There were many times over the past five decades when those who identified as pro-life felt like a voice crying in the wilderness.
For all the movement’s conviction that abortion in the United States was a blot against the moral standing of this country, the majority of the nation’s highest court wouldn’t listen. It steadily defended the speciously reasoned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion on demand nationwide, and further enshrined that manufactured right in 1992 with the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision.
It took the restoration of the court to one that interprets rather than makes law to change the dynamic. For that, Donald Trump deserves grudging credit. Despite the former president’s faults in office and his grievous assault on democracy in defeat, it cannot be overlooked that Trump — with the assistance of a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate — put on the bench three justices with a disinclination to read into the U.S. Constitution what is not there. This new conservative majority correctly found that there is no right to privacy in the Constitution, and thus the grounds on which Roe and Casey were decided were built on a fiction and thus could not be sustained.
That it took almost 50 years to get to this point is a testament to the difficulty of changing the judicial mindset of a court whose members are appointed for life.
Although this is a joyous moment for the pro-life movement, it does not necessarily mean that the termination of the innocent unborn will be dramatically reduced in number. What the court’s decision does is return to the states — and potentially Congress — the power to decide whose rights, the mother’s or the unborn child’s, take primacy when they are in conflict.
About half the states, including Mississippi, will side with the child, and about half the mother. Surgical abortions will still be available in the more socially liberal parts of the country. Medication abortions, which already account for an estimated half of all abortions, will be hard to control anywhere, even in states that try to outlaw them except in extreme circumstances, such as rape or when a mother’s life is at risk if a pregnancy goes to term.
Ultimately, it won’t be laws that eradicate abortion as a form of birth control. It will be more practical changes — such as greater availability and use of contraception — as well as a more widespread transformation in the conscience of the nation. As long as the fetus is considered less than human, it will be easy for many in this nation, and the politicians they elect, to countenance abortion when a pregnancy is unwanted or inconvenient.
It is only when people’s hearts are converted to respect human life from the moment of conception that abortion becomes an unacceptable choice not just in half the states but everywhere. It is only when a child is judged to be made “in the image and likeness of God” as much before birth as after that our nation will put greater emphasis on life-affirming alternatives, such as adoption, than it does on life-terminating ones.
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade may produce initially as much division as Roe did. America over the past half-century has become acclimated to abortion, so much so that even those who oppose it personally often feel reluctant to impose those beliefs on anyone else. The public opinion polls reflect this.
But public opinion can change when people are motivated to rethink their assumptions. The assumption for decades was that Roe v. Wade was invincible. That assumption has now been proven wrong.