The stage is set. Forty-five years after Roe v. Wade protected abortion at the federal level, liberals and conservatives alike think its days are numbered. With the confirmations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court has a majority of conservative justices. If a case that challenged Roe v. Wade made its way to the court, it could be overturned.
This prospect is exciting for some and terrifying for others. However, both sides may be expecting too much from the death of Roe v. Wade. Abortion will not disappear in America the day Roe is overturned. It would simply return to being a state-based issue. Some states may outlaw it entirely, others would facilitate abortions.
But in a post-Roe v. Wade America, one thing will surely not disappear: vulnerable women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Overturning Roe Should Be the Strategy, Not the Goal
Without question, pregnancy resource centers are the hands and feet of the pro-life movement. These non-profit organizations, many affiliated with local churches, provide pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting, relationship and mentorship programs, practical supplies (like diapers and clothing), and post-abortion counseling. Although operating with shoestring budgets, they vastly outnumber federally subsidized abortion facilities.
CareNet is one of the nation’s largest affiliation networks of pregnancy resource centers. Like many pro-life advocates, its president, Roland Warren, would love to win the fight against Roe v. Wade—but he wonders if the pro-life movement is prepared to win. He brings up a potent question: Is overturning Roe the strategy or the goal?
He explains: “If you look at the pro-life movement, it parallels with the abolitionist movement. It was codified into our laws that some people were less than human. Some said, ‘This is an injustice. We need to abolish slavery.’ Well, but then what happens? Black people walked off the plantation as slaves, but too often returned as sharecroppers. No one actually wanted to support them or accept them into civil society.”
The problem was that the abolitionists fought slavery as an end unto itself, instead of as a strategy with the broader goal of creating a just and moral society.
“If the abolitionists had instead fought for black people to have full access to the blessings of liberty, they would have worked just as hard to also guarantee them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness just like others in American society. That didn’t happen, and that’s why we have racial conflict today,” he notes. “So if the goal of the pro-life movement is just overturning Roe. v. Wade, it may face the same problem. We could create vulnerable communities of single mothers and children. That’s why at CareNet, we talk about being pro-abundant life. It’s not just about saving the baby, it’s about raising a child and helping families thrive.
“Therefore, before and after Roe v. Wade is overturned, we must have a comprehensive care approach for women facing unplanned pregnancies. Also, we must involve fathers and encourage marriage, whenever possible, because 86% of the women who have abortions are unmarried.”
Just as bitterness over the end of slavery sparked horrendous backlash over the coming decades, the end of Roe v. Wade could quickly turn into a Pyrrhic victory. If pro-lifers fail to come to the aid of struggling women and children, it could justify even stronger legal support for abortion.
Pro-Life Americans Must be Practical, Not Just Political
Because abortion is such a politically charged issue (and rightly so) most of the public’s attention is on political advocacy groups like the Susan B. Anthony List or NARAL Pro-Choice America, not on community care. While pro-lifers are active in the voting booths, they’re often missing opportunities right at their doorstep.
“Many things may influence how a woman feels when she faces the news of a unexpected pregnancy,” says Leanna Baumer, executive director of Assist Pregnancy Center in Annandale, Va. “While finances or job-related stress may be significant, the presence (or lack) of relational support is often the most influential factor in a woman’s decision to continue her pregnancy or choose abortion.”
This is where pregnancy care centers, churches, and communities often can have a greater impact even than the Supreme Court. Pro-life Americans should be eager to be the personal support that laws and courts cannot provide.
“All those who care about coming alongside a woman considering abortion should be asking how they can be relationally present in her life as a friend, neighbor, or coworker—their encouragement may just be the relational support she needs to have hope for a future that includes her child,” Baumer says.
Warren says the long-term key to helping women and families is to truly incorporate them into their communities and give them people to lean on. He sees churches as uniquely able to fill this gap.
“Life decisions need life support,” he says. “The church needs to be modeling a way to move families from the pregnancy centers to the church and changing the way culture sees the family. Abortion is transactional. We need to be transformational.”
All Americans Are Responsible to Help
In the midst of the decades-long battle since Roe v. Wade, it’s hard to imagine that there is common ground between the pro-life and pro-choice camps. But if we take both sides at their word, doesn’t everyone just want the best for the vulnerable?
The moment a woman walks into an abortion facility or a pregnancy care center will probably be the hardest moment of her life. However the legal landscape may change in coming years, it won’t absolve either side of their moral obligation to help her.
As Baumer explains, “No matter what political changes may come in the months ahead, the fundamental need for women to feel supported through relational care during and after an unexpected pregnancy will continue.”
The pro-life camp has shown their commitment to helping these women even when they disagree with the legal status of abortion. Pregnancy care centers and churches have no financial stake in whether a woman keeps or ends a pregnancy, since there is no profit in it for them. Even though there’s room for pro-lifers to improve, no one wants to encourage a woman to give birth, then abandon her. It would be absurd to accuse them of that kind of malice.
So if Roe is overturned, the pro-choice side needs to show their bona fides in return. Of course they’ll fight it at the legal level, but will they help vulnerable women in the meantime—even if they choose birth? Is Planned Parenthood equally happy if a woman chooses to bear her child instead of aborting it?
If so, they should be stepping up to provide maternity care and parenting services. Pro-choice families should foster and adopt children or welcome single parents into their lives. In an interesting twist, the end of Roe may force pro-choice Americans to decide whether they actually stand for choice—or just for abortion.