The End Of Roe v. Wade: Now What?

Jul 2nd, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

First, a review of the 1973 Roe decision.  In December 1971, the Court heard oral arguments brought by an anonymous plaintiff, which contended that the Texas laws forbidding her from having an abortion were unconstitutional.  A majority of the justices agreed.  Harry Blackman was assigned the responsibility to write the opinion, but he was uncertain where in the Constitution this legal right was grounded and how late in the pregnancy the right was to be granted.  He grounded his decision on an implied right of privacy found in the Constitution. [The Court’s decision in 1973 was based on the argument that fetal life does not have constitutional protection. Lawyers in the case pointed out that traditionally, rights are understood to begin at birth. The 14th Amendment, for example, extended citizenship to all those “born … in the United States,” not those conceived within the nation’s borders.  The judges said, however, that the state did have a compelling interest in protecting fetal life. But that compelling interest had to be balanced with a woman’s right to privacy.  “Privacy” is never mentioned in the Constitution, but the Ninth Amendment says that rights not mentioned in the Constitution are not to be denied by default. And the 14th Amendment guarantees legal due process, which the Court said indicated a right to privacy, including the right to make decisions about abortion without state interference—at least up to a certain point.  The justices debated that point. After some internal back and forth, they settled on fetal viability.]


In addition, as Joshua Prager explains, “The case was delayed by the retirement of two justices, and in September 1972, a ruling by a federal district judge offered the high court a way forward.”  In a Connecticut case dealing with abortion, district judge Jon O. Newman ruled that the state could ban abortion only from the point of viability.  So, in a 7-2 decision the Supreme Court In 1973 stipulated that states could not ban abortions before fetal viability, the point at which the fetus can survive outside the womb.  [In 1973, that was about 28 weeks, which today, due to advances in medical technology, is closer to 22 weeks.]  Roe also established a framework to govern abortion regulation based on the trimesters of a pregnancy.  In the first trimester it permitted no regulations.  In the second, it permitted regulations to protect women’s health.  In the third, it permitted states to ban abortions as long as exceptions were made to protect the life and health of the mother.  In 1992, the Court discarded the trimester framework in the landmark decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, allowing states to restrict abortion before viability as long as they did not impose an “undue burden” on those seeking abortions.  The result was that many states began to limit access through a series of incremental restrictions.  But the Casey decision retained what the Court called Roe’s “essential holding”—that women have a constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies until fetal viability.


In Justice Byron White’s dissent to the Roe decision in 1973, he characterized the decision as an “exercise of raw judicial power.”  With the Court’s 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in late June the issue of abortion was returned to the states, ending this “exercise:”  “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” the Supreme Court declared.  Justice Alito, who wrote the opinion, found it ludicrous to see the right to abortion in the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.  The right to an abortion is not found in the US Constitution; it is not in any state constitution; and has no history in American common law.  After nearly 50 years and after 64 million abortions, the Roe decision remains controversial and unworkable, which is also compelling evidence that it was wrongly decided.  As the Wall Street Journal argued editorially, “The debate will now shift from the courts to the political branches, which should be healthy for the judiciary.”  Furthermore, David B. Rivkin Jr. and Jennifer L Mascott correctly observe that “Dobbs marks a path toward restoring the constitutionally prescribed diffusion of powers among governmental branches, undergirded by a system of checks and balances.  This uniquely American structure of government is the primary safeguard of individual liberty.” Because Roe negated abortion statutes in 46 states and the District of Columbia, abortion will once again become a state issue, with in effect 50 different abortion statutes with 50 different regulatory boundaries.  In other words, all 50 states would be left to draw the line between legal and illegal abortions for themselves.

In the remaining parts of this edition of Issues, let’s examine a few of the consequences of this momentous decision.

  • Frist, Tish Harrison Warren gives focus to the matter of “bodily autonomy,” a chief argument against abortion restrictions. Referring to abortion restrictions as “forced birth” is common among abortion rights advocates. Julie Rikelman, who argued in favor of abortion rights in the Dobbs oral arguments at the Supreme Court, stated that the right to an abortion is grounded in “liberty,” which includes the right “to physical autonomy, including the right to end a pre-viability pregnancy.” The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs rightly rejects the idea that rights to bodily autonomy are expansive and absolute, and therefore make abortion rights necessary.  “Yet the way we understand and define bodily autonomy has profound implications in our debates about abortion and in how we understand what justice for women looks like. The Dobbs Supreme Court decision recognized that there is no inherent right to abortion that flows from a commitment to liberty or autonomy, in part because abortion is fundamentally different, as both Roe and Casey acknowledged, because it destroys what those decisions called ‘fetal life’ and what the law now before us describes as an ‘unborn human being.’”

She adds that “the term ‘autonomy’ denies the deep interdependence and limitations of every human body. One definition of autonomy is ‘independence.’ But no human has complete bodily autonomy from birth to death. The natural state of human beings is to be deeply and irrevocably interdependent on one another. The only reason any of us is alive today is that someone cared for us as children in the womb and then as infants and toddlers. Almost all of us, through age or disability or both, will eventually depend on other human beings — other human bodies — to bathe, dress, feed and otherwise care for us.  A child in the womb is dependent on a mother for life in a way that does place a unique burden on a mother. But this burden does not end at birth. Parenthood — at any stage — is an arduous good. A 1-year-old baby is dependent on adults for nourishment, protection and care in ways that can be profoundly burdensome, yet we cannot claim ‘bodily autonomy’ as a reason to neglect the needs of a 1-year-old. Abortion seems to punish a fetus for its lack of bodily autonomy and deny the profound reliance that all of us who have bodies hold.”

“For both men and women, bodily autonomy can’t mean that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, with our own bodies without natural consequences or obligations to others. If this is what we mean by ‘autonomy,’ then no one can champion bodily autonomy without ultimately advocating harm.  I recently came across a blog post by the literature scholar Alan Jacobs, describing Simone Weil’s insistence that ‘if we need a collective declaration of human rights, we also, and perhaps more desperately, need a declaration of human obligations.’ I find this beautiful. Speaking as a woman, with a woman’s body, I want safety and freedom for all women. I want women to be full participants and empowered leaders in public life. I believe we, as human beings and image bearers of God, have a right to bodily integrity, protection and liberty.”

  • Second, how should evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics, organizationally the major Christian groups who advocated for the overturn of Roe, respond to this decision?  Timothy Dalrymple, CEO of Christianity Today, observes that “Overturning Roe is a testament to a long faithfulness, passed down from parents to children to grandchildren, to fight for the lives and dignity of people in all stages of development. It could be the most significant moral achievement of a generation.  But what will a faithful response to success look like? Overturning Roe sends abortion policy decisions back to the states, and many will prohibit or have prohibited abortion. In the words of Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, ‘Many children will be born that would have been previously aborted,’ and many to parents ‘that are strained and struggling’ . . .  The end of Roe will honor the sanctity of human life and deliver children safely into the world. It will also bring real hardships for many mothers. The best way we can celebrate the children who will be born of Roe’s demise is to love the mothers who raise them.”

Daniel Bennett, associate professor of political science at John Brown University, suggests several ways Christians can “love the mothers who raise them.” “Rehabilitating the family unit should absolutely be the top priority for Christians rightly focused on promoting a flourishing and thriving society. This is a foundational concern. But as we encourage this, we must also be open to complementary, immediate solutions to problems that have arisen precisely because of the decline of the family . . . I would advise pro-life Christians to consider this nondefinitive list of policies that would support the unborn, the newborn, and their mothers as a complement to individual initiatives and behaviors:  [1] Subsidize pre- and postnatal care.  Having a baby is expensive. In Arkansas, the average hospital delivery costs about $15,000, right around the national average. Mothers and families should not incur medical debt or drain their savings in exchange for bringing a child into the world . . .  [2] Expand and reform the Child Tax Credit.  Utah’s Mitt Romney and other Republicans in the Senate have proposed a more permanent overhaul to this system, providing monthly payments to families while incentivizing marriage in the tax code, among other things . . .  [3] Incentivize and streamline domestic adoptions.  There are hundreds of thousands of children in the American foster care system. Adoption is often expensive and complicated. The government should prioritize policies making it easier for people to adopt domestically, while maintaining and strengthening processes that protect and safeguard children. Tax credits, allowances, and the like could make adoption a reality for more people.  [4] Keep dads involved.  Research shows that children raised in two-parent homes fare much better later in life than those raised in single-parent homes. That said, we live in a fallen and sinful world, and there are situations where a father is simply not there (and yes, in some cases, that’s for the best).  Still, government should make it more likely that dads have skin in the game. One way to do this is to beef up and strictly enforce child support requirements so that men cannot so easily decide to avoid accountability for their decisions.”

  • Finally, Will Sorrell, who oversees values-based investing at OneAscent, analyses the economic and financial impact of abortion:  A common argument for a pro-choice ethic is that abortion access is good for the economy. Many like US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen argue that limiting abortion access will only make things worse financially for vulnerable women. And if resources for pregnant mothers do not continue to improve, this is an understandable argument.  Seventy-five percent of abortions occur in households living on less than twice the federal poverty level, and nearly half are below the poverty line, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Sixty percent of women who choose abortion already have children, and 55 percent are single. Presently, there is little economic incentive for single women already struggling to feed their children to have another child.  Yellen and others also suggest the economy at large will suffer if abortion access is restricted. Already harrowing workforce dropout rates will only increase and having more mouths to feed in already disadvantaged homes will result in more poverty . . . However, this by no means suggests abortion access is good for the economy—and there are two more important points worth making here.  First, as The Wall Street Journal editorial board suggests, the link between abortion rights and economic prosperity is tenuous. More births and more people result in more opportunities for innovation, creativity, and problem-solving concerning society’s most desperate issues, including poverty. Declining populations are fraught with economic problems, as younger generations cannot fill the shoes of retiring workers, nor provide them with adequate care.  Second, reduced abortion access does not necessarily mean there will be fewer abortions. As of 2014, the abortion rate in the United States was lower than the rate at the time of the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. However, while abortion rates have largely declined in the past 40 years, some preliminary data suggest that abortion rates ticked up in 2019.”

“The 2021 Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) State of Giving paints an encouraging picture [of support for reliable pro-life programs]. Based on annualized increases in giving, from 2010 to 2020, orphan care, pregnancy resource, family and children’s services, adoption, and children’s home ministries received nearly $10 billion in donations. This includes $955 million in 2020 alone to 251 nonprofits.  As we enter a post-Roe era, where should Christians spend our pro-life dollars? I believe the answer is both where it has always gone philanthropically and where exciting new possibilities may lead.  There are approximately 20 times more pregnancy resource centers than Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States, yet their combined value of assets is more than 10 times less. Continuing to donate to pregnancy resource centers is a beautiful way to display a gospel ethic that leads to life.  These centers are so much more than simply ‘pro-birth.’ They provide baby food, diapers, and other essentials to expectant mothers, match soon-to-be fathers with mentors, offer free counseling to women (including after an abortion), and partner with other local nonprofits to meet any other need that might arise . . . How can local churches embody a “womb to tomb” approach in our local communities?   Is your church leveraging its members’ vocations as doctors, lawyers, bakers, teachers, therapists, and caregivers to care for victims of rape or domestic violence? Are your members taking the time to become court appointed special advocates (CASAs) for foster kids? Does your church fundraise to cover legal costs of a mother trying to protect her baby from an abusive father?”


The Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court champions a life ethic that is consistent with God’s Word.  But the decision will not end abortions in the US and it will not end the debate. We who name the name of Christ must be consistently pro-life, having compassion on mothers who need help with their pregnancies and their babies once born and seeking ways to strengthen the family unit.  We should also advocate for wise governmental programs that provide some of this care and support.  Support of pregnancy centers that provide holistic care for mothers and families must be ongoing.  The abortion debate will not end with this decision, which means the church must aggressively champion love, compassion and grace “to the least of these.”


See Wall Street Journal editorial (25-26 June 2022); David B. Rivkin Jr. and Jennifer L. Mascott in the Wall Street Journal (25-26 June 2022); Tish Harrison Warren, “In overturning Roe, the Supreme Court rejects the myth of ‘bodily autonomy’ in the New York Times (26 June 2022); Daniel Silliman, “Goodbye Roe v. Wade” in (24 June 2022); Timothy Dalrymple, “How to Greet the End of ‘Roe’” in (21 June 2022); Daniel Bennett “4 Post-Roe Policies Worth Pushing For” in (28 June 2022); Will Sorrell, “What Does a Pro-Life Economy Look Like?” in (24 June 2022).

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