Between 1970 and his death on May 1, 1988, Dennis J. Horan had an enormous influence on the development of American law protecting human life.  Dennis had a significant impact on the development of the law protecting human life in several ways:

  • Influencing the abortion litigation leading up to Roe v. Wade, and educating leaders and organizations about the implications of those cases;
  • A leading role in Doe v. Scott, the Illinois abortion case that was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971 and could have substituted for Roe v. Wade or Doe v. Bolton;
  • Spearheading a legal and constitutional response to the abortion decisions in Congress;
  • A prolific writer of influential books and articles on the legal and medical aspects of the protection of human life;
  • Leading roles in Illinois Right to Life and National Right to Life;
  • Chairman of the Board of Americans United for Life (1975-1988).

And these he pursued evenings and weekends, while his “day job” was tripling the size of the Chicago lawfirm of Hinshaw, Culbertson as managing partner in the 1980s.

The legal battle that resulted in Roe v. Wade effectively began in 1967.  Until then, virtually every state allowed abortion only to save the life of the mother. In four years, 1967-1970, 14 states legalized abortion to some degree.  The battle in the courts began in 1969.

I had only a partial appreciation for what Dennis accomplished until I began in 2009 to more intensely research my book, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade (forthcoming from Encounter Books in September, 2013).  As I researched the five year background to Roe, and the abortion litigation in the federal courts that led up to Roe, I began to come across Dennis’ name here and there, and then more and more.

Dennis filed a critical brief with his law partner, Jerry Frazel, and Dolores Horan in the Supreme Court’s first abortion case, United States v. Vuitch, decided in 1971.  He then spearheaded the defense of the Doe v. Scott litigation in Illinois in 1970-1972, and he filed an extensive brief in the Supreme Court in Doe v. Bolton and Roe v. Wade in 1971.  He also argued before the Supreme Court in Diamond v. Charles in November 1985, one of the last abortion decisions before the Supreme Court began its three “retreats” from Roe v. Wade in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and Gonzales v. Carhart (2007).

Among all the briefs that were filed in Roe and Doe, Dennis’ alone included significant medical data on the short-term and long-term risks to women from abortion.  Not much reliable data on abortion existed before 1973, but Dennis, collaborating with Dr. Thomas Hilgers, compiled an impressive collection.

In 1971-72, while litigating the cases, Dennis also co-edited Abortion and Social Justice, a unique book which assembled the most relevant historical, legal, sociological and medical data against the legalization of abortion.

During the litigation in Doe v. Scott, Dennis and his law partner, Jerry Frazel, addressed the legal and judicial developments at an important legal-medical conference on abortion at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago on February 21, 1971.  Dennis warned of the potential legalization of abortion by the Court and its implications at that conference.

After Roe and Doe were decided in January 1973, Dennis became chairman of National Right to Life’s Legal Advisory Committee (LAC) in 1974, which drafted a human life amendment which was eventually introduced in Congress as S.J. Res. 11 in 1975.

Dennis testified before Congress in support of a constitutional amendment on abortion three times, on April 11, 1975, November 16, 1981 and March 7, 1983, before the drive for a constitutional amendment on abortion in Congress came to an end with a vote against the Hatch-Eagleton Amendment on June 28, 1983.

In the 1970s, Dennis was a lecturer in law and medicine at the University of Chicago, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Dennis was influential in the American Bar Association (ABA).

He was also an influential legal advisor on pro-life legal issues to the US Catholic Bishops throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Dennis also believed that a legal defense fund, modeled on the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, would be essential to litigate test cases in the courts on abortion to challenge the Supreme Court’s abortion doctrine.  He brought Americans United for Life (AUL) out to Chicago in 1975 and added a legal defense fund onto the educational arm of AUL.

Dennis fundamentally shaped prolife legislation and litigation in the 1970s, published numerous articles and gave numerous speeches educating influential audiences of the status of the law and the likely future direction of the law, and established Americans United for Life on a firmer footing. AUL will celebrate its 42d anniversary this year.

In March 1984, Dennis spearheaded a Chicago conference on overturning Roe v. Wade through the courts, which was published by Georgetown University Press in 1987 as Abortion and the Constitution: Overturning Roe v. Wade Through the Courts.  Nothing has been published since that has such a deep insight into abortion and constitutional litigation.

Throughout these years, Dennis published numerous legal articles on protecting human life in the law at all stages of human development, from conception to natural death.  Dennis’ CV in 1987 listed dozens of articles.

Dennis’ distinguishing characteristics were foresight, a breadth of vision, prolific speaking and publishing, understanding of fundamental principles and their implications, and discernment as to the direction of American law in litigation and legislation.  These virtues resulted in his broad and deep influence.  His insights have guided legal work for more than three decades and continue to inspire many.  He left us a legacy, and lived a life worth honoring.

Appendix: Selected Bibliography of Dennis Horan

Selected Books

Horan, Cunningham & Grant, eds., Abortion and the Constitution: Reversing Roe v. Wade Through the Courts (Georgetown University Press 1987)

Horan & Delahoyde, eds., Infanticide and the Handicapped Newborn (Brigham Young University Press 1982)

Horan & Mall, Death, eds., Dying & Euthanasia (University Publications of America 1977, 1980)

Hilgers, Horan & Mall, eds, New Perspectives on Human Abortion (University Publications of America 1981)

Hilgers & Horan, eds., Abortion & Social Justice (Sheed & Ward 1972)

Selected Articles (in reverse chronological order)

Sustaining Life or Prolonging Death:  (An Interprofessional Symposium sponsored by Interprofessional Cooperation Committee- IL State Bar Association; Hyatt Regency O’Hare, May 1988)

Horan, Forsythe & Grant, Two Ships Passing in the Night: An Interpretavist Review of the White-Stevens Colloquy on Roe v. Wade, 6 St. Louis. U. Pub. L. Rev. 229 (1987)

Horan, Failure to Feed: An Ethical and Legal Discussion, 2 Issues in Law & Med. 149 (1986)

Catholic Ethical Teaching and Public Policy:  How Do They Relate? –  53 Linacre Quarterly No. 4 (November 1986)

Dennis J. Horan, The Effect of the Human Life Amendment on Fertility Control, chapter 6 in James Bopp, Jr. ed., Restoring the Right to Life: The Human Life Amendment (1984)

Horan & Grant, The Legal Aspects of Withdrawing Nourishment, 5 J. Legal. Med. 595 (December 1984)

Horan, Human Life Federalism Amendment: Legal Aspects, 28 Cath. Law. 115 (1983)

Horan & Grant, Prolonging Life and Withdrawing Treatment: Legal Issues, 50 Linacre Quarterly 153 (May 1983)

Horan & Valentine, The Doctors’ Dilemma:  Euthanasia, Wrongful Life and the Handicapped Newborn, in Infanticide and the Handicapped Newborn (BYU Press 1982)

Dennis J. Horan & Thomas Marzen, Abortion Laws Will Bend Under New Medical, Social Pressures, 63 Hospital Progress 48 (December 1982)

Horan, The Hatch Human Life Amendment, 62 Hospital Progress 12 (December 1981)

Horan, Termination of Medical Treatment, 16 Forum ___ (Winter 1981) (a publication of Section of Tort and Insurance Practice, American Bar Association)

Horan, Dignity of Life Developments, 27 Cath. Law 239 (1981)

Horan & Marianne E. Guerrini, Developing Legal Trends in Psychiatric Malpractice, 9 J. Psychiatry & Law 65 (1981)

Horan & Marzen, The Supreme Court on Abortion Funding: The Second Time Around, 25 St. Louis U. L. J. 411 (1981)

Horan, Critical Abortion Litigation, 26 Cath. Law 198 (1980)

Horan, Definition of Death:  A Medical-Legal Consensus, 18 Trial 22 (Dec 1980)

Dennis J. Horan & Marianne E. Guerrini, The Order to Treat: Judicial Intervention in Benign Neglect of Defective Infants (1980)

Dennis J. Horan & Robert E. Nord, Application of Antitrust Law to the Health Care Delivery System, 9 Cumb L. Rev. 685 (1978)

Horan & Marzen, Death with Dignity and the Living Will: A Commentary on Legislative Developments, 5 J. Legis. 81 (1978)

Dennis J. Horan & Thomas J. Marzen, The Moral Interest of the State in Abortion Funding: A Comment on Beal, Maher & Poelker, 22 St. Louis U. L. J. 566 (1978)

Dennis J. Horan, Fetal Experimentation and Federal Regulation, 22

Villanova 325 (1976-77)

Dennis Horan, Viability, Values, and the Vast Cosmos, 22 Catholic Lawyer 1 (Winter 1976)

Dennis J. Horan, The Quinlan Case, Paper prepared for presentation to the Medicine and Law Committee of the American Bar Association (1976)

Dennis J. Horan, Authority for Medical Treatment: Consent, Chapter 7 in Medical Malpractice (Illinois Institute of Continuing Legal Education 1975)

Horan, The Human Life Amendment (1975) (unpublished speech)

Dennis J. Horan, Abortion and the Conscience clause: Current Status, 20 Catholic Lawyer 289 (1974-75)

Comment on Commonwealth v. Brunelle, in Child & Family Magazine, vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 189-91 (1970)