It’s official: Roe is no more.
Following the leak of a draft opinion authored by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, pro-life advocates had been awaiting the official ruling in a SCOTUS case that they believed would lead to the overturn of Roe.
Those hopes have now come to pass.
Abortion is no longer considered a constitutional right, and the question of legality with regard to the practice has been turned over to individual states to decide. In advance of the ruling, a number of states enacted trigger laws that went into effect as soon as the judgment came down, immediately banning abortion in those states.
As I have said in the past, the overturn of Roe represents the single largest victory for the pro-life movement in five decades. Over 63 million abortions have taken place in America since the 1973 ruling. That is a loss of life that is difficult to comprehend.
While this is certainly a moment of celebration for those who stand on the side of life for the unborn, it does not signify the finish line for pro-life work, even if it is a significant milestone.
In fact, in the aftermath of the ruling, pro-life Christians are grappling with a morally complex landscape that I did not anticipate we would face in my lifetime.
While I can’t offer a definitive solution to those complexities, I believe it’s important for Christians to consider their ramifications and how to best pursue a holistic sense of justice in light of them.
The Moral Complexity of How We Got Here
The United States Supreme Court is not a faceless entity. It is composed of nine justices with particular legal and moral philosophies that guide their rulings. And the justices whose concurring opinions tipped the scales toward Roe’s overturn were appointed by none other than former president Donald Trump.
In response to that reality, some pro-Trump evangelicals have taken the opportunity to publicly dunk on their never-Trumper counterparts, lambasting them for refusing to provide their endorsement for “the most pro-life president in history.”
However, simultaneous with celebration of Roe’s overturn, Americans have also been witness to damning testimony regarding Trump given to the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack.
Just this week, it was revealed by a former White House aid that President Trump knew that his claims of widespread voter fraud during his failed 2020 presidential bid were false, he was aware that a large number of those who sought to come to his January 6 rally were armed, and that he wanted to join the mob at the Capitol Building, even physically assaulting a member of his security team who insisted on taking him back to the White House in light of security concerns.
On January 6, 2021, and in the days leading up to it, the actions of “the most pro-life president in history” directly led to the death of five people and injury to hundreds more. Had not heroic men and women stood in the gap, more could have been killed, and the events of the day could have created a constitutional crisis the likes of which the nation has never seen.
Further, this is only one aspect of Trump’s personal conduct and presidency that Christians should find objectionable.
Certainly, without Trump’s conservative justice appointments, Roe would likely still be the law of the land. Nevertheless, thoughtful Christians are faced with the question of whether the ends have justified the means.
For some, they answer that question in the affirmative, basing their continued support for Trump on a machiavellian belief that we do not need a good man to bring about societal good; we simply need a strong man. We need a winner. In this mindset, virtue is of little importance if the virtuous do not possess power.
This is a line of reasoning that I find to be deeply incongruent with authentic biblical Christianity. The Christian faith, at its heart, is highly impractical. Through the centuries, the unwillingness of Christians to compromise on their convictions has led to suffering, persecution, marginalization, and death. And yet God has moved in miraculous ways to bring about redemption in the lives of individuals as well as societal groups at large.
What’s done is done. But now Christians must consider how willing they are to endorse the litany of evils that led to one monumental good.
God works through all things. But that does not mean that he endorses all things or makes excuses for them.
The Moral Complexity of Pro-Life Legislation
Leading up to the overturn of Roe, a number of state legislators fought to pass bills that would ban abortion immediately following the ruling. On the face of it, that seems like a good thing—the next logical step in advocacy for the unborn.
Nevertheless, what some of those bills have contained has been quite troubling.
For example, a failed bill in Louisiana sought to enact criminal penalties on women who seek or obtain an abortion, making them subject to murder charges. Thankfully the legislation was tabled in favor of a bill that would eliminate such penalties. But a growing contingency of the anti-abortion movement, including a significant number of evangelicals, is in favor of similar legislation, even advocating for women who obtain an abortion to receive the death penalty.
I believe that legal consequences are a necessary part of legislation that limits access to abortion. However, those legal consequences should fall on medical professionals who perform abortions, not the women—many of whom are socially disenfranchised and driven by desperation—who have sought them.
Others are concerned that new anti-abortion legislation will not have adequate protections for mothers whose pregnancies are not viable and pose a threat to women’s lives, such as ectopic pregnancies—or that women who suffer miscarriages will be subject to criminal investigations, thereby turning a tragic life event into a traumatic legal encounter.
Depending on the state, those fears may be overblown. But not in every case. Thoughtful Christians must practice vigilance in the kinds of legislation they advocate for, lest in their effort to correct one injustice they open the floodgates of others.
The Moral Complexity of Related Matters of Justice
In response to the overturn of Roe and ensuing state trigger laws, some pro-choice advocates have argued that abortion bans do not reduce the number of abortions; they only reduce the number of safe and legal abortions. However, based on what we have seen in the months following Texas’ Heartbeat Law (regardless of how you feel about that particular piece of legislation), we can say that claim is verifiably untrue.
Abortion bans absolutely reduce the number of abortions. They just aren’t the only thing that does.
Nevertheless, the moral complexity of the situation is such that the elected officials most likely to enact legislation that will protect unborn life are also the elected officials that are most likely to oppose robust legislation that will redress the underlying issues that lead to increased abortion rates.
Those issues include a lack of affordable healthcare and paid family leave, housing insecurity, and food insecurity.
The reverse is also true. The elected officials who are most likely to advocate for unfettered access to abortion are also the most likely to create social programs that take a holistic approach to addressing poverty, access to healthcare, and income inequality—thereby actually decreasing abortion rates.
The trouble is that most Christians and pro-lifers have no issue viewing abortion as a systemic injustice that can be remedied with legislation but then refuse to believe that a constellation of other injustices—often rooted in systems of racial inequality enacted in decades and centuries past—are also systemic in nature and can likewise be remedied with legislation.
In other words, what pro-choice advocates see from their pro-life counterparts is a willingness to penalize and criminalize women in a desperate situation, alongside an equal measure of unwillingness to provide any kind of systemic solutions to their desperation. The thoughtful Christian must be able to recognize that such a posture is nothing short of draconian.
Some will argue that addressing these desperate concerns is not the job of the government but rather the job of the Church. And to be sure, the Church does much of its best work in these areas. For all the criticism Christians receive for being merely pro-birth rather than actually pro-life, they are the ones who are most likely to foster and adopt children, support local food banks, operate shelters for those experiencing homelessness, and come alongside young, expectant mothers through crisis pregnancy centers.
And yet these problems still persist on a societal scale.
We need not pit personal community involvement against robust legislation aimed at addressing societal woes. We should advocate for the latter without abandoning the former.
Unfortunately, our country’s two party system does not provide an easy avenue to elect legislators that are willing to fight for life from womb to tomb. But that mustn’t keep us from trying. For decades, evangelicals have worked alongside other faith groups and political entities to create a voting bloc united against abortion. We must similarly work to build coalitions that stand against related injustices.
Christians will only be able to be a prophetic voice of true justice in our society if we resolve to stop allowing cable news and social media headlines to shape our understanding of the world and instead look to the values provided to us in scripture.
God wants to do a new work in us. It’s just not as simple as voting red or voting blue. God’s justice stands on the side of life, and God’s justice is about more than crime and punishment. God’s justice is about bringing wholeness in the midst of brokenness, a light of goodness that shines equally on all those suffering in darkness.