4 misperceptions about abortion law in the post-Dobbs era

July 1, 2022

The Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is only a week old, and already there are misperceptions, misunderstandings, and misconstruals about what abortion law will look like now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Here are four main misperceptions that have been expressed in light of the recent ruling and explanations of how to think through them.

Misperception #1: The Supreme Court took away a constitutional right. 

In a speech delivered on the same day the Supreme Court released the Dobbs decision, President Joe Biden said, “Today the Supreme Court of the United States expressly took away a constitutional right from the American people that it had already recognized.” Biden is implying that the U.S. Constitution contains a recognizable right to abortion, but the Supreme Court determined that is not the proper reading of the Constitution.

The court explained its reasoning, in part, by considering whether the right to obtain an abortion is part of a broader entrenched right that is supported by other precedents. The majority of the justices concluded that the right to obtain an abortion cannot be justified as a component of such a right, and that attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to “define one’s ‘concept of existence’ prove too much.” If there was a right to abortion, the court noted, then Roe and Casey would also allow as fundamental rights such things as illicit drug use and prostitution. 

There was never a “constitutional right to abortion,” only a legal fiction established by Roe and Casey to give that impression. The Supreme Court did not remove a right held by individuals but merely recognized the reality that the Constitution allows abortion to be an issue decided by the individual states. 

Misperception #2: Overturning Roe makes it harder to treat miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. 

“The medical options used to treat some miscarriages, as well as some ectopic pregnancies, can be the same or similar to those prescribed for an abortion,” says the ERLC’s Chelsea Sobolik, “This makes it imperative to carefully define our terms.”

Take, for example, dilation and curettage (in which the preborn baby is removed through surgery) or dilation and evacuation (in which a probe-guided vacuum removes fetal tissue from the uterus). These procedures can be used in elective abortions (in which the child is killed before removal) or in circumstances when the child is already dead and needs to be removed from the woman’s body. Similarly, medications called mifepristone and misoprostol are sometimes used as abortifacients (i.e., medication to cause an abortion), but they can also be used to treat cases of miscarriage. 

“There is no current policy in place prohibiting the treatment of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancies, and many laws similarly exclude such circumstances from the definition of abortion,” says Sobolik. But she also points out that this misceperception has gained traction because some recently proposed state-level legislation included wording that would affect access to treatment for miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. 

For instance, Sobolik notes that an abortion restriction bill was initially proposed in Ohio in 2019 advocating for the reimplantation of ectopic pregnancies—invoking the use of a nonexistent and medically impossible procedure—but was struck down in hearings. The Ohio lawmaker behind the bill later admitted that he had not researched ectopic pregnancies beforehand. 

Such misguided proposals have always been caught before they become law, and pro-life groups are working closely with state legislators to ensure that such unhelpful language does not find its way in any stage of the legislative process. 

Misperception #3: Anti-abortion laws do not protect the life of the mother. 

On the same day in 1973 that the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, the Supreme Court also issued its decision in Doe v. Bolton. In that ruling, the court said that a state must permit a “health” exception to any laws restricting abortion. But “health” was defined so broadly that it allowed abortion in all nine months of pregnancy for nearly any reason, including the mental or emotional health of the mother. 

Abortion advocates claim that without that “health” exception that women’s lives will be put in danger, but every pro-life statute in states where abortion is being restricted currently has an exception for the life of the mother. Many of the states, such as Utah and Texas, also include exceptions for “harm to the physical health” of the mother along with exceptions for the life of the mother. 

Misconception #4: The individual states now have final say about abortion laws. 

The ruling in Dobbs says, “​​The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.” While this means that the states can decide the issue, it also leaves open the possibility that a federal law could regulate abortion in all 50 states. 

Nothing in the Dobbs opinion prohibits the U.S. Congress from passing federal legislation to restrict, ban, or allow abortion. Whether such legislation could pass constitutional scrutiny remains to be seen. For now, given the even divide in the U.S. Senate, states will be tasked with regulating abortion as they see fit, but the possibility does remain that a future Congress could pass federal legislation on the issue.

Many Christians fervently prayed and planned for the overturning of Roe and Casey, yet never dreamed they would actually see the day. Now that it’s here, we rightly rejoice and celebrate. However, we also recognize that many in our broader culture are anxious about what life will be like in a post-Roe world, and that fear is largely supported by misinformation portrayed as fact. We must stand ready to pray for our neighbors and meet them with truth and compassion, demonstrating that a post-Roe culture is indeed a good one where women will be cared for and babies will be given a chance at life. 

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