Recovering the Right to Parent

In the wake of Dobbs, pro-abortionists will leave no stone unturned to use – as they did before Roe – the most extreme cases, (like the 10-year-old Ohio girl who went to Indiana for an abortion) to tar the latest Supreme Court decision as “extremist,” while attempting to codify truly extremist abortion policy into law.

Today, as was true before Roe (1973), the vast majority of abortions – conservatively, at least 96 percent – are performed for social, economic, and other non-medical reasons.

Back then, that motivation was called “convenience,” a term clearly politically incorrect in contemporary discourse.  Calling abortion “reproductive health care” now is how abortion advocates seek to disguise the reality: by redefining “health” in ever more elastic and innovative ways.

We need to be clear about pro-abortion extremism.  While pro-abortionists will cite hard cases, their goal is not to debate them but to exclude any consideration of motivation from the abortion decision, a move necessary to shield the 96 percent-plus of abortions chosen that have nothing to do with rape, incest, or medical necessity.

Like the “no-fault divorce” movement, pro-abortionists aim to exclude any consideration of cause or reason for the “choice.”  These are moral positions disguised under seemingly neutral legal terminology. What they really mean is that no marriage should ever be immune from dissolution, no pregnancy from termination.

This is wholly in keeping with a morally relativistic viewpoint that refuses to examine causes, but wants only to deal with consequences.  Pre-teens should not be stopped from having sex; they should be issued condoms.  If they get pregnant, they obviously should have abortions.

And if parents get in the way, well, America’s public schools should assimilate these “children” to the mores of “liberal democracy,” not their parents’ “outdated” views.  After all, “children have rights!”

A full-on, frontal assault on this widespread propaganda is likely to be ineffective, largely because our culture has traded reasoned discourse for gripping soundbites, an exchange that benefits politicians even as it impoverishes political discourse.

So, I suggest an “incremental” approach, not because the rights of the unborn only deserve partial protection, but because the cultural corruption that has metastasized in the half-century-long culture of death following Roe will require baby steps to walk back.  But as with every major turn in the moral life, everything starts with small steps.


Parents currently filling in school forms must sign multiple waivers to allow medication to be given to a child by a school during school hours.

Yet among Roe’s bastard jurisprudential offspring was Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, which launched a long line of federal and state court decisions limiting a parent’s right to consent or even to know if an underage daughter seeks an abortion – via a “judicial bypass” provision, because a judge, unlike father, always knows best.

Those seeking to “codify Roe” admit their proposals continue this curtailing of parental rights. And their “codifications” of Roe don’t just allow children to get everyday drugs like aspirin at school. They effectively exclude parents from a minor daughter’s abortion (though the parents, not a federal judge or a Congressperson, will have to care for the girl if something goes wrong).

Even in the states that have “codified” abortion – places like New Jersey or New York – local right-to-life groups should consider reopening those debates using parental rights as a wedge.

The same might be tried in places like Alaska where state supreme courts have belatedly discovered “abortion rights” in state constitutions. Or a place like Virginia, where there seem to be possibilities for moving beyond the old status quo and into the new moment post-Dobbs.

Parental rights can help advance the debate. You might not want to ban abortion after week X, but you certainly would see the value of parental involvement.

If change can’t be achieved in a given state legislature, parents should press boards of education to adopt pro-life policies regarding teen pregnancy.  Find ways to emphasize the simplicity of the message.  Hold up an aspirin or an asthma inhaler, and ask why those items, truly for healthcare, require parental knowledge and consent, but abortion does not.

If you succeed but the state claims the right to preempt such local policies, it’s an opportunity to re-litigate parental rights in the courts, which again shines a public light on the usurpation of parental rights.

The growing parental-rights counterrevolution against efforts to use schools to advance liberal race and gender ideologies against the consent and without the knowledge of parents offers a winning political dynamic that pro-lifers should latch on to.

And remember: all this is no more than the advancing of two key principles of Catholic social thought: that the most vulnerable, including the unborn, deserve protection of their fundamental rights from conception; and that parents, not the state, are the primary teachers and guides of their children.

This is not politics; it’s basic theology.


*Image: The Guardian Angel Protecting a Child from the Demon by Bartolomeo Gennari, c. 1640 [Musée Magnin, Dijon, France]

You may also enjoy:

Kristina Johannes’ School Choice as Social Justice

Stephen P. White’s An Object of Detestation

John Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views herein are exclusively his.