Does Roe’s End Benefit Everyone?

July 28, 2022 Updated: July 28, 2022

Commentary 

In a confusing and incoherent speech at the U.N. in July, Prince Harry linked what he called the rolling back of constitutional rights in the United States (i.e., the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling) to the Russian war in Ukraine. Both were examples, as he saw it, of a “global assault on democracy and freedom.”

On the contrary, the Dobbs ruling is a triumph for democracy and the rule of law. It restored to the people and our representatives a say in the abortion debate.

How can we use this restored right to debate and decide the issue for the benefit of all?

Democracy and Debate

In Roe v. Wade (1973), the Court overrode the laws of 50 states and invented a new right to abortion. It was, as Justice Byron White, one of the dissenters in Roe, said, an “exercise in raw judicial power.” The Court’s ruling then had no basis in the Constitution, which makes no mention of the practice of abortion and does not imply a right to it in any constitutional provision, including the 14th Amendment.

Stare decisis, the principle that favors following past decisions of the Court, as Justice Samuel Alito writes (pdf) in the Court’s ruling in the Dobbs case, “does not compel unending adherence to Roe‘s abuse of judicial authority.” Rather the Dobbs ruling corrects that abuse, as the Brown decision overruled Plessy v. Ferguson.

The Court’s decision in the Dobbs case returns the question of abortion to the states in a country that is divided.

The Democrats as a party, ever more extreme in their pro-abortion stance, wanted the Court to impose its will on the people and their elected representatives by reaffirming Roe. They have not had to argue or debate their position for many decades but have relied on the Supreme Court to impose what they could not achieve in the democratic process. Now they will have to argue their case in the states, and those in the pro-life movement will need to consider and respond to them.

In the absence of debate, misconceptions arise and go unexamined. Philosopher Melissa Moschella, in her recent essay on the ethics of abortion, explains and clarifies the most common and influential of these misconceptions. To take just one example, she addresses the common view that justifies abortion by appealing to a woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body.

Yet the child is a distinct human being with his or her own self-directed development, not part of the woman’s body. Otherwise, as Moschella puts it, “we would have to say that a pregnant woman has four legs, four arms, and two hearts beating at different speeds. … The mother’s body only provides nutrition, protection, and a suitable environment—things we all need to survive at any stage of life.”

Improving Lives for Children and Families

Abortion has never been a single issue. As Helen Alvaré argues, despite their differences, the majority and minority opinions in Dobbs illustrate how state abortion laws are inextricably linked to a large range of family matters. These include:

“Respect for the lives of vulnerable members of the family, the degree of welcome offered to children no matter their sex, race, or level of abilities, the safety of pregnancy and childbirth, the ability of mothers to participate robustly and with a sense of support and equanimity in education and employment, and to be accepted as equals in all of these spheres.”

Such concerns can be accommodated and addressed through post-Roe state abortion laws without ending the life of the baby.

In addition to picketing abortion clinics, supporters of the pro-life movement have built a nationwide network of community pregnancy centers and invited pro-choice activists to join them in helping women before and after the birth of their child. Such centers will continue to need support.

Paradoxically, “pro-choice” activists have directed their ire in particular at pregnancy resource centers that provide material help (like diapers) and services for mothers who need help and feel they have run out of options. Such clinics expand the capacity of a mother to choose life for her child, while pro-abortion activists aim to close off the mother’s option to choose anything but death for the child she’s carrying.

If abortion is no longer the first and only option, its advocates will have to look at alternatives if they really want to help women and their babies.

As Mary Eberstadt puts it, there is more work for the pro-life movement to do:

“more checks to be written; more pro bono legal help; more therapy for fragile families; more roofs to shelter innocent heads; more adoption options; more attention to foster care; more time spent in prisons and other places, helping absent and estranged fathers become fathers. In a word, more love.”

Abortion, like the sexual revolution more generally, has been a boon for the most predatory men. It breaks the natural link between sex and the consequences and responsibilities that sometimes result in the form of new life. The pill and the “back stop” of abortion reduce pregnancy and childbirth to the woman’s choice and so, in some men’s view, her responsibility alone.

As women become more cautious and discriminating about the “baby-making act,” something like the traditional shotgun wedding may reassert itself in the culture. Young women may again elicit the promise of marriage that family and social pressures may again enforce.

Such insistence on holding men responsible for their offspring may express itself in policy that more rigorously holds men, whatever their marital status, legally and financially responsible for the children they father. Eberstadt suggests measures like strengthening laws against date-rape drugs, and toughening paternity and child-support laws. Or, as she says, we could take a “closer look at a commercial surrogacy industry that treats mothers like domestic animals and babies like high-end consumer choices.”

In addition to such deterrent measures, formal and informal, there are many ways to support children and families and recognize their importance for society, not only as burdens but as contributions. Welfare has sometimes been structured in ways that substitute the state for fathers and marriage, seeming to reward fatherless families.

But states can avoid such perverse incentives. Lawmakers can help children and their parents through programs that do not undermine marriage and family.

At the federal level Republicans, including those who are as far apart on other issues as Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), have been developing proposals that aim to address the needs of mothers, children, and families.

The Way Forward

Roe‘s end has placed new demands on the pro-life movement. Our focus can no longer be narrowly on the Supreme Court and shaping its composition through political action.

We need to upgrade activities and programs in our communities and churches that strengthen marriage and families. We need to engage anew in the debate about abortion, confronting its horrors without euphemisms. The aim should be to make it unthinkable.

And we need to rethink family policy to incentivize stable marriage and discourage sexual license and irresponsibility, to hold men accountable for the children they father and the women who bear them.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Paul Adams
Paul Adams is a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawai‘i, and was professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Case Western Reserve University. He is the co-author of "Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is," and has written extensively on social welfare policy and professional and virtue ethics.