Explainer: Supreme Court takes up Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

June 2, 2021

In light of the development regarding President Biden’s removal of the Hyde Amendment from his 2022 proposed budget, Christians may be prone to despair at what looks like an undermining of years of pro-life advocacy work. While the president’s proposal is undoubtedly significant, there are other developments from which Christians may draw encouragement.

Currently, there are “more than 40 abortion-related cases working their way through the courts,” but one in particular, out of Mississippi, is a case that is deserving of attention.

In mid-May, the Supreme Court agreed to revisit a previous decision “by reviewing a Mississippi law that would replace the ‘viability standard’ with a limit on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.” Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a case that “could have significant implications for some of the central pillars of legal abortion in the United States,” according to Leah Hickman of WORLD Magazine. Though the landmark Roe v. Wade remains in place, this case should energize pro-life advocates to remain steadfast in their work. 

What is this case about?

“Forty-eight years ago, the nation’s highest court barred the government from protecting babies from abortion if they were too young to survive outside the womb,” says Lynde Langdon. With the accruing evidence due to scientific advancements that babies born prior to the supposed “viability cutoff” can still become healthy infants, the Supreme Court justices have agreed to revisit the Dobbs decision.

As reported by Hickman, the appeal in this case that the court agreed to rule on revolves around a central question: “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.” This question, according to Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, is “modest and incremental” in that “it doesn’t ask the court to overturn Roe.” However, “the question gets to the heart of the rule limiting protections for babies who aren’t viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks, a big pillar under Roe v. Wade.” If decided favorably, this case would potentially expand protections for children in the early stages of gestational development. 

In addition to the protections sought for unborn babies, “the case also allows the Court to consider the States’ interest in protecting maternal health.” In regard to both child and mother, Dobbs is a case fundamentally concerned with the protection and preservation of human life.

What are the implications of a favorable ruling?

Americans United for Life describes this as “a generational opportunity to uphold life-saving protections.” Opining on this very question, Leah Hickman states, “If the court rules in Mississippi’s favor, it could allow states with even earlier protections – such as bills protecting babies from abortion once they have a detectable heartbeat – to enforce their laws.” She goes on to say that “a favorable ruling would also chip away at legal abortion.” Likewise, citing what she’s observed among pro-life advocates, Lynde Langdon describes the Dobbs case “as an opportunity to allow hundreds of proposed state laws protecting babies to take effect.”

Should the case result in a favorable ruling, it would be a seismic win for the pro-life position.  

What is the likelihood of a favorable ruling?

It’s hard to tell. “With the addition of Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh during the Trump administration,” says Langdon, “the Supreme Court may have a solid pro-life majority.” But, as Hickman says, “that doesn’t guarantee a favorable ruling from the court.” She goes on: “The court could decide to send the matter back to the lower courts or make another limited ruling instead of toppling the viability standard or moving to dismantle legal abortion.” 

According to Steven H. Aden, AUL Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel,“That the Supreme Court is considering this Mississippi law is a promising signal that perhaps a majority of Justices wish to give states greater power to regulate abortion. At the same time, if the Court rejects Mississippi’s common sense protections, the pro-life movement will face a fundamental reckoning.”

Regardless of the court’s decision, Hickman writes, “it will have implications for the other 40-some cases currently in the lower courts.” But, as Forsythe points out, “There’s just a lot of uncertainty and a lot of possibilities. And people should have modest expectations about what might happen.”

One thing is certain. Americans United for Life is right to call this a “generational opportunity,” both in its potential impact and in the Supreme Court’s unique and, for Christians, long-awaited opportunity to arrive at a sensible decision for the protection of human life. 

What’s next?

According to most people weighing in, Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will likely be scheduled for hearing sometime in the fall when the court convenes for its next term. 

What can Christians and other pro-life advocates do in the meantime?

Christians should continue praying, advocating, and working according to their pro-life convictions “in all areas of politics” and beyond. As Forsythe says, “what happens in courts and legislatures state-by-state can’t help but influence the Supreme Court in knowing that the public will support its decisions to cut back on or overturn Roe v. Wade and return the issue to the people.” Here is an opportunity to maintain a consistent and resolute voice for the human right to life, for both child and mother alike. 

The ERLC will continue to advocate for pro-life rulings and other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life. 

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies, and chairman of the ethics … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24