Roe on the ropes
The Supreme Court vacancy sparks legislative action on both sides of the life debate
Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis was at home with his family scrolling through Twitter when he found out Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died on Sept. 18. It was a Friday night, but he immediately started making calls to his board members and staff. The high court vacancy meant the Senate could confirm another conservative justice in a matter of weeks, potentially Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “Smart money was on Barrett,” Gonidakis said. “So we started talking about how we could help get her approved by the Senate, and what does that mean for pro-life legislation?”
Gonidakis and his colleagues worked with pro-life representatives in the Ohio House to introduce the Human Life Protection Act, a bill that, if the Supreme Court reversed its decision in Roe v. Wade, would protect all babies from abortion in the state except to save the life of the mother. In Massachusetts, pro-abortion legislators are pushing for a bill that would endanger more unborn babies.
“It is a real threat that Roe v. Wade could get overturned,” Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, told the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Mass., the week after Ginsburg’s death. “This is not imaginary anymore.”
Massachusetts law protects infants from abortion after 23 weeks of gestation unless the mother’s life or health is in danger. Minors must have parental consent or approval from a judge to get an abortion. But a newly introduced bill would let minors get that approval from doctors instead of judges and allow abortions at 24 or more weeks in cases of fetal abnormalities. The bill’s lead sponsor, Democratic Sen. Harriette Chandler, said the state should act quickly on the legislation because of a possible shift on the Supreme Court.
Gonidakis also expressed a sense of urgency. “While there’s no guarantee that any … appointee will be solely responsible for overturning Roe, there is no doubt that Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the pro-life movement,” he said on the day President Donald Trump announced his selection of Barrett. “We have the momentum, and now is the time to act.”
Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, said the expected changes to the Supreme Court do not guarantee Roe v. Wade will end soon: “There are numerous hurdles and obstacles, and we have to have realistic expectations of what the court might do and on what kind of time frame.”
He pointed to the roughly 8,000 appeals the Supreme Court receives every year. The justices accept about 80, or 1 percent, of those cases. Forsythe echoed Ohio Right to Life, saying Barrett as a justice could not singlehandedly bring up an abortion case. “There’s no reason from her writings to believe that she’s going to give greater attention to this issue than the hundreds of other … pressing legal issues that will be facing the court,” he said.
In addition to focusing on judicial action, Forsythe said pro-lifers should work to address practical problems in their states: discrimination against pregnant women at work, abortion facilities that do not meet safety standards, and disputes over the custody of embryos.
“It’s also important just to be widening legal protection for life in the states and passing more legislation in the states that are promoting a culture of life,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and we need to be prudent about our priorities in 2021 given precious time and resources.”
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