Are pro-lifers about to take a run at Roe v Wade?

Analysis: US pro-life movement increasingly confident of overturning the 1973 Supreme Court ruling

Abortion opponents march to the Kansas Statehouse, and to a rally on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, in Topeka, Kan., Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

In March 2016, Donald Trump said “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who procure an abortion. The pro-life movement couldn’t distance itself from his comments fast enough. March for Life released a statement calling Trump, then running for the presidency, “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement”. The statement continued: “Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision. No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion.”

Trump’s campaign immediately went into damage-control mode. “The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb,” he explained in a statement. The faux pas clearly didn’t derail his campaign, but it demonstrated how carefully crafted anti-abortion talking points usually are. It also suggested that pro-lifers might find a Trump administration politically difficult. However, since his election pro-life politicians seem to have a new confidence.

For instance, some Republicans are now attempting to outlaw abortion even when the mother’s life is at risk. Such a bill already has the support of 20 legislators in Ohio. Meanwhile, on March 19, the governor of Mississippi signed a law banning abortion after 15 weeks – the most restrictive in the country. Iowa is considering a bill that will limit abortions to six weeks: the measure has been dubbed the “heartbeat bill”, because it takes its cue from that milestone of human development.

Pro-life statesmen have undoubtedly been emboldened by the new administration, but not because they expect the more radical bills to pass. Even if the anti-abortion bills are struck down by the lower courts (as they usually are), there is a chance now that one will go to the Supreme Court. And since Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to the bench, there is a chance of a 5-4 victory.

Norma McCorvey, right, the plaintiff in the landmark lawsuit Roe v. Wade, gestures as she speaks up as she joins other anti-abortion demonstrators inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 28, 2009. McCovey has become a pro-life supporter since Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

With an ally on the bench, the reward could be even greater than tighter regulations in just one state. Republicans hope that, by bringing such a bill to court, they will be able to change federal abortion laws too. As Iowa state senator Rick Bertrand frankly told Reuters: “We created an opportunity to take a run at Roe v Wade – 100 per cent”.

Roe v Wade is the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision which, in essence, established the constitutional right to an abortion. The majority opinion cited the 14th Amendment, which was passed in 1868 to guarantee the equality of freed slaves. It ensures that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States”. The 14th Amendment later became the foundation of a constitutional right to privacy, which is controversial in itself. But then the court extended this right to women who sought to terminate their pregnancy. “The right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision,” wrote Justice Harry Blackmun in the majority opinion.

Pro-lifers have never accepted this pretence and have worked persistently since the 1970s to overturn the decision. The first March for Life was held on January 22, 1974, exactly a year after the decision was passed down. It attracted 20,000 marchers; upwards of 100,000 attended in 2018. Promises to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court have also been a mainstay of Republican presidential campaigns in the intervening years. Trump himself was outspokenly pro-choice until 2011, when he first entertained running as the GOP’s candidate for the White House. Despite his spotty record, however, Trump has arguably brought the movement closer to victory than any of his predecessors.

But the overturning of Roe would not only set the stage for more thorough abortion reform. The court’s four-decade-old ruling is regarded as one of the most divisive and incoherent pieces of jurisprudence in American history. Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court’s most progressive justice, has admitted that the decision was far too sweeping – and, in doing so, actually undermined the pro-choice movement. “The court had given the opponents a target to aim at relentlessly,” Ginsberg told a symposium in 2013.

There is little public support for overturning Roe – less than 30 per cent, according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last year. But its repeal would only be a step towards making abortion illegal.

A few states have dormant abortion bans or restrictions that would return to their full effect, but most would have to pass new legislation – and only if state legislatures gave them approval.

As Catholics, we should hope this happens. The Church holds that abortion is wrong in all cases and that the law must defend innocent lives. These fundamental principles have been overlooked for 45 years: the Supreme Court’s overreach in 1973 has made the debate around abortion one of jurisprudence, not of the value of human life. But if the US were to recognise that the unborn need protection, legislators would not need to propose laws they have no intention of passing. Surely America’s juridical and democratic institutions could be put to better use

Full story at Christian Herald.


  1. As I understand it, Justice Gorsuch is pro-life. He replaced Justice Scalia, who was also pro-life. No change there. Some of the pro-choice Justices are over eighty. Perhaps nature will take its course before Mr. Trump leaves office.

  2. Joel Fago says:

    God will not judge us on whether we succeeded, but on whether we tried.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s wrong to let a woman die, if an abortion is the only way to save her life !!!!!!!!

    • It is wrong to murder an innocent person, even to save the life of another.

    • Anne TE says:

      It is the doctor’s duty to try and save both mother and child. If doctor’s are trained properly, they can almost always do that. One abortionists, who quit doing them, admitted that none of the abortions he did were necessary because the complications during the pregnancies came after the children were developed enough to deliver. When I was a teen, abortion was illegal, but there were doctors who performed them. The women were not punished but the doctors were fined or had their licences take away. (to continue.)

    • Anne TE says:

      (Continued) Abortion is not safe for women either. It can lead to breast and other cancers, injuries in the womb, sterility, and many women have died from “legal” abortion although abortionists try to cover that up. Pregnancy is a natural process, but abortion is not.

    • Anonymous says:

      St. Gianna Molla, pray for us.

    • Linda Maria says:

      The famed Italian pediatrician, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, gave her life for her unborn child, in 1962— rather than choose abortion, to save her own life! She willingly died to save her child’s life– a loving, brave, heroic, Christ-like act!

  4. The Word of God is always consistent regarding this matter. Life is important even from the start

  5. The Watchman says:

    It is time to once and for all strike down Roe versus Wade in America. Since Roe versus Wade made abortion of the unborn legal in America in 1973 close to 60 MILLION unborn baby children have been killed by abortion. America turn to a God of love and mercy before it is too late or face the wrath and judgement of Almighty God. Adoption is the loving option. End abortion now! Repent and convert! Pray America Pray. Pray Pray Pray!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’m always astounded at how pro-life advocates misunderstand the Constitution. If the Supreme Court rules something unconsitutional, the proper course of action isn’t to overturn the Supreme Court justices – as that turns it into a political arm of government instead honoring it as an independent check and balance on the policial arms of government. The proper course is to amend the Constituion to make explicit the thing that we wish the Consititution had been clearer about in the first place. Civics 101.

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