The reversal of Roe v. Wade elicited cries of anger and despair from those who fear for the future of women and that of America.
I understand this feeling of dread.
As an advocate for life, I bemoan those who feel they have lost a basic human right, as well as moral agency and hope for the future. But for me, it was Roe who brought these losses.
Roe stripped the prenatal child of the right to continue to live and grow, safe and free from intentional harm. If you believe, as I do, that abortion unjustly ends the life of a whole human being, a life that exists independently of the will of the mother, self-regulating and unique, evolving but whole in itself, then you will. We understand Rowe not as a judgment that liberates but as a judgment that removes humanity, first from the fetus, then the rest of us.
Furthermore, Roe elevated radical autonomy over moral agency. Roe struck the hope that is inherent in every human life, whether new or old, as long as there is life.
Roe was an unjust judge. I had always thought that it would be overturned, like other unfair decisions of the court, although I thought it would take longer. I’m glad it didn’t happen. But of course it will take longer for abortion to become out of the question, which is the real goal of the pro-life movement.
I joined the movement decades ago. My friends and co-workers in the movement have established and worked across the political spectrum over the years and worked for pregnancy assistance centers. We opened our rooms and our homes to the women who needed them. We educate them about prevention, alternatives, resources, employment, education and empowerment. We provide assistance in doctors’ offices and abortion clinics. We’ve showered kids, attended weddings, kindergarten graduations, and legislative sessions. We cried with those who regretted their choices, and we cried with those who did not (but cried anyway). We went out and protested.
We took our cases to the courts, including the Supreme Court. Some of these cases, including one in which I was involved, centered not on abortion per se but on our right to protest it. A federal district court has tried to curtail pro-life protests by creating buffer zones outside abortion clinics. The case went to the Supreme Court, which eventually overturned one type of restriction and upheld another.
However, I was, like fellow evangelicals, Johnny who recently came in a long line of people who opposed abortion and infanticide and tried to advocate for the frail life.
Members of the early Christian church in the ancient Roman world saved abandoned children (often those who were female or considered inferior) from certain death. In the 19th century, The Revolution, created by prominent women’s rights advocates, published articles that described abortion as “baby infanticide” and “baby killing”. The pro-life movement in America before Roe was dominated by Catholics, who then veered from the Democrats, who fought for the legal protection of unborn children. And the Social Safety Net Expansions.
Roe and his legacy have radicalized those of us in the current movement. Legal elective abortion was a consolation prize for women in 1973 for the centuries of inequality and oppression that stemmed from their sin of not being men. While every mother and every father should desire their children, our standing as human beings at any stage of life should not depend on who wants us or whether we want them at all.
Only when we enter into question of subjectivity (such as desire) or religions (such as devotion), existentialism (such as sensation), theological (such as human dignity) or social (such as quality of life) do we find ample scope for uncertainty and disagreement. These are important and enduring questions. But they are not questions on which the fundamental, inalienable right to one’s life must depend.
The injunction in Roe v. Wade led to the outbreak of the culture wars that have poisoned our political process and brought us to a place of irreversible polarization and division. In fact, this dichotomy has been exploited by far too many pundits and politicians, whose position on abortion does not appear to be an honest belief, but is merely an issue that they can (and do) take advantage of votes or monetize for financial gain. This betrayal overshadows Roe’s coup, which for me and many others was a long-awaited event.
However, making abortion out of the question may begin with the law, but it will not end there. Because it is not only the offer of abortion that is important but also the demand. I lament the impoverishment of the social imagination that cannot conceive of a world in which women can thrive without abortion.
I think we’ll imagine that someday. Of course, abortion, like all forms of violence, abuse and injustice, will always be with us. But laws don’t just prevent – laws teach and shape the ways we perceive our world and the ways we can and should live with each other.
Since Rowe, our culture has increasingly come to realize that it’s not just “our bodies, our selves” but also “our societies, our selves.” Our bodies live and move between other bodies – whether for good or evil. We are the guardians of our brother and sister, and it takes a village to become what we are. Fortunately, American romance with radical independence and ruthless individualism is waning. Roe has given our nation some of the most liberal abortion laws in the industrialized world and a high abortion rate compared to many other industrialized countries, largely due to our individual cultural and economic ethos.
Accordingly, in a recent article in the Times Opinion, Patrick T. Brown acknowledged the need for a “broader view of politics than simply banning access to abortion.” He wrote that the post-Ro world, “is a world that places a greater demand for public resources to support expectant mothers” and demands that we “take seriously the challenges women and families face not only during and immediately after pregnancy but also in the years following.”
Brown’s Center for Conservative Thinking, the Center for Ethics and Public Policy, has developed a powerful and comprehensive life and family initiative that aims to protect children’s prenatal lives and provide tangible support to the families into which they will be born. . California’s Catholic bishops also outlined their commitment to supporting women, children, and families. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has included in its 2022 policy agenda a range of issues beyond its continued focus on abortion, including alleviating hunger and strengthening low-income families.
We can do better than asking women (and men) to choose between their children and themselves. I see Roe’s coup as a first step to getting there. Then, to make abortion out of the question, we must make it undesirable.
Karen Swallow Pryor is a Research Professor at Southeast Baptist Theological Seminary, a columnist for the Religion News Service and the author of On Good Reading: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books.
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