The Editors: Roe v. Wade has made abortion politics impossible. It needs to be challenged.

Demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington July 9. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The recently passed abortion laws in Georgia and Alabama have raised the temperature of the national debate nearly to the boiling point. The law in Georgia, keyed to the detection of fetal cardiac activity, would restrict abortion after about the sixth week of pregnancy; it also defines human beings in the womb, at any stage of development, as “natural persons.” Alabama’s law bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy. While these laws allow exceptions for cases where a woman’s life would be endangered by carrying the pregnancy to delivery, neither law has exceptions allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest.

Much discussion of these bills has described them as “extreme,” while almost universally neglecting the most significant cause of such “extremism.” Many commentators recognize that these new laws are designed to mount a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade—but they fail to notice that these laws’ blunt restrictions are a mirror image of Roe’s broad rejection of any practical or effective limits on abortion. When abortion rights advocates defend Roe in order to reject any proposed restriction of abortion, they are taking an extreme position. That leaves no ground open for any compromise on less extreme laws. Pro-life legislators are going to meet the same tooth-and-nail opposition whether they aim to ban all abortions or, as recently seen in the U.S. Senate, attempt to require that infants born alive during an abortion receive medical care.

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Consistently over decades, polls show that a significant majority of Americans support stricter restrictions on abortion than allowed under Roe, yet not as stark as those established by these new laws. American public opinion on the legality of abortion is conflicted and contradictory. According to one poll conducted this month, half of voters believe that the six-week “heartbeat laws” are either “just right” or even “too lenient;” another poll found that two-thirds of U.S. adults oppose overturning Roe. But under Roe and its successor decision, Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the abortion limits many voters want, even while abortion remains legal, are rendered unconstitutional. About 60 percent of Americans support legal abortion during the first three months of pregnancy, but far fewer—less than one-third—support it up to six months. But Casey’s “undue burden” standard disallows abortion restrictions anytime before fetal viability (around six months), which is not what most Americans would choose.

There is a large gap between what Roe requires and what Americans believe about abortion. But addressing this gap remains politically unimaginable for pro-choice activists at the same time as they present the possibility of Roe being overturned as an acute political crisis. In reality, the reverse is the case. The ongoing political crisis is a consequence of the persistent failure of Roe and Casey to settle the abortion question and the failure of the Supreme Court to offer any sign that these cases ever will.

In her majority opinion upholding Roe in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that “the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.” On the abortion question, this call has manifestly and expressly failed for more than 45 years, while distorting national politics and contributing to national division. The wreckage of these cases needs to be cleared for the country to move forward.

The Alabama and Georgia laws are far from perfect. They should have been accompanied by equally vigorous support for women struggling with pregnancy. They will almost certainly be suspended by injunction before they are implemented, and whenever they eventually reach the Supreme Court, they are unlikely to be upheld in all the details of their current form. If these laws are upheld and Roe is overturned or limited, they will need to be modified in order to be practically and justly enforced. But the legislative work of answering the challenging moral questions about abortion will at least be possible. While that will not end political divisions over abortion, it would allow us to engage them more honestly.

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This story has been updated.

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J Jones
3 months ago

A male-only institution editorializes on law that will dictate women's behavior and uses the word "woman" only twice. The word woman accounts for two out of 669 words, 59 lines and 6 paragraphs in a discussion about law that would force women to bear children.

From members of a male-only institution now known worldwide for the rape and cover-up of rape of girls and women, including Catholic nuns and sisters to THIS day as acknowledged by Pope Francis, no concern is expressed that these laws would result in legally enforced motherhood for the pregnant victims of priest-rapists. (Linking to Camosy leaves this area wholly unaddressed).

I am appalled by your ongoing and utter indifference to your own ongoing collective and individual participation in the devaluation of women's lives.

I think this might be it for me. A group of Catholic priests used the word "woman" twice in six paragraphs in which you opine on law dictating what little girls and women (including those raped by your clerical peers) must allow to occur inside their own bodies.

I am repulsed by this corrosiveness sexism that is so natural to your daily lives.

J Jones
2 months 4 weeks ago

John, again, I do not know why you persist in demanding I engage with the substance of your comment which represents a refusal to engage with the substance of my comment. My comment has nothing, either in substance or motivation, to do with "hatred of men" or the voting rights of women and has everything to with the written conduct of THESE men and the worldview revealed by the written conduct of THESE men.

Oz Jewel
2 months 4 weeks ago

Not all persons of the female sex are women, you do remember eh?
At risk, and under discussion, are the people of female sex who are not yet biologically grown to the totally dependent state of being born alive. These people are in need of advocates as a vile fraction of their human sisters, gone before them and nurtured and protected and fed and clothed and housed and cherished sufficiently adequately to become fertile adults to grant or deny or extinguish life in another seek their premature unnatural merciless destruction.
The topic is the God ordained dimorphic and complementary nature of the human species and the differing roles attendant upon that deep existential difference.

Jesus is and was a genius and was free from all the blindnesses associated with fallen human nature.
At least one of the distinguishing characteristics of his personhood is that he was NOT a slave to culture and convention. The poor and the rich, slaves and nobles, lepers and healthy persons, Jews and not Jews were all dealt with in a regal and prophetic way - obviously counter-cultural.
He did not mistakenly or accidentally choose those people to whom he entrusted the introduction, nurture and spread of the Way he came to establish and for which he suffered and died.

Ellen B
2 months 3 weeks ago

I agree with you. If you are going to force women and children who may be victims of rape & incest to have babies, you had darned well better mention women. If you are going to force women to carry a dead fetus to term, as the Pope has proposed, you had darned well better mention women. If you are going to agree with outlawing abortion when a woman's life is in danger, you had better mention women.

J Jones
2 months 3 weeks ago

Ellen, this editorial is important not because of anything it says about abortion. This editorial is important because it lays bare the invisibility of women in the spiritual lives and institutional leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. No man who conscientiously and fully experiences women's humanity as his equal to his own could have written and endorsed this editorial.

Colin Jory
3 months ago

Here's a terminological quibble, but an important one. In the above editorial pro-abortionists are called "abortion rights advocates". In reality the only abortion rights activists are Pro-Lifers, because there is only one authentic abortion right, and that is the right not to be aborted.

Michael Bindner
3 months ago

The unborn have the same right to life against being killed by the government as you do. They have the same right to not be injured in an attack on their mother. No one has a constitutional right not to be murdered. Protection from murder is a matter of positive law, not natural rights (natural law as you believe in it is a Vatican thing, making it applicable to natural rights reasoning). To argue for a right to not be murdered you need to assert that there is a natural right, rather than a contractual right, to have government. I dare you to assert that last n it. If you do not, your conclusion falls apart.

Colin Jory
3 months ago

Michael, I shall heroically take up your dare. Your position seems to be the "legal positivist" one that there can be no such thing as a right binding on a government, because governments are the sources of rights. Even given this assumption, you contradict yourself in stating that people have a contractual right to establish governments, since a necessary implication of your basic supposition is that the only contractual rights are ones concocted by governments. Catholic social thought is indeed explicitly grounded in natural law philosophy, but that philosophy was not invented by the Vatican: its most famous early proponent was Aristotle. According to Catholic social thought there is indeed a natural right to government: it is a right and instinct innate in human nature, and is in the first instance a right to the most fundamental form of government, that of the natural family. If you want a concise account of the basis of Catholic social thought, Michael, a quick way would be to get hold of my book, "The Campion Society and Catholic Social Militancy in Australia, 1929-1939", and read its first few pages on "The Catholic Church and the Modern World". (The book has a Foreword by Australia's most famous historian, the late Professor C.M.H. Clark.)

Brien Doyle
3 months ago

No! They do NOT have the same rights - in fact, they have NO rights!!! (and the word 'murder' is subjective and has no place here)

rose-ellen caminer
3 months ago

They have rights if just enough people in positions of power;be it legislatures or judges, or executive,say they have right. Just like enslaved Africans, and gays.etc. Of course, once just enough people in positions of power say they have rights then, we all, then the narrative is; they had rights ALL ALONG [naturally] but we just failed to see , to recognize this.
Its a beautiful law , this Alabama law; the legalized killing peoples' angst coming true;how brazen of Alabama and these other states, to go up against our decades now acceptance of legalized killing.Now the politicians, the judges all have to once again talk about this , and take a stand,and say it loud and say it clear, that they support killing the unborn, for any reason, at any time even full term even once born ,even for the purposes of gender preference or disability prejudice, or not.Let them tie themselves in knots, let the pro legalized killing people have to take to marching in the street for the right to KILL ON demand, and use words that conceal the appalling truth of what they mean. Most are so brainwashed that it is something they can easily do "without batting and eye" but there will be some seepage; of truth, of conscience of morality that they will be wrestling with.

Michael Bindner
3 months ago

State challenges to Roe are all about state power (or rather, the lack thereof) in legislating in violation of a protective class. This includes Catholics in the South and Catholic school children (the latter case has not been advanced, but could be), undocumented students, Latinos (Hernandez), women (Griswold, Roe, Doe) and gays (Lawrence, Roemer, Perry) with 4 cases on deck. The real agenda is to challenge all of these, not just abortion rights, and restoring the state power regime of Plessy v. Ferguson. Plessy held that states are the appropriate venue for addressing state violations of the 14th Amendment. The only place that abortion can be regulated is Congress. State governments cannot be trusted. Supporting Alabama is to support the tyranny of the reactionary mob (which includes more than a few Catholic bishops and clergy). Build national consensus instead. Slavery was preserved by local power. We made that mistake and it ended badly.

Of course, a national consensus hurts fundraising on both sides on an issue that is not an issue with any way forward, other than tinkering with late term rules.
Enforcing first trimester prohibitions are impossible because the targeted enforcement retired to do so without investigating miscarriage violates due process rights of women and their doctors.

It is time to increase both minimum wages, paid training and a child tax credit large enough for a middle class existence. Nothing less is acceptable in the richest nation on Earth. Such a solution is also in keeping with the Magisterium of Pius XI (Casti Connubii 119-122).

Crystal Watson
3 months ago

It's a lie to say there have been no restrictions on abortion - there's a whole Wikipedia page on the various and numerous restrictions ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_abortion_restrictions_in_the_United_States
All your articles on abortion are slanted and often disingenuous. The majority of Americans want Roe to remain in effect and your minority and extreme religious obsession won't change that.

rose-ellen caminer
2 months 4 weeks ago

Are you in favor of the restrictions on abortion, Crystal?If so then you actually disagree with the pro choice position that it's no one's business what a woman does with "her body"? You have broken with them on that? if so when and what caused the break with abortion on demand pro choice platform?Or do you oppose the restrictive laws?

James Schwarzwalder
3 months ago

I'm not sure anything in the short run is going to change the opinion(s) currently held by each individual. So let's instead talk about slavery and how the "We the People" have struggled for 243 years regarding slavery, its abolition and its aftermath. Today some would have you believe that racism is the premier issue in the upcoming 2020 election. Slavery and abortion have one common thread. Slaves were considered property by slave owners and today some consider the unborn to be "property". The slogan "My choice, my body", reflects the notion of "ownership" and control over "another", a unique and unrepeatable entity, an unborn baby. The slogan "Reproductive Rights" is a misnomer. What it really means is the right not to reproduce. I won't argue with anyone who seeks to avoid pregnancy. But after conception or implantation there is more than one human biological entity involved. I also think a person has the right to self defense if their life is threatened, medically or otherwise. The Ten Commandments were not based on an opinion poll. For some, God was and is considered a "law giver." The SCOTUS does not always get it right.

Neil Lupton
3 months ago

Roe v. Wade is right down the middle of the road. One pole is no abortion at all or as close to it as possible (the Alabama position). The other pole is government mandated abortion (The China one-child position). Roe v. Wade takes the government out of the equation. If the pregnant woman does not wish to have an abortion, she doesn't. But if she believes because of her religious beliefs or philosophy, that an abortion is appropriate for her situation, she can. Right down the middle of the road.
The only real way to end up any place else is to impose one's religious beliefs on other people who do not have those same religious beliefs.

Colin Jory
3 months ago

One extreme: all Jews should be gassed. The other extreme: no Jews should be gassed. The moderate, middle-of-the-road position: some Jews should be gassed but not others.

Vincent Couling
3 months ago

Is that really a valid analogy, Colin? The American moral philosopher Judith Thomson, in her 1971 paper "A defense of abortion," argues that "abortion does not violate the foetus's legitimate right to life, but merely deprives the foetus of something—the non-consensual use of the pregnant woman's body and life-support functions—to which it has no right. Thus, by choosing to terminate her pregnancy, Thomson concludes that a pregnant woman does not normally violate the foetus's right to life, but merely withdraws its use of her own body, which usually causes the foetus to die." [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Defense_of_Abortion ]

Her paper raises rather profound questions around this troubling moral conundrum ... here is a link to it: https://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/Phil160,Fall02/thomson.htm

E. Commerce
2 months 4 weeks ago

How would Judith treat (in moral terms) a parent starving (or treating in a way that would cause death) her already born child?

Warren Patton
2 months 4 weeks ago

Colin's point could be made in a less inflammatory way. For example: "One side: Build a dam. Other side: Don't build a dam. Compromise: Build half a dam"

The point is the same. Just because a position lies in the middle does not make it sane or more reasonable.

And the debate isn't about "wanting an abortion" vs "not wanting one." It's about what abortion is. The Roe vs. Wade position assumes a certain stance on what an abortion is that flies against Catholic teaching and, in my opinion, reason and facts. That can't be papered over just by saying "If you don't want an abortion, don't get one."

Crystal Watson
3 months ago

No, the abortion debate isn't akin to the issue of slavery, and no, the "unborn" don't have the same legal rights as actual persons. If you want to convince anyone, it would help to stick to facts.

Jim Lein
3 months ago

If we really want to reduce or eliminate abortions, males (men and teens) have to start behaving responsibly. As Sarah Silverman recently pointed out, males cause all unwanted pregnancies. If us guys behaved responsibly, there would be virtually no need for abortions. So until we change our behavior, we should shut up about outlawing abortion. Or agree that our irresponsible behavior should also be outlawed.
Perhaps members of the Knights of Columbus should set a good example by taking a pledge to never, or never again, cause an unwanted pregnancy. How many males can say with 100% certainty that they have never caused an unwanted pregnancy?

J Jones
3 months ago

Jim, thank you. I think the RCC should lead the initiative with this pledge:
"No Catholic Priest, Brother, Deacon, Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal or Pope will cause an unwanted pregnancy."

Vincent Couling
3 months ago

Spot on!

Stanley Kopacz
2 months 4 weeks ago

Whoa. Are you saying women don't like sexual intercourse? That the male is the only one responsible? Or that all unwanted pregnancies are the result of rape? I'm sure the K of C boys know what they're SUPPOSED to not do and all the ones I know don't do it. Haven't met any aged Lotharios among them. Oh wait! This is an SNL skit. A bunch of old K of C guys taking a pledge not to ravish young fertile women. I get it now. Hilarious.

Jim Lein
2 months 4 weeks ago

The male is the only one responsible for impregnating a female and leaving her without his support. And then, in many cases, not only leaving her alone with her pregnancy but voting to take away her support options, including WIC, SNAP, TANF and Medicaid. And now in some states taking away the option of a safe abortion, leaving her in a very desperate situation which is no laughing matter. Again the question, how many guys can say they never caused an unwanted pregnancy and left a woman alone to deal with it?

Stanley Kopacz
2 months 3 weeks ago

Good last question. Sounds like you think it's 99% a-holes. I have no idea what the real numbers are. I'm not sure you really do either. By the way, I'm 100% sure and a democratic socialist.

Stanley Kopacz
2 months 4 weeks ago

Copy deleted

Brien Doyle
3 months ago

Not your body ,', Not your business!!!
Mind your own business - Simple (even for simpletons)

E. Commerce
3 months ago

Abortion is most drastically about the unborn child's body--it involves the mother's body in a partial, and temporary way. It destroys the child's body forever. And I will NOT "mind my own business" when children are being killed with no one to stand as a voice for them. You're right about one thing--it's not as complicated as we make it.

Crystal Watson
3 months ago

This ... https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Human_embryos#/media/File:Embryo,_8_cells.jpg ... is not a child. Constantly characterizing embryos and fetuses as children is manipulative and dishonest.

FRAN ABBOTT
3 months ago

Isn’t it also Catholic doctrine?

Neil Lupton
2 months 4 weeks ago

Yes and yes. Which is fine if you believe that the secular "separation of church and state based" government should impose Catholic doctrine on all citizens and all persons, even those who are non-Catholic, non-religious and even atheist. I believe that's called "theocracy" and goes on in places like Iran. I would suggest that accurate persuasion is one thing, To mandate, legislate and threaten and impose long prison sentences is, I believe, something very different.

rose-ellen caminer
2 months 4 weeks ago

Catholic doctrine is irrelevant in a secular democracy as pertains legislation, but the unborn are living humans.There are non Christians and there are atheists who oppose abortion for that biological fact alone.The invoking of the specter of theocracy for opposing legalized abortion, is a straw man.

E. Commerce
3 months ago

A blastocyst is human, a zygote, gamete, embryo, fetus is human. A child is human. It was brilliant for someone to come up with the construct that at some point we (presto, chango, poof-magic!!) BECOME a human. When I was in college (way back!) a professor excitedly told the class about his view of a sliding scale of personhood. There would be the perfect human--maybe age 36, well-formed, intelligent, etc., and people would be given a point on a scale that was closer or farther away from that ideal. THAT was how he could justify taking the life of the unborn or the elderly. This guy was very serious. Even at age 18 I wanted to shake him and show him how ARBITRARY that was. If people's rights are too inconvenient for us, we will find a way to dehumanize them. Thus it has ever been...

Crystal Watson
3 months ago

Of course an embryo is human - what else would it be? But it isn't a child anymore than it is an adult. It is an embryo, something that will, given the right circumstances, become a child eventually. Pro-lifers want fetuses to be treated as if they were people, with the same legal rights, but they are not people and don't have those rights.

rose-ellen caminer
2 months 4 weeks ago

No, we want them treated as humans i.e. with the right to go on living. And at some gestational point they are people; when they are sentient; including having the capacity to suffer physical pain which is the case in these third and at some point of second trimester abortions.If the SC says they have those rights ,then they do; THAT's the politics of it.The biology of it is they at some point they are as much a person as any born person is.

Of course politically you can define person anyway you want like denying personhood to humans according to capacities, to communicate, to learn, which is also a trend.We have accused other nations and cultures of not valuing human life, but the mantra that " a human is not necessarily a PERSON, and only personhood is valuable" is reminiscent of similar inhuman ideologies.

John Rysavy
2 months 4 weeks ago

CW-your myopia around life and science could use a new set of glasses.

Vincent Couling
3 months ago

No one would argue that a zygote resulting from the fusion of a human ovum and a human sperm cell isn't human. But some would argue that while such a zygote is human, it most certainly isn't a human being. Some moral philosophers point out that an acorn is not an oak tree ... it has the potential to become an oak tree (if planted in soil and provided conducive conditions ... water, sunlight, nutrients, etc) ... but, they say, an acorn is not an oak tree. These sorts of philosophers argue that a human zygote is a single diploid cell ... while a human being is a multicellular organism. They would say that while any single cell in your body is a human cell, it most certainly is not a human being, and does not need to be preserved at all costs as if its death were the death of a human being. They would say that while a single cell from your body, if cloned, has the potential to become a human being, it is not a human being. I find their arguments quite interesting.

E. Commerce
2 months 4 weeks ago

Actually, an acorn, once it has started to grow, IS an oak tree. Just as a fertilized egg starts to grow rapidly right from the outset. The blueprint is set in motion, and all of the person's days on earth will be an unfolding of that blueprint. I am growing now like I was when I was first conceived, and so are you. It is "quite interesting", as you say, to consider all the implications of cloning, in vitro embryo freezing, AI, and so on. But a conceived person is a human being. That is actually clear. What isn't clear is what value we choose to give that human being, and how much we are willing to extend ourselves to protect that human being.

Crystal Watson
2 months 4 weeks ago

Here in California oak trees are protected and one must get special permission to trim or cut them down. Strangely, there is no prohibition against doing away with an acorn. Why? Because an acorn is NOT an oak tree.

E. Commerce
2 months 4 weeks ago

That's because they haven't encountered the circumstance that activates them to begin their growth. In the case of an acorn, that is being planted in the soil. In Virginia, I yank out little oak trees (and mimosas) that sprout up in my yard all the time. They aren't acorns, they are small trees. With human beings, that growth begins when sperm and egg join.

Warren Patton
2 months 4 weeks ago

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Human_Embryo.JPG

Oz Jewel
2 months 4 weeks ago

" ... when I was hungry, you gave me to eat, when I was thirsty ... " Matthew 25:31-40.

When I was in the womb you allowed me to dwell for a spell - now enter into my Kingdom.
When I was in the womb you cast me out to die - depart from me ye cursed to everlasting darkness

BECAUSE

When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to Me.

Dolores Pap
3 months ago

Can you get pregnant? Do you have to absorb the risk of death or injury from pregnancy or childbirth, which presently stands at a dismal 20 dead women per 100,000 births? No? Well, end of story.. I GET to decide if I am willing to bear that risk, I am the one who must have the absolutely right to make decisions over MY bodies..Not your right, and not the government’s right either.

E. Commerce
3 months ago

You do get to decide if you are willing to bear that risk--just decide before another life exists who has a claim to his/her own life. After that point, the water is muddied, it's no longer black and white with ONLY your rights at stake, and no--it's not "end of story".

J Jones
3 months ago

E. Commerce,

1) I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you just forgot that not all pregnancies result from a woman's decision to have sex.
2) The thing of it is that, around the world, outlawing abortions doesn't result in fewer abortions. And that is because women do, in fact, own their bodies and do, in fact, have agency and will, in fact, decide for themselves what is going to happen inside their bodies. They always have and they always will.

E. Commerce
2 months 4 weeks ago

1) Of course. That is why exceptions for rape and incest are (generally) included in pro-life legislation, because the balance of rights shifts dramatically when choice has been removed from the equation.
2) Since Roe v Wade the number of abortions exploded. That statement that they haven't is a product of lies the promoters of abortion want everyone to believe. Think they don't lie? Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of NARAL, later admitted they fabricated statistics that sounded good and would help make their case. https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/02/2806/
3) I agree wholeheartedly that women own their own bodies and have agency and free will. Abortion, as I said earlier, is most drastically about another's body, that someone else owns. For 9 months, there is a necessary intersection of the 2 people's rights. That's what needs to be sorted out, for there to be justice.

J Jones
2 months 4 weeks ago

E, your parenthetical "generally" may be the most egregiously inappropriate parenthetical statement I have ever read.

E. Commerce
2 months 4 weeks ago

Someone conceived in rape has no less right to life than someone conceived in love. However, I think the woman's non-choice in the matter needs to be weighted for a proper balancing of rights.

Jim Lein
2 months 4 weeks ago

The countries with the lowest abortion rates are where it is legal and where parenting is supported with paid parental leave for those with infants and babies, where medical care and nutrition are provided for all, including the unborn, where society welcomes new life so that a woman feels less alone and more able to bring new life into the world. If self-called pro-lifers are so concerned about the unborn why do so many want to cut programs that support the unborn's medical and nutritional needs?

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