Unpopular Reflections on Roe vs Wade
The overturning of the 1973 decision Roe v Wade by SCOTUS in the “Dobbs Decision” of 2022 sent shock waves around the USA and all over the world.
There have been protests in many cities outside America by people opposed to the ruling. The European Union and even Australian politicians have condemned the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. Prince Harry even called the SCOTUS decision “a global assault on democracy and freedom.”
Because it is such an emotive debate, I have been reluctant to say anything about it. However, now that the dust had died down, I thought I’d share a few thoughts because this is something that Christian leaders do need to think about and wrestle with as we will encounter people who must navigate this difficult subject.
Before I jump into Roe vs Wade, let me offer some background on my own thinking and what has influenced my approach to this difficult topic.
To be upfront, I am pro-life. By which I mean I believe in protecting the voiceless and vulnerable from death, deprivation, and oppression. That includes an aging grandmother in a Dutch nursing home, a gay teenager in an Iranian prison, a prisoner on death row in China, a Syrian refugee in a concentration camp on Manus Island, and yes, a baby in its mother’s womb. That is my default setting. It was also the early church’s default setting as the early church was unanimously opposed to both abortion and infanticide (see Michael Gorman’s excellent book Abortion and the Early Church).
In addition, as I’ve argued before, when it comes to abortion we are dealing with two goods set in opposition to each other: women’s bodily autonomy and preserving innocent life. As such, the abortion debate is a conflict between two good things, a defence of the voiceless and vulnerable including infants in utero or post-birth, and the right of women rather than men to decide what happens to women’s bodies. The question is, how do we balance these mutual goods?
Also, I am fully aware that there are legitimate reasons for some abortions, things like ectopic pregnancies, incest, rape, and more. While there is a lot of false information on this subject, I’m told that all US states that ban abortions do have provisions for cases like these, although it varies from state to state.
Also, something that deeply shaped my views on this topic was meeting an African-American woman who showed me from Twitter why she was pro-life.
She showed me this tweet and said, “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear Planned Parenthood was trying to stop us blacks from breeding.” The irony is that if you know anything about the origins of Planned Parenthood, that was precisely its main purpose, to stop blacks and poor whites from breeding.
I didn’t necessarily agree with the slogan, “Safe, legal, and rare,” but I respected it. It recognized that abortion was not ideal, but for many women, it was the least worst option. However, the current mantra “Abortion on demand, for any reason, at any time in pregnancy, without apology” has always struck me as a gruesome celebration of something macabre. As if terminating an eight-month viable pregnancy because the baby is female, is something feminists and progressives want to champion.
Reflections on the Overturning of Roe vs Wade
Back to thoughts on the overturning of Roe vs Wade.
First, a lot of people think that Roe vs. Wade was an attack on democracy, it wasn’t. America was to my knowledge the only country in the world that made abortion a constitutional right. By overturning Roe vs. Wade, America now has to deal with abortion legislation, prohibition or permission, through its federal and state legislatures … LIKE EVERY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. Overturning Roe vs. Wade ends American exceptionalism on this issue.
Second, opposition to Roe vs Wade is not just about religion. There are secular arguments against abortion by atheists such as the late Christopher Hitchens who rejected it on humanist grounds. There are also genuine legal arguments that SCOTUS should never have made abortion a constitutional right, which have nothing to do with religion, the Bible, or holy writ. The 1973 decisions created a new constitutional right ex nihilio, precisely why many legal theorists think it was a legal mistake, even if some think the mistake needs to be preserved for the sake of avoiding socio-political turmoil.
Third, I hasten to point out that most European nations have more restrictions on abortions than some American states. Most European states, with a few exceptions, are allergic to abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy. However, in many US states, abortion can go right up to the moment of birth.
Fourth, Roe vs. Wade was symbolic of who is in control of America. White religious conservatives or White political progressives! Roe vs. Wade was a symbol of cultural influence, power, hegemony, and ascendency. Roe vs. Wade was the “flag” in a political game of “capture the flag.” The religious right wants the ascendency, but so does the progressive left. Call me cynical, but the progressive left is not truly pro-woman anymore than the religious right is truly pro-life!
To the progressives, if they are so pro-woman, then why do they freeze with paralysis with it comes to defining a woman? Why do they refuse to reject sex-based abortions of babies for being female? Why do they refuse to speak up for the 28% of women who are coerced, often with threats of violence, into having an abortion by a partner? Why do they denigrate pro-life women, many of whom are women of color? The progressive left is only selectively pro-women.
To the conservatives, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade was the fulfilment of the prayers, hopes, and dreams of the religious right. However, I think that subsequent actions will prove that the American pro-life movement was not always, perhaps not ever, a truly pro-life movement. With the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, will the pro-life movement now proceed to protest and petition for free healthcare for pregnant women, paid maternity leave, safe housing, and subsidized childcare for families? I know some pro-lifers will embrace that, but the vast, vast majority will not. For many on the religious right, over-turning Roe vs. Wade was merely the symbol of their ascendency, saving babies was just a bonus.