The Fall of Roe: Initial Reactions

Post-Roe
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[Editor’s note: With the Dobbs decision overturning both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, we asked a number of pro-life and pro-family leaders and commentators to share with us their initial reactions.]

June 24, 2022 will be one of a handful of dates in American history that everyone, certainly every Catholic, should commit to memory. On the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on the day of a rare alignment of the visible planets plus the moon in the night sky, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade—one of the most lawless, and baseless, decisions in its history. The immediate effect of the court’s judgment is to return the question of abortion to the states. But every pro-life American should fast and pray that June 24 becomes known as the day our country began to repent and turn our face back toward God—the very source of life–without whom we cannot long hope to prosper or endure.

— Jay Richards Ph.D., Director, DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family and William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in Religious Liberty and Civil Society

I thank God today for the hundreds of thousands of human lives that will be saved, perhaps in a single year alone; millions, as we go forward.  But every day we must begin again the hard work of bringing to the minds of our fellow citizens the beauty of the unborn child, the incomparable worth of man made in the image of God, the reality of the child-making act, and the sanctity of marriage such as has been ordained by God and inscribed in the forms of our bodies male and female.

The whole society has long been lingering in a far country of famine and alienation.  It will not do simply to say that we have brought on the famine and the alienation ourselves.  We must redouble our efforts to welcome the child into our midst, to smooth the way of the mother who must sacrifice much to bring the child to the light and to care for him afterwards, and at the same time to promote the recovery of customs and laws that make marriage, once again, the overwhelming norm, the aim of all wholesome customs that teach boys and girls what they are and how they are for one another, the haven of childhood and the homestead of old age, and the sacred image of Christ and his Church.

—Tony Esolen, professor and writer-in-residence, Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts

I am quite simply stunned that this day has come. I did not think it would happen in my lifetime. Huge praise must be extended to the entire pro-life movement. This took every part of this broad and deep and vast movement. But a special thanks goes to the much-maligned political and legal arms of the pro-life movement. It is their day especially, and the day of the unborn children who will now be saved.

We must also remember in our prayers all those who are suffering today because they stand on the other side of this issue. They are not of the Devil but have merely been fooled by him. Pray for them today and tomorrow. And get back to work.

— Austin Ruse, President, C-Fam (Center for Family & Human Rights)

Today, June 24, 2022, is traditionally the Feast of St. John the Baptist, the unborn herald of the unborn Savior. This year, today is also the Feast of the Sacred Heart in which the Church celebrates “the image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love in return.” And, henceforth today will be celebrated as the day in which the Supreme Court of the United States in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization held that the United States Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, overruling the nearly 50-year-old precedent of Roe v. Wade.

There will be ample time to analyze the Court’s opinion in great detail, to question its legal implications, and to discern its practical consequences.

But today is not that day.

Today is a day of profound gratitude.

Today is the day that a serious blow has been struck against those who profit from the exploitation of vulnerable women and promote abortion as the answer to poverty, crime, and other social problems.

Today is the day that the law of the land no longer tells women they have to commit violence against their own children in order to be considered equal to men.

Today is the day that we begin to cleanse the terrible moral stain on our national conscience, mindful of the 63 million children, each and every one of inestimable worth, whose lives were cut short by abortion over the last 50 years.

In Evangelium vitae, Pope St. John Paul II emphasized the preeminent importance of respect for human life and its integral connection to the promotion of all human rights: “[a] society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized. Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace.”

In a time when those most precious goods of society, justice and peace, are under attack, today is a day we dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work of restoring respect for all human life as the foundation of those goods.

— Elizabeth Kirk, J.D., Director of the Center for Law and the Human Person at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America.

Communist regimes are the modern mass murderers of people outside the womb—more than 100 million and counting—as well as inside the womb (an even harder number to quantify, but in the hundreds of millions just for the PRC and the former USSR).  Built on the equality, liberty, and dignity of the human person, America bears extra responsibility for the sin of abortion.  The fight for life continues.  But thanks be to God, the United States—as a country and people—will part company with three Communist states: China, North Korea, and Vietnam.  This is important for pro-lifers worldwide.

— Dr. Elizabeth Spalding, Vice Chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), Founding Director of the Victims of Communism Museum, and Senior Fellow at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy.

For as long as I can remember having political opinions, Roe v. Wade and the question of the right to life have been at the center of them. Growing up as I did in Catholic schools, hearing about the travesty of abortion was more or less part of the curriculum. It shaped my politics. Cynical rhetoric from the other side notwithstanding, one could readily see how legal abortion hardened hearts on so many other fronts, making life harder, uglier, and less free—especially for women and the vulnerable.

Now that Roe has been overturned, it would be churlish not to recognize there is cause for celebration. It has been a long fight to get here and it is proper to breathe—at least one—sigh of relief. But it would be a mistake to imagine there is magic in any Supreme Court ruling. Nine black robed figures will not save us. It won’t be the last word on the question and public opinion, which is everything in our form of government, has been formed and influenced in the crucible of a 50 year-old culture of death. The effects of that will not be as easy to eradicate as it was for that culture to spread.

Above all things, pro-life Catholics must recognize that their political decisions are now, more than ever, demanding rigorous review. Now is not the time for serious Catholics to retreat from politics. Their participation is now more necessary than ever. Going forward, it is not enough to know the position of any given candidate on the question of abortion. Voters must be savvy. One must understand the mechanisms of government and what a candidate can and, more importantly, will do to advance a majority promoting a culture of life. A pro-life candidate who lends his support to a majority working against life may do more harm than a candidate who supports abortion but who also supports a majority advancing life. It’s complicated and politics is not a purity contest.

Moreover, it is important going forward for Catholics to reevaluate their positions on issues that are not typically considered part of the pro-life agenda. If one really understands the question of a “right to life” one must consider the political rights flowing from it. Questions of liberty and the pursuit of happiness are every bit as important as recognizing the right to life. For once we establish what a human being is, we are bound to recognize his dignity and respect it in law. So as we celebrate, let us clear our heads and prepare for the huge task of undoing half a century of murky thinking and poor habits of mind. There is cause for hope but there is much difficulty ahead. Let us embrace it.

— Julie Ponzi, Senior Editor, American Greatness

To the liberal mind, Roe was not a legal decision.  It’s was not a case or a law or a jurisprudence.  The actual parties to Roe and the judges who decided it have no more historical reality to liberals in 2022 than do the characters in a Medieval play.  Too much emotion surrounds the decision for that.  It’s a psycho-social thing.

The reversal of Roe, then, can’t help but be traumatic for liberals.  The pain comes not just from the loss of a Constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.  Yes, that frightens and infuriates hard-core liberals, but there’s a deeper suffering as well.  It comes from precisely what we’ve said: the overturning of Roe means that Roe IS a legal decision, not a profound psycho-social faith or an epochal advent that transcends ordinary happenings.  Do you see the problem?  To end Roe is to rob the liberal imagination of a myth whose dimensions run to Woman with a capital W and History with a capital H.  A conservative decision will bring Roe out of the heart of the feminist self and down from the heights of Universal History, placing it instead amidst the regular deliberations of nine judges in Year 2022.  What a decline that will be.

Roe has fallen; turmoil will follow. It has to. To lose a court case is one thing.  To lose a cherished myth, a five-decade moral meaning of self and time, an ever-soothing sign that history is running in the right direction, your direction . . . that’s something else.

— Mark Bauerlein, Senior Editor, First Things

I remember when the Irish Constitution was changed by referendum to permit divorce. The lead editorial in the Irish Times mainly focused on the next step in the deconstruction of Ireland’s Christian culture and laws: granting women the political right to abortion.  Five days before Christmas 2018 Ireland had the most radical of abortion laws.

In 2015, when Obergefell did much the same to marriage laws in the US, the left immediately targeted transgender laws as their next battle in the 100-years-war of cultural deconstruction.

The pro-life movement knows that the next effort will be even more intense.   I suggest we focus on ensuring that the conditions that massively decrease the risk of abortion (even as courtroom veterans keep fighting to protect legal territory just reconquered).  Achieving these conditions is best done by growing the acceptance of intact, loving, faithful, monogamous marriage, the legitimate setting for coitus.  The newly conceived is safest there and most likely to make it to birth.  Outside of marriage the probability of abortion increases, especially the younger the mother.

Our political debates today demand a rights framing. In this case, the ‘rights language’ is most apt:  Every child has the universal human right to the marriage of its biological father and mother. It is time to be as courageous as the Left is brazen: let prolife parents get this discussion into every sex-ed class in every school in the country.  What’s good in the classroom for transgenderism is even better for the life of the child.

— Pat Fagan Ph.D., Director, Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI)

Today’s decision overturning Roe V. Wade, unfortunately, changes nothing in a state like Connecticut. Roe has been codified into our statues since 1990. There are even efforts to write a more expansive abortion license into our state constitution.

This victory is, nevertheless, enormous. Overturning Roe is the very thing that pro-lifers have prayed for, marched for, worked for, and voted for these past 49 years. Its effects will be felt even in deep-blue Connecticut.

And throughout the nation at large. If this decision results in a sort of Catholic Kristallnacht, a night of terror against Catholics in the United States, consider it a badge of honor. It is because we stayed strong and consistent against the genocide of the unborn when so many others faltered.

And we will someday triumph over the new forces of terror that have been unleashed by the quiet approval of the establishment left and the censorship of the corporate press. Just as we triumphed over Roe v. Wade.

— Peter Wolfgang, Executive Director, Family Institute of Connecticut 

This is a great day. For almost half a century pro-lifers have been working every day to see the end of Roe. Grandmothers have been praying in front of abortion clinics, selfless volunteers have been working at crisis pregnancy centers, courageous men and women have risked arrest by placing their bodies in front of clinic doors, lobbyists have been pushing pro-life laws, and countless faithful souls have prayed and fasted. And now we see the result:

The End of Roe.

Yes, we know this is just one battle, but this is a major battle, one that could turn the tide of the war. So while tomorrow we must get up and continue the work we’ve started, today at least we can rejoice and give thanks to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who is the One that ultimately brought about this victory.

— Eric Sammons, Editor-in-Chief, Crisis Magazine

Today is a historic turning point for American patriotism.

American patriotism hit a nadir during the flag burnings in 1970s Vietnam protests. American patriotism revived with the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of the Cold War. The analogy between today and the fall of Rome and the question of “the Benedict Option” has been widely discussed. American patriotism surged after the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 and seemed to implode in Black Lives Matter protests with rioters attacking American monuments across the country. The 1619 Project threatened to erase even the Fourth of July as a national holiday.

Always, for Christians trying to ride the waves of proper patriotism, intent on “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” there was the dark blot on our history of Roe v. Wade: the legalized killing of millions of innocent children’s lives in utero.

Today is a day to say “God Bless America” with new fervor. America has shown the world we can right the wrong we have done, as once we overturned Dred Scott. America can return to “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God” hailed in our Declaration of Independence.

— Susan Hanssen, associate professor of history, University of Dallas 

In bringing the country to this portentous moment, the pro-life movement acted in the grand peaceful tradition of social activism that has been a unique hallmark of the American experience. Like the abolitionists, anti-child labor campaigners, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, feminism, labor union organizing, and many others that could be named, pro-lifers proved that in a democracy, average people acting together in a determined fashion can change the world. In a free country, there’s no such thing as a hopeless cause. In a free country, to quote Lincoln, “right makes might.”

— Wesley J. Smith, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

About 30 years ago, when I was in college, I found out my neighbor, who I’d grown up with (I’ll call her Sally), was pregnant. She was only 19 and also in college. Sally’s mother coldly urged her to get an abortion, as did other family members. Sally practically grew up at my house across the street and she got a kick out of my mom who was always screaming at Donahue or yelling at some CNN anchor. Sally often stayed for dinner where abortion was a common topic because my mother volunteered at Birthright. Mom would often tell us stories about the young girls who came in seeking guidance or regretted having an abortion. Sally heard it all. A few months after Sally found out she was pregnant in that dorm bathroom, she wrote my mom a letter saying she’d decided to keep the baby due to my mother’s influence and because she knew the truth. Today, Sally has two grandchildren. On this historic day, I’m thinking about people like my mom, who changed minds and preserved life. God bless them.

— Julie Gunlock, Cohost, WMAL’s O’Connor & Company

Ten years ago Justice Antonin Scalia was lamenting the sad state of the United States Supreme Court, then dominated by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kennedy.  (Let us not forget that Anthony Kennedy was nominated after the defeat of Judge Robert Bork.  If there had been a Justice Bork instead of a Justice Kennedy, this would be a different country.)  It was the day of decisions taken by reading the law any old way, just to get a desired result.  Roe v. Wade was not the first time this was done, but it certainly stood as a modern model. There seemed to be no end in sight. Who foresaw President Donald Trump?

We should see the Hand of Providence moving over the years.  When Donald Trump declared his candidacy, the Establishment hooted.  He proceeded to pick off 16 normal Republican candidates and then, most astonishingly, defeated the entrenched Hillary Clinton for the presidency. One of his main issues was the appointment of Supreme Court justices who could give a fair reading to the U.S. Constitution and vote to overturn Roe.  By a most unusual string of events, and we must say with the help of Sen. Mitch McConnell, President Trump in a single term was able to nominate three Justices.  I am not sure any other President after Washington did this. And all three of those Justices joined today’s opinion.

Let us recognize and beg the continuance of God’s guidance and protection because the war is far from over.

—Donna F. Bethell, J.D.

The overturning of Roe presents America with a great opportunity to restore our basic social obligations. The Left argues that Americans owe, through our tax dollars, housing, clothing, shelter, college degrees, healthcare — even sex changes for minors, to complete strangers. But mothers and fathers don’t owe nine months in the womb to their own flesh and blood. This preposterous ideology has infected all aspects of our society and was rooted in Roe — which blocked all efforts to protect preborn children. With Roe being overturned, the states and federal government can now start with the basic obligations and duties that parents owe to their own children and build from there. The fruits of more babies — more people — will be visible immediately.

It’s also important to remember how we got here — through engaging in politics and holding politicians accountable for their voting record. The political blueprint for Roe should be followed in all other social problems facing American. America is a political nation where everyday people can make a difference through campaigns and elections — have been since our founding and that’s not changing anytime soon.

—Terry Schilling, President, American Principles Project

Ultimately, the dispute over abortion is really about one question: Who and what are we, and can we know it? This is why virtually all the social media haranguing about Roe and Casey leading up to today, from the moment Politico released the leaked draft of Justice Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs, is a distraction. If the unborn is one of us, then she is entitled to the protections of our laws and cannot be the object of private violence, and thus one cannot appeal to the personal and professional benefits one acquires by securing her death. But if the unborn is not one of us, then abortion needs no further justification. Although the Dobbs Court does not address the question of the unborn’s nature, it does, by striking down Roe and Casey, allow us to ask it again, for the first time in nearly five decades. It is a welcomed advance in the cause of life, and a stunning defeat for the advocates of human inequality. But it is only the beginning.

—Francis J. Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy, Baylor University. Author of Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Like Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, this decision has breached a long-standing barrier and in doing so changed the course of the whole effort.  It has removed an immense and unnatural burden from our politics. And it reminds us that we, rather than that imminent tribunal, are our own rulers and it reveals once again the pathway for the people in their sovereign capacity to settle peacefully this profound question of good and evil.  After fifty years of constant prayer and peaceful struggle, we can now honestly hope—and must now tirelessly work—to turn hearts and convince minds, and remove for once and for all this scourge from our nation.

Matthew Spalding, Dean of Hillsdale’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government in Washington, DC.  

The win in Dobbs was a monumental achievement for the pro-life movement, but no one should claim victory or sit on his or her heels. New challenges are already emerging:  federal legislative proposals to reinstitute Roe’s substance, corporate-financed social backlash, and various state proposals to increase the availability of abortion. One particularly disturbing development is the arson, vandalism, and various disruptions of pro-life churches and pregnancy resource centers that started occurring after the leak of the draft Dobbs opinion. Pro-life institutions and individuals need to be vigilant to prevent such attacks, but they also need to be aware of the federal laws designed to deter these attacks. They also need to assert their rights with the Department of Justice and the Congressional committees that oversee it.

The Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, was passed in 1994 and contains very strong penalties for arson or vandalism of reproductive health facilities. What is critical to understand is that the definition of “reproductive health facilities” is not limited to abortion-providing facilities, though that is how it has been enforced to date.  The definition is broad and includes any “facility” providing “counseling . . . services relating to the human reproductive system.”  It thus plainly includes crisis pregnancy centers and similar resource centers.  Those who would attack these centers should be on notice of the multi-year federal jail sentences they could face, and federal prosecutors should be held accountable to prosecute these cases as vigorously as attacks against abortion clinics. The same is true for attacks on places of worship:  the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 bars not only arson, but any vandalism or attack on a place of worship, or using force or the threat of force to obstruct the free exercise of religion. Vandalizing a church, or using force to interfere with worship, violates the Act and is deserving of close attention by federal prosecutors and the Department of Justice officials who set policies and priorities, as well as Congress.

Eric Treene, Attorney, Washington D.C., and Adjunct Professor, Catholic University Columbus School of Law and Catholic University School of Canon Law; former Special Counsel on Religious Discrimination, U.S. Department of Justice.

[Photo Credit: AFP via Getty Images]

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Crisis Magazine has been America's leading source for Catholic perspectives on religion, politics, and culture since 1982.

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