On June 24, the majority opinion of the Supreme Court ruling in Thomas Dobbs et al. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (which was infamously leaked), written by justice Samuel Alito, came out that:
“We hold that Roe and [Planned Parenthood v. Casey] must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision”
Roe v. Wade (1973) was, of course, one of the most polarizing Supreme Court cases in US history. Given the embattled nature of Roe v. Wade, it is sensible to expect that Dobbs v. Jackson will raise further bitterness. There will be no shortage of outrage, protest, and legislative activity. There are bound to be more Federal (and probably Supreme) Court cases on issues of abortion as a patchwork of laws across the nation come into play. In the meantime, how do we as Christians think about and talk about such a polarizing issue in our daily lives? Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind so that we are ready to think with charity, compassion, and hopefully some biblical framework on the issue of abortion.
As Christians we should…
First, all sides should stop and catch their breath for a minute. Dobbs v. Jackson is not that sweeping of a ruling. Neither the pro-life nor the pro-choice movement finds much substantive victory or defeat here. Dobbs v. Jackson is a ruling on a legal technicality: the constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion and the legal reasoning used in the Roe and Casey cases was underwhelming.
Consider what that ruling actually means. The constitution does not guarantee the right to tax-advantaged retirement plans. But we have them. Why? Because we have tons of state and federal laws describing how they work and making them legal. All that Dobbs v. Jackson does is say that the current federal laws created in the Roe v. Wade ruling can’t stand by themselves.
Consider what this ruling does not do. It does not say anything about whether abortion is good, right, or moral. It does not say that abortion is illegal in the US. It does not even say that there can’t be federal laws guaranteeing abortion across the country. It simply says that the law which the Supreme Court de facto passed in its 1973 ruling is not valid.
While in some ways Dobbs v. Jackson is a major win for the pro-life movement, it really is a weak win at best. It is good practice—both generally and in this case—for we as Christians to be realistic in what we talk about.
This ruling is disorienting to many people. Anyone born after 1973 has never lived in a US where abortion has not been enshrined in federal law…until now. That means that for over half of the US population, this is uncharted territory. Most of the people in the US have grown up with the assumption that—good or bad—abortion was part of US law. In a context where so much in society is shifting and debated, this ruling brings instability to yet another area of society where things seemed generally secure.
To put things into an idiom relatable around here, imagine the Supreme Court ruled tomorrow that the “right to bear arms” in the 2nd Amendment only allows ownership of guns of comparable type to those the Founders knew in the late 1700s. That would rock a lot of peoples’ worlds around here. That would lead to a lot of emotion, anger, frustration, and uncertainty.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade rocks a lot of peoples’ worlds. We should be prepared to be compassionate towards those whose worlds have been rocked. Gloating is not compassionate.
While it is hard to get exact numbers, realize that approximately 1 of every 4 women of childbearing age in the US will have an abortion at some point in her life. In any gathering of more than 4 women, statistics tell us that one either has had or will have an abortion. While the rate of abortions is not spread equally across demographic groups, in all likelihood you know several women who have had abortions (or will before menopause).
When we think and talk about abortion, this should give us pause. Before waxing eloquent on the stupidity and moral degeneracy of women who get abortions, consider that you know some of them (even if you don’t know that you know them). Being sensitive does not mean not talking about abortion as a wrong, tragic, and ugly thing, but it should temper how we talk.
We can easily substitute a message of condemnation in place of the gospel of grace by the way that we talk to and about other people.
This is an opportunity like hasn’t existed since 1973 for those who speak loudly against abortion to act as loudly as they speak. The situation on the ground differs from place to place. In many states, nothing has changed since the ruling. In some states, abortion rights are set to be expanded. In some states, abortion has been (or will shortly be) banned. Especially in those states where abortion is now illegal, a great burden of responsibility falls on the shoulders of those who have argued and fought for the fall of abortion.
It is easy to yell loudly against something we don’t like; it is far harder to live for what is good and right. The ruling provides opportunity for those who have yelled loudest about the need to do away with abortion on demand to yell equally as loud with actions in helping deal with the repercussions of no more legal abortion in many states.
How can we deal with helping those in crisis? Abortion data tracks pretty strongly along socio-economic lines: the poorer the woman, the more likely an abortion. Obviously, there are other factors in play, but that is a strong correlation. Will pro-lifers turn out to be committed to dealing with the difficulties of life many women face that make abortion a sensible choice to them? Only time will tell that. But ending legal abortion will certainly not end abortion.
As Christians, this ruling invites many of us around the country to consider what sort of social causes are worthy of devoting time, energy, and money towards beyond just overthrowing abortion laws. The underlying logic of abortion grows from many strands of brokenness and sinfulness. Outlawing abortion by itself doesn’t deal with any of these root problems.
Keep striving to change the conversation
There is much more to say on this issue. Abortion is a complicated and tragic part of our culture. The Dobbs v. Jackson ruling does not end the complication and tragedy. If anything, it will probably inflame them further.
There will be lots of legal debates still to come. Elections and laws have consequences, and they will continue to have them going forward.
As we make our way in this post-Roe world, we still need to work to change the conversation regarding abortion. Few people actually like the idea of abortion. We disguise it under talk of choice and rights, but most people don’t like the idea of killing the baby/fetus. For women getting an abortion, it tends to be a cost-benefit analysis type decision. How do we change the conversation from talking about rights and laws to talking about the tragedy that is abortion?
Abortion is a tragedy. How can we work to minimize this tragedy in peoples’ lives?
That question throws us back on the need for the gospel, the need for loving people who are living broken lives, and all those other needs that Jesus presses so forcefully for us to recognize. After all, salvation does not come through passing laws. The wholeness for which all of us were made is not found in defeating abortion laws, but in union with Christ. I hope that many Christians who have fought—and continue to fight—for pro-life legislation will remember that.