A year ago today (24th of June 2022) the United States Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade. But what does this landmark decision actually mean in practice, and what has happened in the year since? Most importantly, how should we pray on this historic anniversary?
Roe v. Wade didn’t criminalise abortion
Contrary to how it was represented in the media, the overturning of Roe v. Wade didn’t make abortion illegal anywhere in the US. In fact the Dobbs v. Jackson decision (the case that would ultimately become the death blow to Roe) didn’t impose any particular view about the nature of unborn life- at all!
It was in fact the Roe decision in 1973, which imposed a specific moral view on the American people. Namely, that unborn life was of so little importance, that the States were not allowed to protect it by law in the first 6 months of pregnancy, even if they desperately wanted to. It’s worth remembering here that prior to Roe, a clear majority of the US was pro-life. 30 States had near outright bans.
It was Roe that inserted the Supreme Court into the abortion debate, and politicised the Court. Dobbs, took the Court back out of it, and as the constitution demands, handed the power to vote and regulate on this issue back to the people. In this sense it was a deeply democratic move.
The late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who was a staunch abortion supporter), indicated that Roe was a bad law, even if she agreed with its outcome. She said: “Roe ventured too far in the change it ordered and presented an incomplete justification for its action”.
Many of these vital facts were lost last year by pundits, too quick to focus on “rights” being lost rather than bad laws being rectified. As it happened the correction of Roe v Wade has caused both an increase in pro-life laws and pro-abortion ones.
Since the Dobbs ruling , 26 states now have laws restricting abortions after 12 weeks or sooner, with 15 of them banning abortion completely or with extremely limited exceptions, according to the New York Times. Eight are awaiting verdicts from courts before enforcing more pro-life laws.
However some states -like New York, California, Vermont, Michigan and Kentucky- have gone the other way.
Separate Fact from Fiction
This time last year, some of the headlines and talking points in the US media made for grim reading.
Newsweek ran the headline: “Overturning Roe v Wade could lead to more women being jailed for miscarriages”!
One of CNN’s legal analysts (Jennifer Rodgers) asked the question live on air “Are they going to be able to search your apps? There are these apps that track menstrual cycles. How far are these states going to go in criminalising every single aspect of women, trying to control their reproductive rights”
One of the ladies of The View commented forcefully: “This is in no way going to reduce abortions, it’s just going to reduce safe abortions”!
These are hefty and emotive allegations that mischaracterise the desires of pro-life people (who don’t want to see mother or baby come to harm) . They also fall into three main camps. Put simply, allowing individual states to criminalise or restrict abortion will:
- not make a difference to abortion numbers,
- harm women
- harm children
A year later, do these claims hold water?
It won’t reduce abortion, it will just reduce “safe” abortion
This claim is simply not true. We knew before Dobbs was decided that laws that restrict abortion, reduce abortion, legal and illegal.
This was observed all across the US, and it has been observed internationally as well. When you control for pregnancy rate, it becomes clear that the percentage of pregnancies aborted is higher in countries with permissive abortion laws.
Even in the UK, we know this to be true. Whilst trying to safeguard protections for the unborn in Northern Ireland, a pro-life group made the claim that 100 000 people are alive today, because of the country’s abortion laws. This claim was contested, but the Advertising Standards Agency upheld it as being true.
However, most strikingly, we now have a report on abortion numbers from within the US over the last year, and it comes from a pro-choice group! Their findings estimate a net reduction of circa 65 000 abortions in the United States over the last 12 months. That’s 65 000 babies saved!
Referencing this report, a leading American pro-life organisation, told reporters at a press conference in May, that if legislation were to go into full effect in all 26 states, roughly 200,000 abortions would be stopped per year. From a Biblical perspective how could this ever be a bad thing?
But it gets better, did you know that restricting abortion also reduces unintended pregnancy rates. As one of our Argentinian colleagues once said -
“growing up in Argentina where abortions were abortion was illegal, I was terrified of the idea of sleeping around because I knew that inevitably sex would lead to pregnancy and I was not ready to take that risk”
It will harm women
The second accusation is that criminalising abortion will put women’s lives at risk. Under this come a number of other charges that I will deal with in turn.
Will women be criminalised for having a miscarriage or even refused treatment for an ectopic pregnancy?
Absolutely not! The bills that have been passed or that are in the pipeline, make clear provision for this. Ectopic pregnancies and treatment for miscarriages (which may involve similar procedures), are entirely exempt. Forbes even admits this in a piece written the day after Roe was overruled. To state otherwise is not only false but dangerous and the media should be held to account.
Will women be denied an abortion if their life is at risk?
Again, this is absolutely false. There are no States with pro-life laws on the books which would allow both mother and child to die when it is possible to intervene and save one.
It is historically nearly universal across the US that abortion laws include exceptions when the mother’s life is threatened. The exceptions (Oregon, Vermont, Washington DC) have some of the most permissive abortion laws in the country. By the 19th century, abortions were so rarely needed to save the mother’s life, that many medical associations declared such instances to be negligible.
Women will be harmed by seeking out unsafe abortions?
This is one of the most emotive attacks that come from the pro-abortion lobby, but it just doesn’t hold up when properly examined!
Even back in 1960, more than a decade before Roe legalised abortion across the US. The then Medical Director of Planned Parenthood (Mary Calderone), admitted that: “abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure, in 1957 there were only 260 deaths in the whole country attributed to abortions of any kind, legal or illegal. 90% of all illegal abortions, are presently being done by physicians”!
Countries which have outlawed abortions where they had previously been legal (like Chile, Poland, Nicaragua and El Salvador), have seen maternal mortality rates continue to improve in the years following.
However, the sad truth is that the US has a big problem with maternal mortality, even with its extremely permissive abortion laws.
They have a higher maternal mortality rate than any country in Europe, and it has been steadily climbing for years. We often hear the claim that the death rate for women is higher if they give birth than if they abort, but according to the CDC, more that 80% of these deaths are preventable!
The risk of death to an unborn baby in an abortion procedure, is 100%
In addition, in several States clinics don’t report deaths from complications due to abortion, to the CDC. Deaths are also often remote from the procedure and are sometimes recorded as haemorrhages or sepsis, without necessarily referencing the original cause. True mortality from legal abortion is therefore difficult to quantify accurately.
In Finland where epidemiological record linkage has been validated, research suggests “the risk of death from legal induced abortion is reported to be almost four times greater than the risk of death from childbirth”
What’s more, while we are often confronted with the potential negative effects on a woman’s mental health if she is denied an abortion, the data shows quite the opposite:
The largest ever meta-analysis, (consisting of 22 studies covering more than 800 000 women), was published in The British journal of Psychiatry. It concluded that: “women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems”. This same study indicated a 156% increased risk for suicide!
It will harm children
One of the hosts of the view commented that: “There’s going to be more poor kids, there’s going to be more kids in adoption, there’s going to be more kids in foster care, there’s going to be more abused kids”.
No-one wants to see children harmed. We are all deeply saddened by the number of children in the foster care system and rightly horrified when we hear of abuse.
However, our emotions can cloud our judgement here, so let's look at the facts.
For a start, the children (both here and in the US) who are in the foster care system, are those who were not aborted, despite freely available abortion. These are largely “wanted” children, who for whatever reason, tragically ended up in the foster care system, and as Christians we must absolutely come to their aid…but these are not the children who would have been aborted.
The waiting list to adopt unwanted infants is massive. In the US there are between 1 and 2 million couples on the adoption register at any one time. In parts of the UK, the wait can be up to 7 years to adopt a newborn. There is not a lack of adoptive parents for unwanted, healthy babies. In the UK last year, more than 98% of abortions were performed on healthy consenting mothers and healthy babies.
Moreover, we know from the (very pro-choice) Turnaway Study, that 96% of women who wanted an abortion but were denied, no longer wished they could have had one 5 years later. By far, the majority of these women chose to parent.
There will be children who need our help, and as Christians we must step up here. We already foster and adopt at between 2 and 3 times the rate of the rest of society, but we can always do more.
However, the idea that we are going to see the foster care system flooded with children just doesn’t stack up. Imagine the good we could do if the £100 million in tax payers money we plough into MSI and BPAS the UK abortion industry were redirected towards helping mothers and their babies.
Dare to rejoice!
The unborn are living human beings, image bearers of God and so they are our neighbours.
We have a clear biblical mandate to love our neighbours and not to kill. There is much more that we can do to help mothers and their children, no-one can deny that. But when was the last time you heard of an action that saved 65 000 lives in a year?
When the ladies of The View: said “There’s going to be more poor kids, there’s going to be more kids in adoption, there’s going to be more kids in foster care, there’s going to be more abused kids”.
One thing really struck me. They seemed to miss the point that there will be more LIVING kids and fewer dead ones - 65 000 to be exact. Praise The Lord!
For a God who instructs us to “CHOOSE LIFE” surely this is a step in the right direction.