Year in Review: A post–Roe America
The Dobbs ruling led to a 50-state battle over abortion and new challenges for pro-lifers
In the early months of 2022, pro-life advances at the local and state level led to closed abortion facilities and halted abortions at some centers. Some of these outcomes marked significant strides for the pro-life movement in the United States, which had slowly plugged along for almost 50 years through baby-step advances. For the first few months of the year, Texas was the only state with an enforceable abortion ban, thanks to the state’s 2021 heartbeat law with the novel enforcement mechanism. In May, Oklahoma successfully enacted similar protections for the unborn. But an unprecedented Supreme Court leak in the spring signaled a significant rule change in America’s abortion ballgame, setting the tone for a year of dramatic moves and countermoves affecting the pro-life movement.
An unprecedented leak
On the first Monday in May, cell phones of pro-lifers across the country blew up with notifications about a shocking development. Politico had published a leaked draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case involving Mississippi’s law protecting babies from abortion after 15 weeks of gestation. The opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, showed a court willing to discard the Roe v. Wade decision altogether, calling the 1973 ruling “egregiously wrong.” Should it become final, that language would give states the power to outlaw abortion altogether, even without Texas-style enforcement mechanisms. Within 15 minutes, angry pro-abortion protestors gathered outside the high court.
The day after the leak, Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the draft and announced an investigation into its release. Protests outside the court continued and escalated. Workers installed 8-foot, unscalable fences around the court. The pro-abortion Women’s March called for “a summer of rage” and organized marches across the country.
Some pro-abortion protestors gathered outside the homes of conservative justices. In June, police arrested a man outside of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house who had a gun and said he planned to murder the justice. Pro-life pregnancy resource centers across the country began to report arson attacks and vandalism at their facilities.
Meanwhile, lawmakers proposed legislation in pro-abortion states to solidify access to abortion while some pro-life states planned to work on laws to protect the unborn during summer special sessions. Companies joined the fray, pledging to cover travel expenses for employees in pro-life states who would potentially have to travel out of state for abortions. The Biden administration scrambled for possible executive actions to counteract the expected reversal of Roe v. Wade.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade
Before the leak, most court watchers expected the decision to come with the last batch of opinions at the end of June. But after the leak, rumors spread that it would lead to an early announcement. The Dobbs decision was not in the last batch of rulings, but it didn’t come until June 24. Besides a response to the dissenting and concurring opinions, the final majority ruling tracked almost word-for-word with the leaked draft. Five other justices sided with Justice Alito to uphold Mississippi’s pro-life law while four joined him to overturn Roe.
In the years leading up to this ruling, some states passed conditional laws set to go into effect upon Roe’s reversal while others still had pre-Roe protections for the unborn on the books. The effects of the Dobbs decision seemed immediate in some states. Six minutes after the court posted the ruling to its website, Missouri’s attorney general announced on Twitter that he had put the state’s conditional law into effect, claiming to be the first state in the country to “effectively end abortion.” Abortion facilities in Alabama and West Virginia turned women away and canceled abortion appointments.
But in other states, the effects weren’t as clear or immediate. The conditional law in Mississippi, the state where the Dobbs case originated, had a built-in waiting period and could not take effect until July 7. Until then, abortions continued and business boomed at the Jackson Pink House, the state’s last abortion facility. In Michigan, state and local officials gave conflicting reports about whether the state’s pre-Roe abortion ban was in effect. Abortions in Grand Rapids halted temporarily but eventually resumed. Local law enforcement told pro-lifers who objected that abortion was still legal in the state.
Pro-life laws took effect in some states only temporarily. Judges in Ohio and South Carolina eventually blocked the enforcement of state heartbeat laws. Sidewalk counselors in South Carolina relinquished hopes of retiring before the end of the year. Pro-lifers in Arizona were skeptical of lasting change when a pre-Roe law took effect there. “We’re only as good as the most recent law in our most recent legislature and our most recent governor,” one Arizona pro-lifer told WORLD. A judge later blocked the law’s enforcement, allowing abortions to resume in the state.
But abortion businesses permanently closed down in other states. Abortion providers moved out of states like Texas and Oklahoma. Other abortion facilities stayed open and shifted to other services. As the owner of the Pink House in Mississippi prepared to relocate to Las Cruces, N.M., the Jackson Pink House aborted its last baby.
Pregnancy center attacks
Some pro-abortion activists expressed their anger about the Dobbs decision by targeting pro-life pregnancy resource centers with graffiti and vandalism. The first attack at a center happened the day after the Dobbs draft leaked. Over the next week, attacks continued and escalated. Unknown perpetrators smashed windows and spray-painted phrases like “Not real clinic” on buildings. On Mother’s Day, arsonists set fire to the offices of the pro-life legislative organization Wisconsin Family Action.
The pro-abortion group Jane’s Revenge took responsibility for the arson and other attacks, promising increasing attacks in the coming weeks if “anti-choice establishments, fake clinics, and violent anti-choice groups” didn’t disband within 30 days. The group also called for pro-abortion activists to target their local centers the night of the Dobbs decision’s release. Pregnancy centers increased security, installed more video cameras, and bought fire ladders to prepare for the worst.
Attacks slowed but continued throughout the year. Media outlets and politicians fueled the aggression by condemning the facilities as “fake clinics.” Some pro-life leaders voiced frustration as vandalism and arson investigations stretched into the fall with zero arrests. They blamed the pro-abortion FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for the delays.
Pro-lifers slammed with FACE charges
During the last week of March, news spread that police had picked up the remains of aborted babies from the Washington, D.C., apartment of pro-lifer Lauren Handy. Neighbors and readers nationally reacted in disgust, missing the truly disturbing fact of how the babies had died. Handy said she and fellow activist Terrisa Bukovinac had picked up the babies from a medical waste truck outside of the Washington Surgi-Clinic, a late-term abortion facility in the district where they had met to do a pro-life rescue. According to Handy and other pro-life activists, five of the dead babies were at advanced gestational ages. They appeared to have been aborted in violation of federal laws prohibiting partial-birth abortion and requiring the protection of babies born alive during abortions.
The same week, the federal government charged Handy and eight other pro-life activists under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act for their participation in a 2020 sit-in at the same abortion facility. The U.S. Department of Justice also charged them with conspiracy. They face 11 years in prison and up to $350,000 in fines. Meanwhile, the D.C. police refused to examine the bodies of the dead babies. Officials said the babies appeared aborted “in accordance with D.C. law” and hinted that Handy’s possession of them was possibly criminal. According to pro-lifers, the babies are relevant evidence in the FACE charges because they came from the abortion facility where Handy and the eight others protested. They said the bodies could show that Handy and the others were acting to prevent federal crimes.
By the end of the year, the Justice Department had indicted at least a dozen more pro-lifers under the FACE Act. The FBI arrested pro-lifer Mark Houck at his home in September and charged him under the FACE Act for allegedly assaulting a pro-abortion escort. Eleven other pro-lifers were similarly charged in October for participating in a 2021 rescue outside of a Tennessee abortion facility. Seven of them were also charged with conspiracy against rights. During the rescue in 2021, police had not arrested or charged two of the men who now face 11 years in prison under the federal FACE charges.
The first test of the Dobbs decision’s effect on voters came in August when Kansans weighed in on a ballot measure that would have clarified that the state constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion. Since 2019, a Kansas Supreme Court ruling has stymied pro-life efforts, and this amendment would allow the majority Republican legislature to pass pro-life bills again. But opponents labeled it extreme, and the amendment lost with 59 percent of voters in opposition. The results shocked both pro-life and pro-abortion advocates.
Meanwhile, some pro-life legislatures convened for special sessions. These lawmakers finally had the opportunity to pass protections for the unborn that could take effect immediately but faced hurdles in protecting all unborn children. In Indiana, Right to Life–endorsed Republican candidates came out against a bill protecting babies from abortion starting at conception. Conservative lawmakers didn’t have the votes for the ban many pro-lifers had hoped for, which contained exceptions only for the life of the mother and serious health concerns. Instead, the legislature passed a ban with additional exceptions for rape, incest, and fetal abnormality. After a delay, lawmakers in West Virginia passed a similar law. But in South Carolina, where legislators had worked on a bill to pass sweeping protections for the unborn, the state House and Senate couldn’t agree on what kind of abortion ban to pursue. The special session ended with no new protections on the books, and the state’s current heartbeat law was jeopardized in the courts.
In November, the pro-life movement saw some victories, including new pro-life majorities on state Supreme Courts in Ohio and North Carolina, the reelection of pro-life governors, and sealed conservative supermajorities in some state legislatures. But voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont all passed amendments adding a right to abortion to their state constitutions. Pro-life ballot measures failed in Montana and Kentucky. Some pro-lifers pointed to the massive budgets that funded what they saw as pro-abortion misinformation campaigns that aided the losses.
But others took the disappointing outcomes as a reminder of where Americans stand on the abortion issue. “Our fundamental problem right now is not the press,” pro-life speaker Scott Klundorf told WORLD. “It’s not judges. It’s that the American people, by and large, do not agree with us. The worldview assumptions that make abortion plausible to millions of our fellow citizens are deeply ingrained in our deeply entrenched culture. And they’re not going to go away anytime soon.”
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