Life at the End of Roe

Recovering the Sanity and Wonder of Wanted Pregnancy

Today marks forty-nine years since the society-altering, life-plundering, God-mocking decision by the Supreme Court in Roe versus Wade. Since 1973, abortion has essentially been available on demand in America, leaving the lives of the unborn at the precarious whims of people who value their own lives above the lives of their children.

From the beginning, the delivery room has been a sacred and cursed place. Sin invaded the world, and the womb, before the first child was born. When God warned Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children,” Eve had not born a child without pain. Childbirth was never painless. And it was never less than miraculous.

We’re so acquainted (and enamored) with babies now, it’s nearly impossible to imagine what it would have been like to meet the first. To see those first tiny feet. To stroke that first tiny head. To hear those first weak cries. To hold that first tiny frame. Can you imagine bearing your baby, delivering your baby, holding your baby, without having seen a baby before?

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord’” (Genesis 4:1). That first birth may have been the most breathtaking in history — the wild inbreaking of a new, unique, and eternal life, woven together by God from the love between that first husband and his wife. The two became one, and then, just as dramatically, three. Birth, for them, was not a choice to make, but a wonder to behold and receive with worship to their Maker.

We, however, live in a society at war over where exactly in those five short words the first baby came to life: “Eve conceived and bore Cain.” At what point was that little boy’s life a life worth preserving and defending?

Bitter Fruit of Abortion

How might that first mother — that first woman to bear the weight and pain and wonder of new life — how might Eve respond if she heard that, just this year, nearly a million mothers in the United States alone refused the life within them? What if someone told her that we kill, on average, thousands of our children every day before they even take a breath? Could she have possibly imagined that the consequences of those first sins would one day bear the bitter and brutal fruit of abortion?

Maybe she could have. That first baby, after all, went on to murder his little brother. Eve felt the sinfulness of sin as pain multiplied within her through pregnancy and delivery, and then she felt the sinfulness of sin even more as she buried her second born. And were the temptations that provoked Cain, and wiped out Abel, all that different from those fueling the abortion industry in our day? Pride, envy, selfishness, resentment, anger, greed.

Because of sin, no child has ever been born into a safe world. Far fewer children, however, have been born into a country as unsafe as ours. The United States, even in 2022, is still one of the most dangerous places on earth for an unborn person. Clark Forsythe, in his excellent book Abuse of Discretion, writes,

The United States is an outlier when it comes to the scope of the abortion “right.” The United States is one of approximately ten nations (of 195) that allow abortion after fourteen weeks of gestation. . . . When it comes to allowing abortion for any reason after viability, however, the United States is joined only by Canada, North Korea, and China. (126)

“The United States of America in 2022 is still one of the most dangerous places on earth for an unborn person.”

The twin verdicts read on January 22, 1973 did not, as is often assumed, merely permit abortion for the first three months. No, they legalized abortion at every stage of pregnancy, and for almost any reason. The U.S. is one of only four countries in the world — only four — that refuses to protect the unborn even after viability. And what defines viability? “Having reached such a stage of development as to be capable of living, under normal conditions, outside the uterus.” The U.S. and Canada are half of the nations worldwide that will not defend a baby even when that baby could already survive outside the womb. The other two are North Korea and China.

For nearly fifty years now, the United States has made the womb a minefield, and millions of our sons and daughters have become the innocent casualties of our lust for sex, for freedom, for power, for self.

Abuse of Discretion

Roe is the national monument to this decades-long death march.

The surprising, perplexing, overreaching ruling of the seven justices — Burger, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, Marshall, Blackmun, and Powell (White and Rehnquist voted against) — superseded abortion laws at the state level and functionally established a woman’s right to have an abortion at any point of her pregnancy.

In 1970, “Jane Roe” (Norma McCorvey) filed a lawsuit against Henry Wade, her local district attorney, to challenge a Texas law that prohibited abortion except to save the life of the mother. Forsythe summarizes the Supreme Court’s controversial verdict:

Roe had two essential rulings based on interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which declares, in part, that no state shall deprive any “person” of “liberty.” First, the Justices interpreted “liberty” to include a “right to privacy” and held that abortion is part of the right to privacy. . . . Second, the Court held that the “unborn” are not included with other “persons” protected by the Constitution. (7)

So, a woman’s right to privacy was interpreted to include her right to abortion — despite the fact that the procedure is not done in true privacy (doctors and nurses are involved). And the unborn were not considered living people with rights, despite the wealth of medical information that suggested otherwise (not to mention, the amazing advances in technology since, which only give us better and better windows into all the evidence for real life in the womb).

Kevin DeYoung helpfully distills the myths about Roe that Forsythe exposes in his book. For instance,

  • Abortion was a common and widely accepted practice throughout history. No, it was rare for most of history because it was exceedingly dangerous.
  • Roe was based on a careful investigation of the facts. No, the deliberation spent very little time discussing facts, and focused almost exclusively on procedure.
  • Women were dying by the thousands because of back-alley abortions. No, at that time less than a hundred women died from illegal abortions each year, a fraction of the number reported.
  • Abortion is safer than childbirth. No, the seven studies that said as much at the time have all been exposed for their lack of medical data, and the short-term and long-term dangers of abortion have only become clearer and clearer, especially to the mental health of the mother.
  • The American public is polarized over abortion. No, the majority of Americans at the time and still today do not support abortion on demand — abortion at any time for any reason (the precedent Roe instituted).

The more one reads about the decision, the more indefensible it becomes. It really is difficult to overstate how weak the case was for perhaps the most pivotal, controversial, and corrupt verdict in our nation’s history.

The Other Roe: Redefining Health

Alongside Roe, though, was a second, similarly monumental (and yet often overlooked) case: Doe v Bolton. The ruling was handed down the same day, and was every bit as consequential.

“Mary Doe” (Sandra Cano) filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General of Georgia, Arthur K. Bolton, challenging a law that permitted abortion only in cases of rape, severe fetal deformity, or the possibility of severe or fatal injury to the mother. In the Doe decision, the justices redefined the “health” of the mother from those stricter parameters to “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health” (Abuse of Discretion, 150). As a result of the decision, “‘Health,’ in abortion law, means emotional well-being without limits” (8).

Functionally, this meant abortion could be justified at any time of the pregnancy for almost any reason. “Where Roe prevented any prohibition on abortion before viability, the Doe health exception eliminated prohibitions after viability as well” (8). Any consequence the mother felt — and bearing a human life is always consequential — became an excuse to end the life. We went from protecting the physical survival of the mother to preserving her sexual freedom and personal autonomy.

Forsythe quotes a Harvard Law Professor,

Doe’s broad definition of “health” spelled the doom of statutes designed to prevent the abortion late in the pregnancy of children capable of surviving outside the mother’s body unless the mother’s health was in danger. By defining health as “well-being,” Doe established a regime of abortion-on-demand for the entire nine months of pregnancy, something that American public opinion has never approved in any state, let alone nationally. (151)

Sandra Cano, it’s worth mentioning, ultimately decided not to have an abortion after she felt her baby kick (94).

The New Roe: Life at Fifteen Weeks

Even if a case were to overturn Roe, that decision in and of itself would not end abortion. Overturning Roe wouldn’t dam the river of child-killing, but it would stem the terrible tide — and unleash possibilities for new pro-life legislation. Ending Roe would return the debate to the states, which would once again give the American people the power to decide — a change faithful Christians and churches welcome and pray for.

As I write, for instance, the Supreme Court has already heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization about a Mississippi law that prohibits abortion after fifteen weeks (an opportunity made possible by new appointees to the Court). The justices are specifically arguing over the question, Are all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions unconstitutional?

“If Roe is overturned, Christians and churches will play an even bigger role in saving human lives.”

Whatever happens in this case, this is the future of the abortion debate: state by state, election by election, neighborhood by neighborhood advocacy for life. Forsythe reminds us, “If Roe were overturned today, abortion would be legal in at least forty-one states tomorrow, perhaps all fifty. . . . The long-term legality of abortion depends on public opinion” (348, 351). That means that if Roe is overturned, Christians and churches will play an even bigger role in saving human lives.

The Power of Wanted Pregnancy

Wherever the Dobbs case leads, and however long Roe stands, our country desperately needs to recover the sanity and wonder of wanted pregnancy. What might change in our debates, our laws, our clinics, our families if the collective American imagination awakened to the God-soaked miracle of new life?

You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13–16)

Today, we pause to mourn fifty million lives abandoned — their forming assaulted, their weaving unraveled, their making arrested, their needs discarded, their stories suddenly and violently ended. God will repay what was stolen from them.

But we also pause to pray for him to intervene and interrupt the killing. As personally and specifically and sovereignly as he made each one of us, would he now so personally and specifically and sovereignly tear down the calamity of abortion in our land?