The mythology surrounding Roe v. Wade and abortion in America

Supreme Court, Abortion
Anti-abortion campaigners celebrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 2022. - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ended legal abortion nationwide in one of the most divisive and bitterly fought issues in American political life. The court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and said individual states can permit or restrict the procedure themselves. |

Americans have witnessed in the past few weeks some truly extraordinary events. The Supreme Court voted to overturn the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, which in 1973 invalidated most of the then-existing restrictions on abortion in almost all of the 50 states.

Most Americans do not know, and the national media is definitely not telling them, that Roe declared that no states could ban abortions prior to 12 weeks' gestation, and in the Casey decision (in 1992), expanded that limit to 23 weeks' gestation.

Most Americans are also blissfully unaware that, as a result, prior to last month’s Dobbs decision, the United States was “one of only seven nations—including China and North Korea—that allowed abortions on demand after 20 weeks of pregnancy. In fact, 75% of the nation limit abortions after 12 weeks."

The Roe decision was an exercise in raw judicial power and was so flawed that even the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the most liberal justices to ever grace the Supreme Court, labeled Roe “unnecessary” and “heavy-handed judicial intervention.”

The truly hysterical reaction of the mainstream media to Roe’s demise has been revelatory. They have called it “the end of democracy,” and a “catastrophe for women.” Actually, it was a restoration of democracy and a huge win for American mothers.

As a result of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, unborn human life was devalued and denied its humanity without American voters’ approval and 63 million unborn children, as a consequence, were slaughtered during the last 49 years.

The Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe is not only a tremendous victory for our unborn fellow citizens, but it is also a tremendous victory for our nation’s mothers. According to the Journal for Clinical Ethics, 44% of American women who have had abortions later regret having done so.  As someone who has counseled hundreds of such women over the last half-century, I can attest to the fact that the 44% figure is far too low. As a result of my experiences, I firmly believe this number is significantly underreported. That is the reason that I never speak about the issue from the pulpit without emphasizing that our Heavenly Father is a God of forgiveness and restoration as well as a righteous and holy God.

So where do we go from here? 

In a truly remarkable article, Michael Kazin proclaimed this week, “If Abortion is Outlawed, Americans Will Rebel."  Mr. Kazin, a Georgetown University history professor, predicts confidently that if pro-lifers “carry out indecent and unenforceable assaults on individual freedom…most Americans will rebel against authorities who decree what they can do with their own bodies.”

Unfortunately, that is what we have been given to expect from the once historically great New York Times.  However, even the usually innocuous Prevention Magazine, which up until now my wife and I have perused for healthy nutrition information, declares in its August edition, “Abortion is safer than pregnancy and childbirth."

Both Kazin and Prevention use language that compels one to ask, “safer for whom?” In an abortion, the baby always dies, and every abortion stops a beating human heart. When Kazin speaks of individual freedom, he is forgetting, or ignoring, the fact that when a mother exercises her “individual freedom” to choose to abort her child, another human being dies, namely her son or daughter.

Kazin compares the pro-life movement to the prohibition movement and its ultimate failure to free our society from the scourge of alcoholism. The pro-life movement and prohibition are fundamentally disanalogous movements. Prohibitionism did indeed outlaw the consumption of alcoholic beverages at the federal level in all 50 states. The Dobbs decision does not outlaw abortions everywhere. It does outlaw almost all abortions in Mississippi after 15 weeks’ gestation.

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, each state’s voters will decide for themselves through the democratic process which boys and girls can be legally killed within the borders of their state. Furthermore, the pro-life movement vs. Prohibition comparison is inaccurate at a more fundamental level. Prohibitionists’ desire was to make alcohol consumption illegal, thus interfering with an individual’s ability to consume the alcoholic beverage of his or her choice. The pro-life movement seeks to protect a whole class of fellow citizens from having their lives extinguished before birth.

Consequently, if one seeks a comparison of the pro-life movement with another historic American reform movement, a far more likely candidate immediately comes to mind—the abolitionist movement.

The abolitionists’ goal was the immediate abolition of the institution of slavery and full freedom for all human beings being held in involuntary servitude. In other words, abolitionism’s goal was to extend the right to life and freedom to the nation’s nearly 4 million African-American slaves and the pro-life movement wants unborn babies of all ethnicities and both sexes to be granted the “right to life.”

A half-century ago my ethics professor, the late great Paul Ramsey, spoke eloquently of defending our unborn citizens, babies who have heartbeats at 28 to 32 days’ gestation and measurable brain waves at seven weeks. Overestimating his fellow human beings, Dr. Ramsey told us that “if wombs had windows, there would be very few abortions.” Unfortunately, he was wrong. Sonograms are about as close to a “window” as one can imagine, and yet too many Americans want to strike down any restrictors on abortion up to and including birth and continue to deny the humanity of the fetus. Why?

One cannot overlook the truth of human depravity as one major reason. Slavery was making enormous sums of money for a small, but powerful class of Americans, North and South. Just so, the abortion industry is making enormous profits for a small, but powerful class of Americans.

In the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 to declare that slaves were property, not people. Similarly, in 1973 in Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court found a “supposed” right to privacy allowing millions of these unborn Americans to have their lives snuffed out in utero.

I must confess that as I researched my senior thesis at Princeton in 1968 and early 1969, I never imagined how relevant these studies would be more than a half-century later.

I believe where we are right now is where the Abolitionists were at the end of the Civil War and millions of freed slaves needed to have their citizenship and civil rights protected. Then, as now, there were large segments of the population who openly declared that they would do everything they could to nullify the freedom of the former slaves.

The government established the Freedmen’s Bureau and used federal troops to seek to guarantee the full participation of the former slaves in American society. However, by the end of the Grant administration in 1876, the efforts were largely abandoned and Jim Crow segregation was established and reigned in the South until the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1967.

Pro-lifers must not weary in well-doing. We must come alongside pregnant mothers and help them and their babies before and after birth. We will now have the opportunity to prove we are pro-life before and after birth right up through adulthood.

One final cautionary note. I learned during my thesis research that during the decades the abolitionist movement labored to abolish slavery, some of them became more fixated on punishing the slaveholders than on freeing the slaves. So they rejected all attempts at manumission (freeing the slaves with some financial compensation to slaveholders).

Just so, there are some in the pro-life ranks (sometimes called “abolitionists”) who not only want to criminalize abortionists, but also the mothers who seek to abort their children. This is completely wrong and contrary to the heartbeat of the pro-life movement from its inception in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

From the beginning, the pro-lifers have been insistent that both the babies and their mothers are victims. It would be a tragedy to now decide we are going to criminalize mothers.

When we had this debate at the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention, the “abolitionist” argument was soundly defeated. Prior to the floor debate, one person opposing the abolitionist argument asked me, “What should we do? How do we best oppose it?”

My answer was, “First, get women to respond. All the people that I have heard argued for criminalizing pregnant mothers are men—not women. Second, ask the question, 'Do you want to save babies, or punish their mothers?' You cannot do both in the current political environment. If you insist on criminalizing mothers, you will get very few pro-life bills approved in most states.”

Let’s keep our eye on the ball, folks.  Let’s save babies and their mothers from the scourge of abortion.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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