Suppose the leaked draft is accurate, and the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the two rulings that legally sustain the abortion license in the United States. What then?
While pro-lifers should not declare victory until there is an official decision, this much is true: According to many legal experts, both cases are on life support thanks to a Mississippi case. The question before the Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is simple: Does the Constitution prohibit states from restricting abortion before fetal viability — that is, before a baby can survive outside the womb? Herein lies the challenge for the Court: justices cannot reasonably uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks without striking Roe and Casey, which say you can’t ban it until viability, which the Court set at 24 weeks. If the Court strikes those cases, the alleged constitutional right to an abortion is history.
Win for Pro-Lifers?
If Roe and Casey are struck, it will be a truly historical moment, and pro-lifers should indeed celebrate. Nine unelected judges on the Supreme Court will no longer have sole legal authority to determine abortion policy. Rather, the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, along with those in the individual states, will now decide how the practice is governed. Put simply, the American people — your friends, your classmates, your coworkers, and your family members — will now determine if unborn humans enjoy the same legal protections as you and I, or get relegated to the dumpster.
“Overturning these cases is just the beginning of the fight to save unborn lives, not the end.”
However, if you think overturning Roe and Casey ends the abortion debate, you are misinformed. Overturning these cases is just the beginning of the fight to save unborn lives, not the end. True, we can finally join the battle without being handcuffed by the federal courts, but are we prepared to fight and win? Before we answer, we need a sobering gut check.
If Roe and Casey go, abortion remains legal in a majority of states. The best estimates conclude that roughly 22 states will move to restrict abortion access while 24 states will retain abortion access or strengthen it by codifying abortion rights into their state constitutions. Four other states (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina) are considered battlegrounds, with the outcome uncertain. Of the 22 states poised to restrict abortion, 12 have trigger laws that, once Roe and Casey are overturned, ban most abortions. The remaining 10 will likely restrict many, but not all, abortions. For the 24 states committed to abortion advocacy, preparation for Roe and Casey’s demise is already underway. For example, deep blue states like California, Colorado, New York, Maryland, and New Mexico have already passed radical pro-abortion bills, some of which withdraw protections from unborn humans who survive abortion procedures.
Meanwhile, reversing Roe and Casey does not guarantee that abortion remains a state-by-state issue. A pro-abortion president working with a pro-abortion congress can still pass a federal abortion license similar to the provisions of both cases (or worse), and that legislation would supersede state laws protecting the unborn. In short, even if pro-lifers win at the Supreme Court, the political realities confronting them in many states are formidable.
Should Roe and Casey go, the good news (and it is good news indeed) is that pro-life advocates — working through their elected representatives — can legally protect unborn humans in ways Roe and Casey do not allow. The bad news is that the worldview assumptions that make abortion plausible to millions of our fellow citizens are deeply entrenched in American culture, and they won’t go away without a fight.
Reversing Roe and Casey, though necessary, is insufficient to fix that problem. Moreover, the situation on the ground is much different than it was in 1973, the year Roe became law. For starters, the country is far less religious than it was then. Prior to Roe, large numbers of Catholics could be mobilized to oppose abortion at the state level. Their efforts paid off. Despite heavy nationwide lobbying from pro-abortion activists, only 19 states liberalized their abortion laws. Thirty-one others did not. As noted above, that is not the political reality we face today, when a majority of states now favor abortion.
Popular culture has changed as well. Students, in particular, often learn about abortion from media that promote the practice as normal and desirable. For example, a 2021 TikTok video clip of students walking out on a pro-life speaker at a Catholic high school secured two million views within a week. As for public opinion, it’s a hot mess. A strong majority favors Roe, yet supports restrictions that Roe disallows! If you gut Roe, which impulse wins?
Many Americans are in no-man’s-land: they’re uncomfortable with abortion, but want it to remain legal, especially in the first trimester.
Steps to Pro-Life Influence
Put simply, pro-lifers in 2022 have problems beyond activist judges. We have idea problems. Large numbers of Americans either disagree with us or have muddled thinking on abortion. A bigger March for Life is not going to fix that problem. Rather, the situation calls for reengaging the public with a convincing case for life that addresses abortion at the worldview level. Here are five essential steps for doing that.
1. Challenge phony dismissals.
With distortions and lies flying about, clarity is essential. Pro-life advocates argue that it’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings. Abortion does that. Therefore, abortion is wrong. Pro-lifers defend that argument with science and philosophy. We argue from science that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. You didn’t come from an embryo; you once were an embryo. We argue from philosophy that there is no relevant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you now are that justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you could be killed then but not now.
Instead of refuting that argument, critics dismiss it with phony appeals to tolerance and the differing experiences of men and women. For example, we’re told that only a woman’s perspective counts, that men lack the standpoint to speak on the issue. The troubling question is, Which women get to speak? As Christopher Kaczor points out, there is no such thing as a “woman’s perspective” on abortion — any more than there is a male perspective or a brown-eyed person’s perspective.
Indeed, even feminists, let alone women in general, do not share a single perspective on the issue. This is true even for feminists who support abortion. For example, in her article “Our Bodies, Our Souls,” feminist Naomi Wolf calls abortion “a real death,” while feminist Katha Pollitt’s book Pro describes abortion as no different from vacuuming out your house (5). While female perspectives on abortion help us understand personal experience, they are no substitute for rational inquiry. Rather, arguments must be advanced and defended, and those arguments will stand or fall on their merits, not on the sex of those espousing them. Fallaciously attacking pro-life men, rather than the arguments they advance, just won’t do. After all, pro-life women make the same arguments as pro-life men.
You’ll also hear that the pro-life argument is religious and therefore not valid. Reject this intellectually lazy dismissal. As Frank Beckwith points out, arguments are sound or unsound, valid or invalid. Calling an argument “religious” is a category error like asking, “How tall is the number three?” It’s a dodge, not a refutation.
Finally, you’ll hear the state should be neutral on abortion. That’s impossible. The state either recognizes the humanity of the unborn and thus protects them, or it doesn’t and thus permits killing them. Suppose it’s 1860, and the Supreme Court takes no position on the humanity of slaves, but affirms the legal right to own them. Would this be neutral?
“Who counts as one of us? Either you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life, or you don’t.”
The abortion debate is not about choice, privacy, trusting women, or empowering women. It’s about a serious foundational question: Who counts as one of us? Either you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life, or you don’t.
2. Puncture misconceptions.
Some Americans act as if Roe and Casey go, society will unravel, and our fundamental rights will be trashed. They’ve bought one or more of the following myths.
Myth: The federal government shouldn’t be involved in abortion.
Ask, “Do you mean the federal courts?” Indeed, the federal government is already involved in abortion. With Roe, one branch of the federal government, the courts, co-opted the abortion issue from the other two branches (the executive and legislative), leaving the people no voice on the issue. Reversing Roe gives the people back their voice.
Myth: Roe is “settled law.”
So was Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court case that affirmed racial segregation. So were laws permitting slavery. If “settled law” can never be challenged, Roe itself is wrongly decided. After all, it overturned the settled laws of all fifty states.
Myth: Reversing Roe and Casey is unfair to poor women, who can’t afford to travel from states that restrict abortion to others that allow it.
Notice the argument makes two question-begging assumptions — that is, it assumes the very conclusions it is trying to prove.
First, it assumes that abortion is a moral good that poor women will be denied. Yet the morality of abortion — that is, whether it’s moral or immoral — is precisely what’s at issue in the abortion debate. Second, it assumes the unborn are not human. Equal opportunity to intentionally kill an innocent human being is never a moral good. Should we legalize hiring hit men so the poor can afford them? As Beckwith points out, “The vices of the wealthy are not virtues simply because the poor are denied them” (Defending Life, 96).
Myth: Roe restricts abortion at viability.
No, it doesn’t. Roe says that states may protect “potential life” at viability (24 weeks), but if and only if those protections do not interfere with the mother’s “health.” Roe’s companion case, Doe v. Bolton, defines “health” so broadly that you can drive a Mack Truck through it, which, in practice, legalizes abortion through all nine months of pregnancy.
Myth: Instead of restricting abortion, pro-lifers should work to reduce abortion by addressing its underlying causes.
I find this an odd claim for several reasons. First, why should we worry about reducing abortion in the first place? If the unborn aren’t human, who cares how many abortions there are? But if abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being, that’s an excellent reason to legislate against it.
Second, what’s wrong with a law that says you can’t intentionally kill innocent human beings? The goal of the pro-life movement is not merely to reduce abortion, but to legally protect unborn humans from being butchered. A society that reduced slavery, but still left it legal to own slaves, would remain a deeply immoral society. Suppose I said the “underlying cause” of spousal abuse is psychological, so instead of making it illegal for husbands to beat their wives, the solution is to provide counseling for men. There are “underlying causes” for rape, murder, theft, and so on, but that in no way makes it misguided to pass laws against evil behavior. Why should it be any different with laws protecting the unborn? Answer: it’s only different if you assume the victims in question are not human, an assumption no pro-lifer should let stand.
Myth: If Roe and Casey go, women will die from illegal abortions.
Note how the objection assumes, again, that the unborn are not human. Otherwise, the argument is saying that because some people die attempting to kill others, the state should make such killing safe and legal.
But why should the law be faulted for making it riskier for one human to intentionally take the life of another completely innocent one? True, laws can’t stop all illegal behaviors, but they do stop most. For example, laws against rape don’t stop all rape, but we still legislate to protect women. Meanwhile, in my book The Case for Life, I refute the myth that thousands of women died annually from illegal abortion prior to Roe. But even now, the myth can be exposed as false. In Texas, abortion has been all but illegal for nearly six months, and yet there are no press stories about women dying in droves. That’s because most women are following the law.
Myth: Laws don’t work.
Yes, they do. In Texas, the abortion rate fell 60 percent one month after passage of the state’s heartbeat bill. Meanwhile, we now know that even if abortion is legal in neighboring states, longer driving distances cut abortion rates in states where it’s illegal. In short, the law can have a positive influence on public morals. Prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a majority of southerners opposed equal rights for blacks. Two years after passage, Hadley Arkes shows, a majority favored the legislation (First Things, 27).
3. Teach pro-life apologetics to those predisposed to accept our view.
Here’s a challenge: name one major Christian conference that equips our students to make a convincing case for life so they can convey that case to non-Christian friends. Now ask if your church does. If you think the abortion debate has been heated before, just wait till Roe and Casey are gutted. Pro-abortionists in the media are about to unleash a relentless barrage of misinformation and intimidation tactics on students, including those in our churches. Our kids need intellectual toughness, and they need it now.
4. Establish pro-life churches that carry out four essential tasks.
Pastors don’t have to choose between pushing moral behaviors or lifting up Christ. They can preach truthfully on abortion and do so within the context of a biblical worldview.
First, pro-life churches teach a biblical view of human value — namely, that although we differ greatly in terms of gifting and abilities, we share a human nature that bears the image of our Maker.
Second, churches can preach, teach, and counsel that abortion is a sin. The biblical case is clear to the point: all humans have intrinsic value because they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; James 3:9). Therefore, the shedding of innocent blood (the intentional killing of an innocent human being) is forbidden (Exodus 23:7; Proverbs 6:16–19; Matthew 5:21). Abortion is the shedding of innocent blood, the intentional killing of an innocent human being. Therefore, the commands against shedding innocent blood apply to the unborn as they do to everyone else.
Third, churches can minister to those wounded by abortion and need healing. When churches ignore abortion, they don’t spare post-abortion men and women guilt; they spare them healing. Unconfessed sin has them out of full fellowship with Christ.
Fourth, churches can equip the faithful to engage critics with a compelling case for life that can compete in the marketplace of ideas.
5. Engage professionally and politically.
Christians aim to apply biblical truth in all areas of our lives, including the voting booth. Why would we be in the habit of sitting out elections? True, politics is messy and involves sinful human beings who typically do not line up with biblical truth. But Christians can seek to act with wisdom to promote the good and limit the evil insofar as possible given current political realities.
Progressive voices within Christian circles are intentionally muddying the waters with tales about the perils of voting pro-life. Every election cycle, these “concerned Christians” treat us to a series of op-eds with the same warnings: if we advocate for the unborn, we’ll harm our Christian witness and do little to stop abortion. We would do well to ignore them.
Finally, in a post-Roe world, we need more Christians pursuing pro-life work as a vocation. I’ve heard Gregg Cunningham put it well:
There are more people working full-time to kill babies than there are working full-time to save them. That’s because killing babies is very profitable while saving them is very costly. So costly, that large numbers of Americans who say they oppose abortion are not lifting a finger to stop it. And those that do lift a finger to stop it do just enough to salve the conscience but not enough to stop the killing.
The post-Roe world may get ugly. The hour calls for pro-life Christians to move from attitudinal opposition to behavioral opposition to abortion. We will be hated for it. We may even lose friends and jobs. But apathy in the face of child sacrifice is not an option for biblically grounded Christians. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.