What will happen at the state level if Roe is overturned?

December 3, 2021

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case centers on an abortion restriction passed within the state of Mississippi that prohibits the procedure after 15 weeks. However, briefs and arguments before the court have focused not just on the 15-week ban, but the constitutionality of the court cases that currently govern abortion jurisprudence: Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvannia v. Casey (1992). The court could decide to uphold the Mississippi restriction, and in effect change the standard set by Roe and Casey. It could also go further and overturn both, ending almost half a century of federally sanctioned holocaust against the unborn.

Abortion access at the time Roe was decided

At the time that Roe v. Wade was decided, abortion was largely prohibited across the country. It was legalized in four states, and allowed in limited circumstances in 16 others such as rape, incest, or the life of the mother. In the remaining 30 states, abortion was outlawed without exception. For those who desired an abortion, it often required travel to a state (or country) which permitted the procedure. For example, in 1972 there were over 580,000 legal abortions in the United States. Historian Daniel Williams has shown that even with a majority of states banning abortion pre-Roe, certain states were able to provide enough hospital abortion services for hundreds of thousands of abortions. Thus, while abortion was largely illegal, it was not unthinkable.

What happens in various states if Roe is overturned?

While overturning Roe would return the question of abortion access to the states, the country is in a much different place than it was when Roe was decided. If Roe is overturned, a wide disparity would exist between different states, with some automatically protecting or prohibiting abortion access. Others would almost certainly become contested battlegrounds for control of state legislatures and the governorship so as to pass measures in either direction.  

Whereas before only four states gave women the right to seek an abortion, currently 15 states and the District of Columbia protect that access: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. 

Another 12 would immediately ban or severely restrict abortion access: Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. There are also a number of states that have enacted laws which are currently blocked by the federal courts, but which could be easily reinstated to restrict access: Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, and South Carolina. There are also states that would likely move to ban or restrict abortion based on the makeup of their state legislatures: Florida, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming. 

Between these opposing groups of states would be those that would become highly contested for control of the government. For example, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina have a governor who is a Democrat and state houses that are controlled by the Republicans. As the push for pro-life causes moves to the state level, these local races would become more crucial in electing pro-life supporters.

New challenges at that state level

If the Supreme Court chooses to overturn Roe, the pro-life movement will need to focus on a number of new challenges that are likely to occur at the level of state policy. First, it is likely that the limiting of abortion in one state will not stop individuals from traveling to obtain it. After Texas passed a 6-week abortion ban, the neighboring state of Oklahoma reported an increase in individuals from Texas seeking an abortion. And while overturning Roe would increase the distance that individuals would have to travel on average to over 125 miles to reach the nearest abortion provider, it would still be an option for those who have the resources and are capable of traveling. 

However, the more likely result will be an increase in the use of abortion medication. Currently, over 40% of abortions are obtained through the use of the abortion pills. With the pandemic and the loosening of restrictions on telemedicine, it has become easier to obtain the pills online and have them shipped directly to abortion-vulnerable women. Though there are some state regulations that limit the use of these pills and obtaining them through the mail, their prevalence is expected to rise because the cost of the medication is cheaper than a surgical abortion. 

Another consideration that the pro-life movement will face is elected officials who refuse to enforce bans and restrictions, especially in states with divided governments. For example, Michigan’s attorney general has stated previously that she would not enforce the state’s ban on abortion if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe. Even if the pro-life movement is able to help pass legislation further restricting abortion, it will require government officials willing to enforce it.

Importance of state-by-state action for pro-life movement

With the shift from a national to state-level emphasis, the pro-life movement will need to adapt even as it continues doing what it has done for years. In the states where abortion is permitted, the pro-life movement will need to learn how to mobilize at the local level to pass ordinances, advocate for legislation, and help promote officials who stand for the dignity of the unborn. This will look different from state to state, and in some places it may be possible to only achieve partial measures in the short term — a ban on abortion at 20 weeks rather than a heartbeat bill — but in all it will look like advancing toward the goal where abortion is illegal and unthinkable, and every life is protected.

In those states where abortion becomes illegal, the pro-life movement should not cease to work toward making abortion unthinkable. Just because abortion is illegal does not mean that women will not face unexpected pregnancies and the difficulties that might make them consider abortion. The number one reason that people seek abortions are for economic issues, and these concerns — poverty, job insecurity, the cost of healthcare — will still exist once Roe is overturned. If Roe is overturned, Christians will have the opportunity to refute the claim by pro-abortion advocates that those in the pro-life movement only care about the baby and mother up to the point of birth. We will be able to showcase that being pro-life is a womb-to-tomb ethic, and that the church, in the name of Jesus, seeks to serve and love the most vulnerable.

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … 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