it co· hered with that decision's recognition of the compelling state interest in viable fetal life. C. Justice Blackmun authored an opinion dissenting from the majority on the issues discussed above, and he was joined by Justices Brennan and Mar· shall. The thrust of his opposition is directed against the plurality's treatment of the viability testing ,provisions. Blackmun first suggested that i.f understood according to the canons of proper statutory interpretation, these provisions unconstitutionally restrict the attending physician...


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