“The unwanted child.” That disturbing phrase reverberates in one’s conscience after reading the U.S. Supreme Court opinion from the 1973 case, Roe v. Wade. Justice Harry Blackmun authored the opinion that seems more like a creative writing piece than a decision rooted in the American Constitution. If some legal analysts criticize judges for “legislating from the bench,” then Roe represents the creation, passage and implementation of a whole new frontier of law sans any legislative input.
As a consequence, Justice Blackmun laid the foundation for the modern abortion architecture we see around us in society to this day. The language and rationale he wielded has led to an unmitigated moral disaster: over 60 million preborn lives extinguished, vulnerable women and families preyed upon by predatory abortion clinics, and whole communities targeted by an unrelenting abortion industry.
With the oral arguments presented before the Court Dec. 1 in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the nine current justices have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revisit Blackmun’s catastrophic opinion, as well as that of Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). In fact, the Court should not hesitate to completely do away with it––assigning it the same place in infamy alongside such morally repugnant decisions as Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857, regarding the constitutionality of citizenship for African-Americans) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896, creating the doctrine of “separate but equal”). In much the same way, the Court can correct the grave mistakes of its past in ways that should hearten not only prolife Americans, but all Americans.
For starters, the Court could help begin to set aright what it damaged with the Roe ruling: the relationship between mothers and their children. As Christians who recognize the Genesis 3 reality in which we live, we understand nothing short of Christ’s return will truly repair the brokenness that affects our relationships in a fallen world, but we should not fail to recognize the ways Blackmun’s opinion did harm here. His reasoning essentially created a legal permission structure that pitted mothers against their children. Because of that, countless mothers have been sold the lie by the abortion industry that their lives will be burdened, less rich and rewarding and, ultimately, less satisfying with a child in the picture. By overruling Roe and Casey, we can save a new generation of families from enduring these awful and false narratives.
In addition, the Court would be taking a necessary step towards establishing a legal environment that views life as something to be protected, not discarded. Numerous experts agree that a favorable decision in Dobbs could return the question of abortion to the states where, it is estimated, upwards of half the Union stands to affirm a range of prolife protections for preborn children. In some states, there will be an almost overnight effect that moves their legal posture from a culture of death to one of life.
Finally, the right opinion in this case could comport with the very best of America’s ideals. A number of citizens believe that, at its essence, America is synonymous with freedom. Whether one fully agrees with that statement or not, it is undeniable that our nation has played a role in expanding the definition of freedom around the globe. Even in our current moment, we are having a national conversation about the implications of that term for every individual. Yet ,it should not be lost on us that as we have this dialogue, our culture continues to steamroll the lives of millions of the tiniest individuals in our society each year. That cannot continue. The Dobbs case affords our nation a moment when we can finally decide to be consistent and loudly declare that the blessings of America’s “new birth of freedom” extend to born and preborn alike.
The reality is, it is past time for the Court to dismantle the disastrous reasoning posited by Blackmun nearly 50 years ago. By affirming his words, the Court robbed generations of preborn children of their dignity, an atrocity that must be rectified. And, while that will go a long way towards correcting the errors of the past made by the state, it is up to Christians to realize such a decision, as momentous as it would be, is not the end of the challenge before us. In fact, it will represent the starting point for a new prolife generation. For all the good that a favorable Court decision would do, there will still be mothers in crisis who are either unable or unwilling to give a child the love and care he or she needs.
It will be at this moment when the true test comes––and the church must be ready. For it has a duty to look out for the child in all of this. To be her voice. To be her advocate. And we should stand ready to welcome her with open arms (Mark 10:14) and let her know the Author of life has wanted her all along.
Brent Leatherwood serves as acting president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.