The Virtue of Steadfastness

Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade Daniel K. WilliamsOxford University Press, 2016; 400 pages, $29.95 This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital and abortion centers to meet the minimum legal standards for an outpatient surgical center. Five justices determined this law created an “undue burden” on the right to abortion the Court had created in Roe v. Wade in 1973. Quite apart from the specific holding of the majority, this case is remarkable in another way. It was decided 43 years after the Court had attempted to have the final word on the legal status of the unborn, and it was clear that the issue was still in contention—and would continue to be so. Indeed, Justice Clarence Thomas’ dissent specifically rejected the idea that the Court’s abortion cases had been correctly decided. More importantly, four decades after Roe, states like Texas were still pursuing legislation at odds with the abortion-on-demand regime introduced by that case and by its companion, Doe v. Bolton. What explains the remarkable endurance of the pro-life cause so long after its most significant legal defeat? Part of the answer lies in the history of that movement, recounted carefully and admirably by Daniel K. Williams, a professor of history at the University of West Georgia, in Defenders of the Unborn. Professor Williams’ book is not a discussion of the legal history of abortion but instead a description of the social and political movement that developed first to prevent liberalization of abortion laws, and then turned to forestalling the acceptance of elective abortion and ultimately to restoring to the law legal protection of unborn children. The narrative of Defenders of the Unborn begins with a 1937 meeting of the National Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Guilds at which the doctors forcefully rebuked nascent stirrings of approval for ab
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