Reflecting on the Impact of Dobbs

The night that Roe fell, I gathered together with many pro-life friends – some prominent scholars known widely for their pro-life work, others ordinary people who regularly perform hidden acts of charity to aid pregnant women in distress. All were united by their enormous gratitude for the new reality: the right to abortion is no longer the law of the land in the United States of America.

We prayed together the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary – the ones that commemorate Christ’s unborn life, his humble entrance into all the hardships of human life, and the sacrifices of his mother in saying “yes” to God’s plan for her life. We then engaged in a wide-ranging conversation about the import of the Court’s decision. 

We lamented the lives lost to legal abortion over the last 50 years – 63 million children. Let that number sink in. It is nearly 100 times the number of all the American lives lost in battle in every single war in our nation’s history since the Revolutionary War. And, each child had a mother and father forever marked by the loss of their child. 

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We remarked on how some of us and our children were genuine survivors of abortion in that, being born after January 22, 1973, abortion was a possible outcome for our own lives. One guest, a child of a crisis pregnancy, observed that – but for the courage of her mother in the face of her biological father’s indifference – her life would have ended in the first trimester of her existence. Others gave thanks for the bravery and selflessness of their children’s birthmothers – who were told that abortion is an easier and better solution than adoption.

We remembered all of those, no longer with us, without whom this day would not have happened: Professor Charles Rice (Notre Dame law professor), Nellie Gray (founder of the March for Life), Vicki Thorn (founder of Project Rachel’s post-abortive healing ministry), Joe Scheidler (founder of the Pro-Life Action League and known as the “godfather of pro-life activism”), Fr. Paul Marx (founder of Human Life International), Brian Duggan (Executive Director of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment), and many more.

We discussed the makeup of the court’s majority, acknowledging that the 5 justices who voted to overturn Roe showed genuine moral courage. In the face of an unprecedented leak of the draft opinion, likely intended to pressure the justices, and months of protests and threats of violence against their homes, persons, and even their children, the justices remained steadfast. As Justice Alito explained in the Dobbs opinion, “we cannot exceed the scope of our authority under the Constitution, and we cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as the concern about the public’s reaction to our work.” 

We expressed grave disappointment in Justice Roberts’ concurrence. He wrote separately to agree with the Court’s judgment that the law at issue in Dobbs (a ban on abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation) should be upheld (and therefore that part of the decision was 6-3). But he disagreed with the Court’s decision to overrule Roe and Casey and would have left in place a constitutional right to abortion. Describing his view as the “more measured approach,” he argued that the Mississippi law could be upheld on the basis that, even though it prohibited some abortions before the point of viability, it gave a woman a “reasonable opportunity” to exercise her right to abortion. Justice Alito demolished this conclusion, pointing out that both sides had invited the Court to reaffirm or overrule Roe and Casey, and that, far from being measured, the concurrence offered no “principled basis” for its approach. All Justice Roberts did was suggest a new, arbitrary test (“reasonable opportunity” for viability) that would keep the Court involved in abortion politics “fraught with turmoil” for years to come and only postpone the inevitable question of whether to overturn Roe.

We wondered what the future would look like: intense state-by-state efforts, a patchwork of very different strategies depending on the political will and existing laws of the individual electorates. A native Missourian expressed pride that her state was the first to ban elective abortion, only hours after the Dobbs decision was announced. Those with connections to Kansas discussed how it would be the first state to vote on abortion rights in a post-Roe world. (On August 2nd, Kansans will vote on an amendment to the state constitution to overturn its state supreme court’s decision finding a “natural right” to abortion.)  We soberly noted that, in states like our home state of Maryland, abortions remain legal up until the moment of birth and even infants born alive after a failed abortion may be left to die without care. 

We expressed concern about the promised “summer of rage” and prayed for the safety of pregnancy resource centers and the women they serve, for church communities, and for the Supreme Court justices and their families. 

Finally, we noted what the decision did not do. The Court did not reach the question of whether the unborn are persons entitled to the full protection of the law, stating that it had “neither the authority nor the expertise” to resolve a dispute about the status of the fetus. Nevertheless, we expressed the fervent hope that returning the question of abortion to the political process will be the occasion for genuine public dialogue and eventual consensus that the unborn are indeed persons worthy of the full protection of the law.

  • Elizabeth Kirk

    Elizabeth Kirk is an attorney, policy consultant, and freelance writer. She currently serves as a research associate at the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, where she teaches in the area of law and the family. She is also a lay consultant to the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

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