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The meaning of the Dobbs decision

Pro-lifers have reason, morality, and Scripture on our side, but 50 years of Roe hardened America


Pro-life protestors celebrate outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 2022. Associated Press/Photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe

The meaning of the <em>Dobbs</em> decision
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As pro-lifers celebrate the second anniversary of the Dobbs decision, it’s worth taking an honest look at where things stand, what we’re up against, and how we should respond. On the one hand, there is some good news. Twenty-seven states restrict abortion access on the basis of gestational age, with bans ranging from six weeks to 24 weeks (or viability). Fourteen additional states have near total bans, with limited exceptions. These laws were impossible under Roe, and thus we should thank God for His mercy, and for the thousands of lives that have been saved since 2022.

On the other hand, pro-lifers have seen some concerning developments at the ballot box. A number of states allow for essentially unfettered access to abortion. Michigan and Ohio enshrined the “right” to an abortion into their state constitutions. Kansas likewise upheld abortion access via state-wide referendum. Florida, Maryland, and New York will consider similar ballot initiatives in November. On top of that, the GOP, including former President Trump, are sending (at best) mixed messages on fundamental pro-life claims, such as the rights of human beings from the moment of conception.

Taking stock of the situation demands that we recognize what we’re up against. First is the widespread cultural toleration of sex out of wedlock as well as the widespread conviction that sex must not have “negative” consequences, especially for a woman. Suzy’s dreams must not be derailed by a baby. The desire to “spare” a woman from the fruit of the womb is one manifestation of our empathetic myopia, one that abortion supporters are happy to exploit. The potential consequences of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are accented, whereas the consequences of abortion for the unborn child are ignored.

Even more starkly, a 2023 political ad in the Kentucky governor’s race featured a rape victim who looked into the camera and said the following:

I was raped by my stepfather after years of abuse. I was twelve. Anyone who believes that there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it’s like to stand in my shoes. This is to you, Daniel Cameron. To tell a 12-year-old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather who raped her is unthinkable. I’m speaking out because women and girls need to have options. Daniel Cameron would give us none.

The ad is fundamentally an appeal to the electorate’s emotions. “Imagine this was you, or your daughter.” And this compassion is manifestly justified. Great evil was done to the young woman. However, the warranted compassion becomes selective and myopic empathy when it is untethered from larger moral considerations and used to cover the great evil that will be done to the innocent child, buried beneath the euphemism of “options.” The rape victim is visible, and therefore a suitable object of empathy. The unborn child is not, and can therefore be dispensed with.

Many people, especially young people, have not reckoned with or even encountered pro-life arguments.

In response, pro-lifers should continue efforts to wed rational arguments to faithful compassion. Pictures of fetal body parts and videos of ultrasounds that show the child in the womb are designed to make the unborn child an object of compassion in the face of the dehumanizing rhetoric of the culture of death. Indeed, comparing the two sorts of appeal demonstrates the difference between untethered empathy and Biblical compassion. The latter appeal to pathos is designed to reveal and underscore what is true and good (the full humanity of the unborn child), whereas the former is designed specifically to obscure it.

Second, we must recognize the effect of 50 years of cultural instruction by the Roe abortion regime. Law teaches, either for good or for ill, and when law enshrines wicked custom, the effect is to smother the light of the moral law that is written on the heart. This underscores the value of laws that uphold the worth and dignity of every human being, as well as the opportunities they create for effective persuasion.

Given the pervasiveness of the abortion regime in law and culture, many people, especially young people, have not reckoned with or even encountered pro-life arguments. I was encouraged the other day to hear that one Christian young man was able to shift the views of some of his teammates in a pro-life direction through a short but clear argument for the humanity of the unborn and the evil of murder. We must remember that in upholding the rights of the unborn, we are cutting with the grain of reality, and that science clearly establishes that a unique human being is created at conception, and that reason, morality, and Scripture all testify to the rights of the unborn.

Third, we must recognize the effect of 50 years of bloodguilt. It’s very difficult to restrict abortion after having so many for so long. To do so would require deep repentance—and most Americans reject that repentance. They would have to look their evil in the eye and truly turn from that evil to Christ.

Thus, we must continue to preach a hot gospel, the kind that faithfully identifies the evil that men and women do, and calls them to turn from it to Christ in order to be fully forgiven. We must remember that Christ came to bless us by turning every one of us from our wickedness. The gospel call to repentance and faith is a call to blessing and life.

In all of this, we must continue to display a dogged and patient persistence, through both success and hardship. And the fact is, such endurance is nothing new to the pro-life movement. It’s the same steady pressure over 50 years that resulted in Roe’s overthrow. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).


Joe Rigney

Joe Rigney serves as Fellow of Theology at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. He is the author of six books including: Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles (Eyes & Pen, 2013) and Courage: How the Gospel Creates Christian Fortitude (Crossway, 2023).


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