Abortion and society

The Supreme Court's latest decision on abortion is more than a victory for those who support a woman's right of privacy and freedom of choice in this controversial matter. It is an opportunity for society to consider the broader moral and spiritual implications of the proliferation of abortion.Individuals do not have to be militantly ''pro-life'' to recognize that something is deeply wrong in the broad range of personal relationships when so many woman feel driven to resort to abortion. The situation calls for thoughtful, prayerful attention, and long before the drastic issue of abortion even arises.

Technically speaking, the high court was not asked to overturn the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling. But, given the emotionalism surrounding the issue of abortion, the court chose to reaffirm the 1973 decision and to stress the importance of judicial precedent. ''The court repeatedly and consistently has accepted and applied the basic principle that a woman has a fundamental right to make the highly personal choice whether or not to terminate her pregnancy,'' wrote Justice Powell.

So in effect the court has said that Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land and there is no prospect that it will back off that decision short of a constitutional amendment. Further, it dealt a severe blow to New Right and other forces trying to put up even indirect roadblocks to those wanting an abortion. Some 20 states will now have to change laws aimed at discouraging the surgical procedure. Among the laws ruled unconstitutional were ones requiring that second-trimester abortions be performed in hospitals rather than licensed clinics, that doctors tell women about abortion risks, and that abortions be held up for 24 hours after a woman signs a consent form. Thus the high court has further clarified its 1973 decision, which left it to the states to regulate the abortion procedure after the first three months of pregnancy.

Many will applaud the Supreme Court's stand on the side of individual choice and conscience. But, as disappointed ''pro-life'' forces continue working for a constitutional amendment, all Americans should be willing to address the question of why the number of abortions is growing, especially among teenagers, and what this says about the texture, tone, and quality of society. It is of profound concern when abortion comes to be seen as an easy way out of an unwanted pregnancy and when parents, educators, and others seem more preoccupied with making contraceptives easily available for young people than instilling standards of sexual morality and responsible behavior.

Other factors too come into play, of course. Poverty and repeated pregnancies can lead a woman to the painful decision to have an abortion. So can ignorance about birth control and about the possibilities of child adoption. Society must do much more to address compassionately the economic, educational, and other problems contributing to this tragic practice. At the same time there is no escaping the underlying issue of morality and the harm done to the individual and to society when the moral order is weakened. Here parents and churches have a special obligation to reexamine their performance. Have they abdicated their role of moral training and become tolerant of sexual license, including premarital sex and adultery?

How to heighten a love for and obedience to the moral law of the Bible is one of today's greatest challenges. Surely here - in purifying thought and action - lies the ultimate answer to the individuals's search for true satisfaction and self-esteem. The court can defend rights of free choice. But it is for individual men and women to use that freedom wisely - to enhance the integrity of their own lives and of society.

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