Discover more from Contents and Containers
The overturning Roe v. Wade is a disaster for everyone – Christians should not be celebrating it
Disclaimer: I wrote this with women in mind, specifically ones who have had abortions. Speaking abstractly about abortion in public forums is not an option here – there are women in our presence who have had abortions. Please be sensitive and careful.
Last Monday evening, a Supreme Court draft opinion penned by George W. Bush appointee Samuel Alito that overturned the 1973 landmark ruling that constitutionally protected the right to an abortion leaked to Politico. Donald Trump, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan appointed the justices who voted to overturn, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, in large part because they were opposed to abortion, and even though many of these justices went on the record to say they would not overturn the Roe, they were appointed with that aim. Donald Trump brazenly campaigned on that promise. So while it was a shocking ruling, many of us weren’t surprised because that is precisely what the presidents who appointed these justices said would happen.
The overturning guts women’s health and reproductive rights and is a major defeat for bodily autonomy and agency. I am personally saddened by the ruling, but even more so by the Christian response to it. Christians, calling themselves “pro-life” or “whole-life,” lead the charge in opposing abortion. They carry the responsibility for this devastating outcome. Any Christian who celebrates this ruling should be ashamed of themselves. It will lead to death and suffering for women and families. There is nothing pro-life about the ruling. It will not reduce abortions and it will result in the death of women. Not only that, banning abortion may change access to all sorts of other medical procedures, such as access to IVF, which births many children! It also sets a dangerous precedent that allows states to entirely outlaw the medical procedure. In one state, there is legislation being drafted that would criminalize ectopic pregnancies (one where the fertilized egg is implanted in the fallopian tube), an unviable and deadly pregnancy. When Christians celebrate absolute bans on abortion, what they are really telling us is that they don’t see women’s lives as valuable as an even an unviable and dangerous pregnancy. They see women as incubators, whose lives matter less than their ability to reproduce. They don't value the lives of women; this is not pro-life by any stretch of the imagination. And yes, some women are complicit in this furthering of patriarchy – just because you are a woman, doesn’t make you a feminist or an opponent of patriarchy. In fact, feminism suggests that you have agency to participate in your own oppression since women are neither one thing nor another.
More than just the immediate consequences of the ruling, the precedent set cites the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause. In it, some rights are protected that are not listed in the Constitution, but they must be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” Alito argues that abortion doesn’t fit that criterion. In fact, he writes, “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.” Using this precedent, rights for Black people, disabled people, and many others could be infringed if a radical court, such as this one, decides that those rights are not rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition.
If a 50-year-old ruling isn’t in the nation’s history, that leaves a lot on the table to be removed based on this precedent. In a conniving move, Alito argued that a change in precedent such as this is justifiable because of how segregation was overruled and how gay marriage became legal. The issue here is that in Brown v. Broad (the case that ruled segregation was unconstitutional) and Obergefell v. Hodges (the case that legalized gay marriage), the precedent changed to expand, not infringe rights. So this is an entirely other matter.
So on its face, the ruling is dangerous and reckless. But even when we get into the ethic of abortion, such a blunt instrument – overruling Roe – is not sufficient to achieve even the goals of people who oppose abortions. I contend that our nation is not polarized over abortion – only 19 percent of Americans think it should be banned outright. Most Americans hold it with nuance, and all Americans would celebrate a reduction in both unwanted pregnancies and abortions. But the politics here doesn’t allow for that commonality because the Republicans have used the moral problem of abortion as a carrot that brings them voters that support other heinous policies. I often wonder how much of a carrot abortion is because many pro-lifers all seem to support the GOP’s reactionary, racist, and xenophobic policies. In other words, if you think you care about reducing abortions and unwanted pregnancies and you support the overturning of Roe v. Wade, you don’t actually care, you just use the unborn as a cover for all of your wretched politics.
But if we want to get practical, we can talk about how we reduce abortions. Education, access to health, and resources seem to be the best way to do so. As it stood, the U.S. was barely pro-choice; you need money, insurance, access, and privilege to get an abortion. We actually need to advocate for safe, accessible, and free abortions. We need more access to them and less stigma around them. This allows for safe and healthy pregnancies and abortions. Making them illegal doesn’t address the issue, and may in fact make it worse. People could travel to other nations to get abortions, or even try to administer them themselves. But together, we can work on common sense policy that is good for everyone.
Everyone who has considered or gone through an abortion understands the complexity of such a decision. No one takes it lightly. A lot of Christians want to start this conversation from a theological perspective, deciding when life truly begins. But there are no easy answers to that question, in theology or in the Bible. The Bible is decidedly unclear (but to be clear, nowhere in the text does it suggest that life begins at conception or that abortion is murder). But each person considering an abortion does this philosophical work themselves. Access to abortion helps us decide what is best for us and our families. Women need to be in charge of their bodies and what happens to them—not men, not the Supreme Court, not even the church. These matters are complicated and shouldn’t result in a binary. Whereas there are people who actively oppose and shame people who have undergone abortion; no one (reasonable or politically powerful) is suggesting that having children is fundamentally wrong, just that abortion is a fundamental right. Within that liberty, we can discern.
There’s room for everyone when we give people access to abortion. If you have a moral conundrum with abortion, giving people the right and access to one does nothing to infringe your freedom to not have one.
But overturning Roe infringes on people’s liberty in a complex matter, and judges people who have had abortions. There aren’t two sides here. The women who suffer because of SCOTUS’s unconscionable decision are the ones Jesus sides with. Make no mistake about who the oppressed are here. It is women. You stand with them or you don’t.