Matters of Life and Death: New American Stories

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And when you consider what Watson risked while lapsing over the summer and getting into an argument with his girlfriend that got him charged with domestic violence, and when you consider the opportunity the Nashville Predators gave him after he pleaded no contest, then you must realize the obvious with this news that he has blown it: The guy is in danger.

So root with me.

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Root for Watson. Root for his girlfriend, Jenn Guardino, who is battling the same disease. Root for their baby daughter, who already was going to have to read about the incident her parents got into on June 16, , and wonder — like the rest of the world — what exactly happened.

There are only two people in the world who will ever know for certain.

Matters of Life and Death

Root for this family to stick together and help each other through this. They no longer have the long-term security of financial support from professional hockey as an absolute. Make no mistake about that. Supreme Court preempted the national debate over the legality of abortion.

The Constitution, it said, left the choice largely to the private conscience of women and their physicians, with very limited guidance from the states. A dozen years later it has become painfully clear that the court went too far too fast. Now the Reagan administration has asked the justices to admit that they were utterly wrong and to give the states back the power to determine when human life begins.

A herringbone walk

No matter how the court had ruled on abortion, it would have been controversial. This was and is a matter of life and death. It touches the most intimate issues of individual control of one's body and the obligation human society owes to generations yet unborn. It involves deep realms of personal integrity where the authority of the state never has the final say. And yet in the Supreme Court attempted to decide the whole agonizing question in one bold stroke.

Its majority opinion was deeply flawed, and time has not cured its defects.

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It was an exercise in judicial arrogance, the most stunning example in the latter half of the century. Drawing more on medical textbooks than on constitutional precedent, the court divided pregnancy into three-month intervals and set varying rules for state policy during each period. Even legal scholars who favor legal abortion have trouble justifying this decision, because the court in effect convened itself as a legislature of nine and in one bold and foolish stroke wrote a new statute for the country covering one of the most difficult moral dilemmas of the day.

Since , advances in medical technology have rendered the court's assumptions out of date. Abortions today deliver fetuses that doctors can sustain alive outside the womb. The whole idea of when a fetus is viable has changed. The country has begun to define the legal end of life in terms of brain activity, and that does not square with the Supreme Court's definition of the legal beginning of life.


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The intellectual underpinning of the court's ruling was weak to begin with, and the passage of time has eroded it to the point that the question now is not whether the court will have to change its position on abortion, but rather how it should go about the task. Anti-abortion groups hope President Reagan will fill enough vacancies on the court to swing the balance of power their way.

Even one appointment might do it if Chief Justice Warren Burger, who has never been comfortable with the court's position, were to change his vote.

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But an abrupt turnaround would be nearly as irresponsible as the original ruling. The message to the public would be cynical and would undermine the legitimacy of the court. A sweeping reversal would suggest that all that matters in constitutional cases is a count of heads. The Supreme Court has a special role in this country. Its power does not derive directly from the consent of the governed exercised at the ballot box.


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  5. But it does depend on a different sort of consent. The Supreme Court can stand against the political majorities to protect constitutional principles only to the extent that it has the general and widespread respect of the people.

    It must not squander this precious asset. Having failed miserably in to put forward a defensible position on abortion and having failed to lead the country to some rough consensus then or since, the court now has a duty to retreat from the discredited rule in a way that re-establishes the legitimacy of constitutional decision-making and repairs the damage a decade of bitter controversy has done.