The Overturn of Roe v. Wade: A Lost Opportunity?
Evangelicals, and the Republican politicians we support, have squandered a once-in-a-generation opportunity posed by the overturn of Roe v. Wade. First, let me lay my cards on the table. After all, this is my blog and my opinion. I believe that abortion is nothing short of murder—the murder of people who are the most voiceless and, perhaps, the most marginalized of our society. I will set aside the politics of how we came to have a Supreme Court that was brave enough to take on the “settled” matter of abortion in the Roe v. Wade precedent. The machinations behind Donald Trump’s nominees (especially in the matter of the death of Justice Scalia during the waning days of the Obama Administration) is undoubtedly a matter worthy of discussion, but one I will save for those more into partisanship than I am.
In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), the Supreme Court recognized that, contrary to the badly-decided 1973 Roe decision, the U.S. Constitution nowhere guarantees abortion as a “right.” It will be no surprise to the reader when I say that I believe Dobbs was a good call. However, Dobbs did not outlaw abortion outright. The Court recognized that as a matter outside its jurisdiction and tossed it back to the individual States to decide. Another good call, in my opinion. Thus, the pro-life movement had a chance to bring about regulations that would significantly curb the murder of voiceless unborn children. In many cases, however, Dobbs has proven an opportunity squandered.
In many states, the overturn of Roe meant that so-called “trigger” laws would go into effect. Alternatively (as in the case of Michigan, where I live), laws on the books in 1973, when the Court decided Roe, would again go back into effect. In still other states, lawmakers emboldened by Dobbs would move to pass legislation putting strict limits (or outright bans) on abortion. Such restrictive laws are where the pro-life movement—and the Republicans we elected—shot ourselves in the foot, sacrificing good on the altar of perfect.
Many laws enacted or proposed in the wake of Dobbs restricted abortion in extreme cases, such as rape, incest, or the mother’s life. Left-wing pro-abortion advocates—who view abortion as a near-religious sacrament—used such outliers, which account for a minute fraction of abortions performed, to muddy the waters. Further, abortion proponents made healthcare professionals fear that if they treated such conditions as an ectopic pregnancy or provided a D&C in the wake of a miscarriage, they could wind up in jail. In fact, no law—either in effect in 1972 or triggered by Dobbs—ever prevented such medical treatment.
Before the November 2022 round of elections, I read a New York Times article with many women explaining how losing their “right” to an abortion affected them. One woman in the article, an unmarried 25-year-old, complained that she was “too young” and had not yet reached the career and financial goals she desired. Frankly, I had little sympathy for this young lady, who came across as selfish and irresponsible. She chose to have sex and didn’t use birth control. Invariably, when my wife and I practiced that habit, we ended up with a baby—whether we were trying or not. (Even when we weren’t trying, I might add, those babies were, and remain, a tremendous blessing in our lives who have made us proud.)
Outside of the abortion-on-demand camp, many reasonable people might agree that people should live with responsibility for their actions and choices. They would oppose abortions for the sake of convenience—which do constitute the majority of abortions. And they are mortified by so-called “late-term” abortions. But many people who are neither avowedly pro-life nor pro-abortion get a little squeamish at the prospect of forcing an 11-year-old rape victim to carry through with a pregnancy resulting from the attack. They are further enraged to hear that this poor girl would have to travel to another state to receive an abortion. Even as a staunchly pro-life person, I cannot help but feel horror and substantial internal conflict between my own values over such a story. While cases such as these are outliers, many people opposed to convenience abortions would desire to keep the procedure open in such cases. The pro-abortion crowd recognized this hesitation and effectively used the outliers to cause a backlash against highly-restrictive abortion rules (whether perceived or actual). The pro-abortion lobby moved quickly, using the backlash against the outliers to see referendums passed, amending state constitutions to enshrine unfettered access to abortion.
Of course, the failure on the part of the pro-life camp is two-fold. First, we failed to counter the false narrative that any abortion restrictions—either dating from recent times or pre-Roe—ever denied necessary health care, such as treatments for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. We could have seen abortion restrictions that many people would have seen as reasonable had we allowed for the outliers. But instead—and this was the far more significant failure—we demanded it all, the “imperfect” we could have achieved, over and against the “perfect” we’ll likely never reach. I would like to see an America that never kills unborn children. But I would rather see a significant reduction in abortions rather than see unrestricted abortion once again set in stone, thanks to an overreaction to our demands.
I don’t know if our nation is really more polarized than ever. But it is polarized. And given the all-or-nothing mentality of both the Left and Right on almost every issue, I don’t have much optimism. Still, I think that appealing to reasonable people in a Christ-like way would be a far more effective means for evangelicals to speak about the issues that divide our nation. Indeed, there must be a better, more God-honoring way than the vitriol that today characterizes the MAGA Republican Party to which so many evangelicals have pledged allegiance.