The U.S. Supreme Court’s brave decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization righted a 50-year wrong that resulted in the death of over 60 million unborn children. Roe v. Wade was premised on egregious legal errors, and its reversal is a tremendous victory for life and for the Constitution. Just as importantly — and contrary to what some have argued in these last few weeks — the Dobbs decision gives America the opportunity to reconceptualize motherhood and, in doing so, empower women.
To begin, Roe was terrible constitutional law. It invented a right to abortion from thin air, and even pro-abortion scholars believed it was wrongly decided. Roe took from the democratic branches one of the most consequential issues of our time. In so doing, it profoundly damaged the ability of states to protect unborn life, usurping the people’s role in “an exercise of raw judicial power.” But the Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution, which, as the Dobbs majority explained, nowhere contains a right to an abortion.
Roe was as wrong about motherhood as it was about the Constitution. Its seven male authors believed that motherhood “may force upon the woman a distressful life and future.” The Supreme Court’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision in 1992 did nothing to improve upon this view of womanhood, explaining that abortion was necessary for women to achieve social and economic equality. That view is still heard today. U.S. Rep. Sean Casten recently claimed that overturning Roe would “condemn women to [a] lesser status.”
But the reality is that abortions are not necessary for women to flourish. While abortions have steadily declined, women continue to succeed professionally and financially. Additionally, motherhood and a fulfilling life are not mutually exclusive. Many mothers believe that children make life more fulfilling. And there is evidence that Roe has made it more difficult for mothers to achieve their career goals by requiring women to be more like men and promoting a “male childless norm in educational and employment settings.”
Further, there are indications that the vast majority of women seeking abortions say they would have chosen life if circumstances were different. And in one study, a majority of women were unsure of their decision to obtain an abortion. These unwanted abortions take an enormous toll on the physical, spiritual, and emotional health of women.
In another lie to American women, Roe told them that their baby is merely “potential life.” Scientific evidence establishes that life begins at conception and that a baby is both fully human and fully alive, no matter how small. At 15 weeks, when Mississippi’s law applies, a baby can move and stretch, hiccup, open and close her fingers, and quite likely feel pain. She has fully taken on the human physiological form.
Yet, without a hint of irony, pro-abortion activists posit that the reversal of Roe “treats women as objects, as less than full human beings.” But it is abortion that treats babies, including female babies, as mere objects and less than full human beings, even while science establishes that babies are both fully alive and fully human.
Roe was not the pro-woman opinion that some imagine. In a patriarchal passage the pro-abortion left would rather forget, Roe gave to a woman’s doctor the authority to choose abortion. It stated that “the attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment, the patient’s pregnancy should be terminated.” This was the money line from Roe.
As the late-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted, Roe was “physician-centered,” focusing on “a doctor’s freedom to practice his profession as he thinks best.” “The picture that I got from [Roe],” Justice Ginsburg said, “was tall doctor and little woman needing . . . his advice and care.”
Roe was premised on the lie that bodily autonomy always wins. Yet the law has always recognized that one’s right to autonomy does not exist in isolation. One’s right to swing his arm “ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” Thus, none of us has the right to injure another person in the exercise of our own bodily autonomy. That’s why murder is a crime in every state. Yet Roe placed bodily autonomy over everything else, allowing for the purposeful destruction of a second life.
Roe also lied to women by telling them their children were the enemy. As Ryan Anderson explains, “A mother’s womb should be the safest place in the world, a sanctuary where the unborn child can grow and develop for nine months before emerging into the community of his or her family.”
Abortion distorts that relationship. It tells a pregnant woman that she must destroy an innocent life — her child — to live a fulfilling life. And it deemphasizes the fact that contraception is widely available with a median failure and cost approaching zero, and that thousands of families in America are waiting to adopt a child. In so doing, abortion terribly corrupts culture.
The Dobbs decision allows women to have a say in what abortion policy should be. It returns the profoundly moral question to the states, giving them the authority to protect life through the democratic process and the ability to empower pregnant women by providing them with the resources they need to flourish. It presents an opportunity for America to return to a culture that values families, women, and motherhood.