Roe v. Wade 50 Years Later: A Few Reflections

Feb 18th, 2023 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

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

The 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, was a watershed in judicial history.  The 7-2 decision established the right of a woman to abort her baby up to the point of viability, usually understood to be during the first trimester of the pregnancy.  The Court also permitted other situations where an abortion could occur within the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.  The result was that America had one of the most liberal abortion standards in the world.  Abortion therefore has been at the center of the culture war battles since 1973.


In 2023 we mark the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling overturning Roe, a lot of Christian commentators will be discussing the morality, legality, and availability of abortion in this new abortion era. The sacredness of human life, born and unborn, is an imperative that emerges from the heart of genuine, biblical Christianity.  “The Court’s reasoning in Roe hinged on a domain of personal liberty established by the right to privacy in the 14th amendment’s due process clause. Although it’s not expressly detailed in Roe, personal liberty is understood as autonomy or self-determination. Planned Parenthood v. Casey, [1992] which reaffirmed the fundamental right to abortion, made this point explicit. That decision defined liberty as ‘the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.’”


For this reason, permit me a few paragraphs on a discussion of liberty and freedom in 2023.   Anglican priest, Jonathan Warren Pagan reminds us that “The philosopher Isaiah Berlin distinguished between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ accounts of liberty or, as we might more simply describe them, ‘freedom for’ and ‘freedom from.’ Negative liberty is freedom from coercion or malign influence. Negative liberty opposes external threats, like tyranny and oppression. It can also be opposed to internal threats, like the self’s ‘cravings,’ to use Paul’s and James’s language (Gal. 5:16; James 1:14), or involuntary phenomena like addiction. Or it can involve influences both external and internal, like demonic possession.”

  • “In ancient philosophies and religions, negative liberty was important, but it was desirable only to the degree that it liberated people to pursue a vision of the good. This positive liberty, or freedom for, is what Catholic theologian Servais Pinckaers calls a ‘freedom for excellence.’ It constitutes the meaning and purpose of human life. Becoming a mature person means becoming progressively clearer about the nature of the ultimate good, and learning to be morally capable of suspending our lesser desires to pursue that ultimate good.”
  • “By contrast, and as Casey makes clear, most modern Western societies are premised on a vision of liberty that’s purely negative—what many have called a libertarian vision of freedom. The historian and political scientist Mark Lilla argues that this view is characterized by moral illegibility, or an inability to organize a society around a compelling, ultimate good. Instead, Western societies are arranged around autonomous personal choice and self-expression.  In the Scriptures, this vision of purely negative liberty would be called ‘slavery to sin,’ (John 8:33–38; Rom. 6:6) or, as David Bentley Hart writes, a slavery ‘to untutored impulses, to empty caprice, to triviality, to dehumanizing values.’  The New Testament is concerned with this internal kind of slavery primarily because it’s only intermittently (if ever) felt as slavery. Indeed, most of our non-Christian fellow citizens experience it as liberation . . . In Christian terms, true liberty comes in the form of positive liberty: the capacity to experience communion with God, even ‘friendship with God’ (Gen. 18:1–8; John 15:15; James 2:23; 4:4), in the fellowship of the church.”


Our conundrum is that we desperately need to be guided by capable and godly pastors and lay leaders who can show us how to submit to others in relationship; how to pray and fast and submit ourselves to God; how not to domineer or seek the high place; how not to manipulate; how not to take advantage or abuse or seduce others; and how to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” loving our neighbors as ourselves, as the Book of Common Prayer says.

In short, we need leaders who can help us know God in such a way that we’re freed from ourselves and able to put into practice not the works of the flesh but the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:13–26).

“Most Christian leaders I know (both men and women) feel genuine anxiety about continuing to teach basic Christian sexual ethics. They’re not hesitant because they doubt the veracity and authority of the Scriptures. It’s rather because so much damage has been done by a censorious and judgmental spirit in the church. They see the incalculable damage done by the moral failings of Christian leaders. They are despondent about the bad fruit of a cheapened discipleship that ticks the right boxes at the polls but fails to offer hospitality, forgiveness, love, and reintegration into the life of the church.  The recovery of genuine Christian liberty requires that we rebuild the local church as a site of a fully orbed discipleship, where truth can be spoken and where people can find belonging, love, and forgiveness.  Our most pressing vocation in this cultural moment is rebuilding the institution of the local church around a freedom worthy of the name of Jesus—the freedom to serve others and, as the apostle Paul says, to offer our lives as living sacrifices.”

How do we go about doing this?  Russell Moore suggests that “the disintegration of persons and of communities, Wendell Berry wrote, usually starts with a disintegration of words. Telling the truth about the mystery of human life, the image of God, and God’s care for the vulnerable will require a people free from the fear of tribal slogans. Such slogans try to define for us which of our neighbors we should talk about and which ones should go unmentioned.  This also means we recognize the truth that no pro-life vision of any sort can coexist with the sort of sexual anarchy that—intentionally or unintentionally—assigns value to women based on their sexual attractiveness or availability to men. The consumption of pornography is not a separate issue from the sanctity of human life.  That means telling the truth that men and women, mothers and fathers are not just interchangeable and socially constructed fictions. Women are uniquely vulnerable, both in the nurturing of children within the womb and the care of those children afterward.  As Christians, we stand for life not just in the abstract but, as the apostle John put it, ‘with actions and in truth’ (1 John 3:18). Right now, there are women in our communities who do not know how they will pay rent or even how they can take off enough time from work to give birth, much less to support a child. Right now, within our communities, there are children in poverty who can’t imagine how the future could bring anything other than suffering. We must care not only about life in general but also about each of those individual lives.  Despite all the corruptions and disgraces of American Christianity, evangelicalism, at its best, carries the promise of newness of life.”


“For the next 50 years, we need a pro-life commitment to human dignity in vulnerability. Who knows what challenges to such dignity will come next—whether through gene editing, ‘compassionate’ suicide, or maybe even the trans-humanist abandonment of the limits of human nature itself.  We will need to pursue the pro-life cause with consistency—even when that puts us out of whatever tribes to which we think we belong. And we will need to do so with persuasion, recognizing that no legislation or court decision can protect human life if the people themselves do not value it.”


Roland C. Warren, president and CEO of Care Net:  “While many pro-life Christians are excited about . . . Roe v. Wade being overturned in the foreseeable future, there is fear in the culture that pro-life people are only interested in a political solution and that the well-being of women and families will be at stake . . .  . Therefore, there is an important question we, as pro-life Christians, must ask ourselves during this pivotal time: Are we prepared for a post-Roe v. Wade society?  Here is what the pro-choice movement thinks: “If abortion becomes harder to access after Roe is overturned, pro-life people will simply stand by and let women and men struggle, without any support, through difficult pregnancy decisions. Accordingly, the antidote that we as Christians can use to overcome this fear is for us to not just be pro-life but to be ‘pro abundant life’ (John 10:10).  What does abundant life look like to a child we desire to save from abortion?” As Christians, these are the tenets we should encourage and build into people’s lives:


  • Because the only source of true and lasting transformation is the gospel, we must lead people into relationships with Jesus Christ.
  • Because 86 percent of abortions in the United States are among unmarried women, we must promote healthy marriage as a critical factor in preventing abortions and as the optimal environment to raise children.
  • Because the father of an unborn baby is the most influential factor in a mother’s decision to abort, we must work to break the cycle of abortion by engaging fathers and helping them be involved, responsible, and committed contributors to their families.
  • Because our culture no longer values the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of the family as God designed it, we must seek to influence it by compassionately transforming hearts and minds.


See Russell Moore, Moore to the Point (19 January 2023); Jonathan Warren Pagan, “Roe Is Over. But Its Libertarian Spirit Lives On” in (19 January 2023); and

Kate Shellnutt, “How Can Today’s Pro-Life Christians Build Trust in the Movement?”  www.christianitytoday (24 May 2019).

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