In a ruling that the Wall Street Journal is calling “one of the most consequential in modern memory,” the Supreme Court has eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and returning the question of abortion’s legality to the states.
The Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization upholds a law from Mississippi that bans abortion after fifteen weeks of pregnancy. In its ruling, the Court’s conservative majority said that the Roe decision was egregiously wrong in recognizing a constitutional right to an abortion. States now have broad latitude to regulate or prohibit abortion as they see fit.
The case was decided by a six-to-three margin with Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissenting. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Samuel Alito.
In response to the May 1 leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion, I wrote a Daily Article discussing questions that would become relevant if the Court did in fact overturn Roe. Now that this historic day has come, I wanted to respond immediately by updating and sharing that information and then offering three biblical reflections. On Monday, we will discuss the ruling in greater depth as we focus on the road forward for the cause of life.
Where will abortion be legal?
According to the Guttmacher Institute (GI), twenty-six states have laws indicating that they intend to ban abortions. Thirteen have enacted “trigger laws” that would ban abortion altogether if Roe were to be reversed. Of this thirteen, four also have pre-Roe bans that could be enforced if the ruling were overturned. Five other states that have not enacted “trigger laws” also have such pre-Roe bans.
In addition, seventeen states have passed other bans or extreme limits on abortion that could be enforced without Roe; four of them are not included in the “trigger bans” and /or pre-Roe law groups. And GI classifies four additional states as “likely” to ban abortion based on the state’s history and political atmosphere.
On the other side, sixteen states plus the District of Columbia protect the right to abortion through state law. By my count, they total more than 118 million in population. Other states are likely to pass similar laws soon. Some states such as Maryland are increasing their capacity to conduct abortions.
What about “out-of-state” abortions?
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) recently signed into law a series of abortion bills that protect providers as well as patients coming from out of state seeking to access abortion. Connecticut and Washington have passed laws that would shield resident abortion providers from facing penalties under abortion laws in other states. Bills progressing through the Illinois and Connecticut legislatures would protect patients traveling from out of state and providers who care for them.
Meanwhile, a law proposed in Missouri would make it illegal to help someone get an abortion even in a different state.
After the Supreme Court draft leak, at least thirteen companies (Starbucks, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Citigroup, Yelp, Match, Bumble, Levi Strauss, Lyft, Uber, and Mastercard) announced plans to pay for abortion travel across state lines.
What about pharmaceutical abortions?
The FDA announced last year that it would continue its pandemic-era policy to allow medication abortion, also known as the “abortion pill,” to be prescribed via telemedicine. Medication abortion now accounts for the majority of US abortions. In response, a Texas law bans abortion-inducing drugs seven weeks into pregnancy.
Now that the Court has overturned Roe, it is plausible that states which ban abortion will seek to ban pharmaceutical abortions as well. However, there is no clear precedent for a state to ban a medication the FDA has approved.
Three biblical reflections
This is a day for which pro-life supporters have long prayed and worked. I’ll close briefly with three biblical reflections.
One: As we have seen this week, it is always too soon to give up on God.
He is working in ways we can see and in ways we cannot. Only he knows fully the chain of events that have led us to this place. I am grateful today for all the legal professionals who have used their professional gifts and influence with tireless and often sacrificial devotion to the cause of life. And for the innumerable professionals and volunteers who have worked in clinics, ministries, and churches to defend life.
As we continue to advance this cause, let us be encouraged by today’s landmark victory. And “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Two: We must now pray and work for the cause of life wherever we have personal influence.
As I have noted, the conflict now shifts to states and even local communities. For decades, those of us who lack influence on the federal or judicial level wondered what difference we could make. Now that the Court has returned this issue to the states, where it should have been all along, we are on the front lines.
Scripture teaches, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). What gift will you use for life?
Three: We are each called to advance the spiritual awakening we need so desperately.
Elective abortion is ultimately a moral issue. Followers of Jesus must pray and work for the day when such a decision is abhorrent. I heard a pro-life advocate recently state his hope that one day America will look back on the fifty years following Roe v. Wade in the same way we look back on legalized slavery—as a horrific evil justified by the courts but eventually overturned by the cause of justice for all.
In line with that analogy, I was moved this week by Frederick Douglass’s observation, “The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”
Let us pray and work for a transforming movement of the Holy Spirit that will make our nation truly “secure,” to the glory of God.