It was March 23, 1976 and the Attorney General of the State of Missouri was addressing the Supreme Court of the United States. It had been a short three years since the Supreme Court had handed down it's ruling in the famous Roe v. Wade case making it unconstitutional for a state to prohibit the right of a woman to seek and have an abortion. During that three years, the State of Missouri had written a law to comply with the decision from the Court. The Missouri law, however, was filled with provisions that had to be met before an abortion could be performed. Most of these provisions dealt not only with a time table for an abortion and how the abortion would be conducted, but with numerous consents from interested parties having say in whether an abortion would be performed or not. This was the first case that came to the Supreme Court questioning whether it met the constitutionality set out by the Roe V. Wade decision. This case would set the tone for decades to come as to how laws across the country interpreted the Roe v. Wade decision.
The Missouri Attorney General was an up and coming personality in not only Missouri politics, but national politics as well. John Danforth was a tall lean man with a soft voice and a slow cadence of speech. He was always careful with the words he used as to try to get exactly what his meaning was. He was a communicator. When Danforth began enforcing the law the pro-choice organizations were ready. They felt that the Missouri law was too restrictive and was much more stringent than the Supreme Court had intended it to be. It was under this belief that Planned Parenthood of Missouri sued the State of Missouri and started a long three year march to present the law before the Supreme Court.
It was while I was reviewing the case this week that I came across one of, what I consider, Danforth's greatest talks on his philosophy on what a constitutes a family. Danforth was a minister in his non-political life and Roe v. Wade did not sit well with him. He did, however, have a strong belief in his country and the Constitution and he respected the role of the Supreme Court and what their role in government was. With this love of our Constitution and our government, Danforth went about the task of getting a law that would accommodate the Supreme Court's decision and to implement it and defend it for the State of Missouri. So he made the trip to Washington, D.C. and now here he was addressing nine of the most powerful people in the country to try to convince them that the Missouri law met all the requirements.
This entry isn't about Roe v. Wade though. It isn't about Planned Parenthood or the Missouri General Assembly. It isn't about what my feelings are about abortion, nor is it what your feelings may be about the subject. It isn't even about the law really. No, I am writing this because as I was studying this case I came across a few paragraphs in Danforth's presentation to the Supreme Court that made me stop and think. As I read these words it occurred to me how time has gone by and how the thoughts of a society shift and change as that time is slipping by. Gay Marriage was not a national issue yet. The AIDS epidemic had not become a national concern. School shootings were something that didn't happen, and if they did, it was a shocking rarity, as in the Texas Tower shootings.
Looking back on the society of 1976 compared to today. I can see how people were responsible, well more so than they are today. Communities tended to be tight and close. People knew their neighbors and the notion of a hate crime had yet to be defined. I think of it like comparing the 70's to the 50's the same as comparing today to the 70's. The 70's however had society on the edge of a social revolution that we weren't aware was happening under our noses.
So, what did Danforth say that on that March morning in 1976 that captured my imagination? He spoke of family. He spoke of responsibility. He spoke of how an action by a single person can effect so many people because they care and love that person. This was what Danforth said in his remarks to the Supreme Court that made me stop and look back on where we have been and where we are.
"First with respect to spousal consent; the legislature of our State has in effect said through the statute that inherent in marriage is that certain decisions are made jointly by husband and wife or they are not made at all, that this is the very definition of what marriage is all about.
The legislature has done this elsewhere, not only in the State of Missouri, but in other States as well. For example; if a woman has given birth to a child and then decides that she wants to place the child for adoption, if the woman is not married, she alone can make that decision. If the woman is married, her husband must join in that decision to place the child for adoption.
The right to consent is not in the punitive father in the State of Missouri.The right to consent to an adoption is in the husband, because this is fundamental decision relating to what the family is all about.
I believe that the legislature could so provide that has not in this case, I think that the issue becomes elevated to a much different plain when the birth of a -- of a coming child is involved and I would also say that whereas Mr. Susman said that if the husband is not the father of the child, he has no legal obligations.
I think that is just wrong.
I think that is a misstatement of law.
If the husband approves of the wife having the baby, he assumes responsibility for that baby. In fact, there is no stronger presumption in the law than that a husband is in fact the father of any child born of that marriage." - JOHN DANFORTH Attorney General of Missouri 03-23-76.
As I read those words and listened to Danforth speak them, it was evident that what he was saying came from his heart. Family is important. Families are effected by decisions and decisions that effect the family should be made by the family.
I feel that to get the impact of what Danforth was saying, you have to set aside your beliefs on abortion, the right to choose, the idea of being free from a child having to get consent for procedures. All that political baggage has to be set aside for just five minutes as you read these powerful words from Danforth. Responsibility. Family. Fathers and mothers and children.
John Danforth was my U.S. Senator for many years. I have heard him talk many times about many subjects. I always knew where he stood on issues. He was a good Senator. One that I was proud to have represent me.
As I said, I am not writing this as a political issue, pro-life or pro-choice. I am not writing this trying to say that children do need or do not need parental consent. These words that Danforth spoke that day are given to you here completely out of context but even though they are taken out of context, they can stand on their own within their own context. That is how I choose to read these words.
I hope that the reader can set aside politics and personal ideals and read the words as they are. Coming from a man who loves his country, his people, and his family.
Thank you Senator.