On Monday, May 2, a bombshell leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion indicated that the overturn of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is a possibility and even a likelihood. Whereas Roe provided federal protections for abortion, overturning it would send the decision on abortion access back to individual states.
To be sure, this would be the single largest victory for the pro-life movement in five decades. Over 63 million abortions have taken place in America since Roe was handed down, which is an unfathomable loss of life.
While not every state in America will immediately enact laws that will restrict abortion should Roe be overturned, what the Texas Heartbeat Law has shown us is that even if only a few do, it will result in a significant decrease in abortions overall.
Even still, optimism in the pro-life movement is tempered by concern over a historic breach of trust that led to the draft opinion being leaked, as well as for the pressure that the Supreme Court justices who have initially supported it may face, which could affect their final decision.
We are also faced with questions about where the pro-life movement goes from here, if indeed Roe is overturned.
Here are three things thoughtful Christians should hold in tension.
1. Hold Celebration in Tension With Resolve to Continue the Work.
I don’t think the enormity of this Supreme Court ruling can be overstated, should the final decision hold. For five decades, pro-life activists have been laboring for the protection of unborn children. Through every election cycle, the topic has been evergreen but little to nothing has changed, because Roe was “settled law.”
But if indeed Roe is not settled, then the pro-life movement has the opportunity to gain traction like never before—and Christians should be a huge part of that. While we should take a moment to celebrate, that moment shouldn’t last too long. Because the work of the pro-life movement isn’t complete. In fact, it is really just getting its start.
Overturning Roe won’t end legalized elective abortion in America. It will merely send it back to the states. For states like Ohio and Texas, it is clear that abortion will become as limited as is possible.
Conversely, where I live in California, it will likely be open season on the unborn—not only for residents of the state, but also for those who would travel from around the country to receive an elective abortion.
Because abortions rights have been so wrapped up in the movements for women’s rights and healthcare rights, the ideological road ahead is steeply uphill. But it is a road that Christians will need to travel in certain states if we are to see abortion rates continue to decline.
We can support equity for women and access to affordable healthcare and non-abortifacient contraception while also staunchly opposing abortion. And we must.
However, what a long track record of voter engagement has shown us is that people tend to be apathetic toward local and state legislation. Voter turnout is low, and people are politically disengaged. But, now more than ever, those may be the very spaces where Christians can make the biggest impact for life.
2. Hold the Rights of the Unborn in Tension With the Needs of Mothers and the Newly Born.
It is a myth that Christians do not care about babies and children after they go from being unborn to born. Among all groups in America, Christians are the ones who foster and adopt the most children, run the most charitable organizations that address poverty, and give the most generously of their personal finances, both to individuals in need and the organizations serving them.
These are statistical realities, and they have been since the beginning of the Christian movement.
However, for evangelicals in America, they also tend to vote for politicians and public policies that are not favorable to the economically disenfranchised, which is a key contributing factor in abortion.
The more access to healthcare, paid family leave, affordable (or free) preschool, and help with student loan repayment, the less abortion appears to be a necessary option for young expectant mothers. Yet these are the very things that many evangelical voters often strike down, sometimes even ridiculing the mere mention of them.
While overturning Roe may functionally make abortion illegal in many parts of the country, Christians should be just as concerned with enacting laws that would make abortion unthinkable. That means supporting mothers, particularly the economically disadvantaged.
This isn’t an either/or situation, though it often appears that way. In order to win on making abortions illegal, many evangelicals have given their full-throated support to lawmakers and policies that will never make it unthinkable. But we shouldn’t.
The work that Christians do through pregnancy crisis centers and generosity toward those in need is making an eternal impact. However, we too often work against the grain of our own goals by toeing the Republican party line.
Abortion is a systemic problem. And systemic problems require systemic solutions.
I’m not saying that Christians mustn’t ever vote Republican. But I do want to point out: (1) the Republican party is not ordained or anointed by God, and (2) Christians who support Republican politicians need to hold them to account when they employ rhetoric and policy stances that are not aligned with Christian values and the ultimate goal of being pro-life from womb to tomb.
In other words, “in for a penny, in for a pound” is not a Christian model for political party alignment. We cannot say that we care deeply about enacting laws that will eradicate abortion if we simply outlaw the symptom without addressing the societal diseases that cause it.
3. Hold the ‘Trump Effect’ in Tension.
As social media has erupted with responses to the leaked draft opinion, I’ve noticed that a number of prominent Christian voices have unequivocally congratulated themselves for giving their unwavering support to former president Donald Trump.
After all, Trump promised to nominate conservative justices, and he fulfilled that promise. What we are seeing now is the fruit of that.
Some have even publicly taunted other prominent Christian leaders who vocally opposed Trump for his harmful rhetoric and lack of moral integrity, saying that those folks are awfully quiet right now.
On the one hand, it is undeniable that without Trump’s Supreme Court nominations, overturning Roe would likely not be a possibility at this juncture. The fact that it is a possibility is an incredible win for those who hold to Christian convictions.
On the other hand, Trump has spent the last half-decade spewing misinformation, launching hateful social media attacks on anyone who even politely disagreed with him, currying cynicism toward essential societal institutions, and inciting a violent attempt to stop the legal certification of a presidential election based on the lie that it was stolen.
At the end of the day, the question is: “Do the ends justify the means?”
For some Christians, the answer is, “Yes.” I deeply disagree. I do not believe that Christians need to support evil means to justify noble ends. However, given the stakes, I do understand how plugging one’s nose to vote for Trump is within the range of decisions faithful Christians might make.
This is a morally complex situation.
However, what is not within an acceptable range of Christian decisions (nor morally complex) is minimizing, making excuses for, or deflecting attention from the deeply corrosive effect Trump has had on our American political system and society, his gross failure as a leader, his narcissism and xenophobia, and his troublesome stances on any number of issues.
If Christians are to maintain a shred of credibility and remain faithful to their calling, they must call such things to account. We cannot give unilateral support to evil leaders and explain away every horrible thing they do simply because they put conservative justices on the bench.
Again, “in for a penny, in for a pound” is not the Christian model of political support—at least not to anyone other than Jesus himself.
This Is an Opportunity.
What may lay ahead in the months and years to come is an opportunity for Christians within the pro-life movement to show how truly pro-life we are.
Pro-life in our opposition to abortion. Pro-life in our personal generosity toward young mothers and parentless children. Pro-life in the way that we make abortion not only illegal but unthinkable through comprehensive legislation.
In another 50 years, may our children look back on how Christians acted in this moment with pride at how we ignited a movement passionate about both compassion and justice, for the unborn and the born alike.