The original Roe vs. Wade decision ruled that the right to abortion was, in legal terminology, a “fundamental right” under the Constitution. That meant that the right was subject to the Courts highest standard which is that of “strict scrutiny”. Under this standard, for a complete generation now, public schools have understood that they were not allowed to teach against abortion, or at least in practice, this is what has happened.
In 1992, however, a minor earthquake occurred when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. It was obvious that it cancelled out Roes trimester structure. Further, many realized that it did replace strict scrutiny with a more lenient standard of “undue burden”. It spoke of allowing a womans right to choose, insofar as both sides could now be given in the public arena. Most readers are aware that this has, in the last few years, resulted in a variety of laws passed by states. These have included parental notification and consent, informed consent (Womens Right to Know bills), waiting periods and others. Informed consent laws at state level, requiring the handing to an abortion client a booklet showing colored photos of fetal development, has been declared within the limits of these new constitutional guidelines. So far so good. State laws, recognizing the changes of Casey, have proceeded to begin to change these ground rules.
The Casey decision, however, had a reach beyond state laws. It also reached into every public school classroom in the United States. To put it in a realistic context, almost no one has recognized this, and fewer yet have taken advantage of it. The treatment of abortion in tax-supported schools has continued to grind away unchanged as though the issue of abortion were still under strict scrutiny, which it is not. Actually, because of the Courts ruling, there has been a major change in what can and cannot be taught in public schools. In essence, what the Court has allowed the state to do, it has now also allowed in public schools, insofar as laws pertaining to a womans getting an abortion is concerned.
The Court has said that public institutions can teach children informed choice on this issue, i.e., both sides, and that the primary purpose of this teaching can be to persuade the woman to choose childbirth over abortion. The Court has said that minors are not prepared sufficiently to make a choice on abortion. It has spoken about the welfare of young citizens “whose immaturity, inexperience and lack of judgment may impair their ability to exercise their rights wisely.” This relates to a womans choice in getting an abortion and the states responsibility to be sure she knows both sides of this story, but it clearly now also relates to what a public school can and should do on the issue of abortion.
The Court did reiterate that the woman has the ultimate say, but it went on to rule that hers was not the only say. The Court called it an “overstatement” to declare that the woman could choose, without any interference from the state. The same is true in a public school. The Court has said that the state has a legitimate “interest from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting both the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.” It said “these principles do not contradict each other, and we adhere to each.” Sounds to this writer like the Court has said, “Why dont we love them both”?
The significance of the Casey decision was strikingly presented by Chief Justice Rehnquist who said that the Court ended abortion as a fundamental right and then said, “While purporting to adhere to precedent, this joint opinion instead revises it. Roe continues to exist, but only in the way a storefront on a Western movie set exists a mere façade to give the illusion of reality.”
If all of the above is true, why is it that nothing has changed in the overwhelming majority of public schools in the United States? Well, certainly the National Education Association has had a major part to play. It has been zealously pro-abortion and anti-family at every turn in the road. Its party line is what teachers have been hearing and reading. The same is true of school boards and parents. The impression is widespread that all public school teachers, if not pro-abortion themselves, will certainly hue to the NEA’s party line.
Freedom to Learn
But now enters an extraordinary man from Punta Gorda, Florida. John Beasley, Ph.D., has been teaching in that areas public schools for almost three decades. He is a strong pro-lifer and has taken this issue from his own curiosity to success at a local level, and now speaks at a national level. He has organized a group called Freedom to Learn. Its clear thrust is to get every public school in America to openly teach both sides of the abortion issue. He is convinced that most public school teachers are in fact moderate in the true sense of the word and that most of them accurately reflect the values of the communities in which they teach. He is quite blunt about saying that only a small portion of the membership shares the National Education Associations pro-abortion policy and that it is in fact an embarrassment to most teachers. Many stay with it only because that union gives them job security. He insists that we frame the debate in an honest fashion that shows both sides and speaks about the fact that we have been through an entire generation of censorship by our schools. He points out that the Casey decision has opened the door, and that if we use it properly, we can end this “generation of censorship” and begin to show both sides. Hes convinced that “over a prolonged period of time, as the level of consciousness is raised, it will be difficult for the educational community to defend a continuing censorship in an educational setting. The suppression of information on such issues of national import runs counter to the goal of education.”
His goal is not to specifically argue pro-life vs. pro-abortion, but rather that both sides be shared openly and equally. His organization, Freedom to Learn, has continually insisted on referring to the positions of the U.S. Supreme Court. School boards, and the communities that elect them, will be asked to follow the lead of the Court and to pursue a policy of informed choice and one that, as the Court has ruled, declares that “normal childbirth is preferable to abortion.” He is quite aware of the fact that a major hurdle is the pro-abortion media of our country. We must, therefore, he says “jump over the media and go directly to the people.” He therefore has plans available, upon request, detailing how delegations of people can go to their school boards and “explain that there is a new day in abortion education, that Freedom to Learn is clear about saying that a great opportunity is before us. It states that “for one generation, a segment of the American community believed correctly that their views on the sanctity of life had been ruled out-of-order in our public institutions. But that day is gone. We can, by our silence, let the old style censorship remain comfortably in place because of our lack of effort. Or, instead, we can spread the good news far and wide that the plight of the unborn, and of women hurt by abortion, can now be shared in every schoolhouse in America.”
Presented with this, one asks immediately is his opinion correct? Is this the correct interpretation of the Casey decision? Looking further, we were given a quote from James Bopp, General Counsel of the National Right to Life, a person who probably has no peer as a constitutional expert on these issues. In an article written in 1984, he said, “As a result of court decisions like Casey, public schools can now offer strong pro-life curricula at all grade levels. But leaders in education do not understand this nor do pro-lifers.” But that was 84. Contacted again for this article, Mr. Bopp said this: “Casey opened the door for pro-life education through government-sponsored programs. This is an opportunity that the pro-life movement has yet to take advantage of.”
But lets have another opinion. Responding to our request, Clarke Forsythe, president of Americans United For Life, a preeminent public interest law firm in Chicago, said this: “I think Dr. Beasley is correct in what he says about education in public schools.” His concern was only that Dr. Beasley “may over-state the situation at this time, as a practical matter, because, even though the courts technically have suggested that abortion is no longer a fundamental right, as a practical matter, courts are still bottling up pro-life legislation.”
The following quotes are from Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, the Supreme Court decision of 1992. The first portion of the decision reaffirms a womans right to have an abortion. The second portion is where our interest lies. It significantly altered the original Roe vs. Wade decision. Apropos this, we print some quotes from the Casey decision.
- “We think it beyond dispute that a state has a strong and legitimate interest in the welfare of its young citizens whose immaturity, inexperience and lack of judgment may sometimes impair their ability to exercise their rights wisely.”
- “The Constitution does not forbid a state or city, pursuant to democratic processes, from expressing a preference for normal childbirth.”
- “Measures aimed at insuring that a womans choice contemplates the consequences for the fetus do not necessarily interfere with the right recognized in Roe.”
- “To promote the states profound interest in potential life throughout pregnancy, the state may take measures to insure that the womans choice is informed, and
- measures designed to advance this interest will not be invalidated as long as their purpose is to persuade the woman to choose childbirth over abortion.”
- “The state has legitimate interest from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child. These principles do not contradict one another, and we adhere to each.”
- “What is at stake is the womans right to make the ultimate decision, not a right to be insulated from all others in doing so. Regulations which do no more than
- create a structural mechanism by which the state, or the parent or guardian of a minor, may express profound respect for the life of the unborn are permitted, if they are not a substantial obstacle to the womans exercise of the right to choose.”
Freedom to Learn and John Beasley, Ph.D., may be contacted at P.O. Box 511231, Punta Gorda, Florida, 33951-1231. Phone: (941) 639-9192 and (941) 627-6757. The message to our public schools is clear, insofar as their role is concerned. The Casey decision has simply redefined the abortion battle in America. With few exceptions, pro-life people have missed this and the schools have continued to operate with no change. In effect, public schools have continued to basically apply the daunting strict scrutiny standard, whereas they should have been adopting the far more lenient undue burden standard. Public institutions can now use public dollars to limit abortions. The implication for schools are enormous. A public school system can now (1) remain silent on the issue, (2) take a pro-life position, (3) take a pro-abortion position, or (4) show both sides.