Since shortly after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, Catholics, evangelicals, and many others in the United States have looked forward to a day when that ruling would be overturned. But in the intervening years, the Supreme Court of the United States has not moved any closer to doing so. Instead, it has reaffirmed the essential holding in Roe and buttressed its arguments in favor of a constitutional right to abortion with its 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Even so, opponents of abortion have not met these legal setbacks with silence. Over the course of nearly five decades, they have created a flourishing, comprehensive, and nationwide movement centered around a positive message about the value of human life.
As we watch the Senate Judiciary Committee conduct confirmation hearings this week for Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, many pro-life advocates are once again considering the possibility of a United States where Roe v. Wade has been overturned. But what would achieving that kind of legal victory mean for pro-life advocates that have sought it for nearly 50 years? Writing recently for Christianity Today, Russell Moore suggested, “in some ways, the day after Roe will be the beginning of the pro-life movement, not the end of it.”
He is exactly right. Many people wrongly assume that a reversal of Roe would make abortion illegal in the United States. It would not. Instead, it would simply hand back the legal authority to restrict or protect abortion access to the states. Presently, some states have laws on the books—nine of which pre-date the Court’s 1973 ruling—that would immediately ban or significantly restrict abortion access if Roe were overturned. At the same time, 15 states have enacted protections for abortion in their state constitutions. This means that the legal battle to end abortion goes much further than the Supreme Court.
But there is a more important reason to think that the reversal of Roe would actually mark a new beginning for the pro-life movement. To reiterate what Moore said, in an America after Roe, the work of the pro-life movement will be needed more, not less.
Right now, in cities and towns across the country, selfless and sacrificial men and women give of their time, money, energy, and resources in support of the cause of life. They do this in innumerable ways, but all of their efforts are aimed at defending and preserving life. And all of this work is motivated by their common belief that every life is precious and sacred.
Honestly, I am in awe of the pro-life movement. Though it isn’t perfect, I find it remarkable that countless thousands of people of all kinds of faiths, backgrounds, and beliefs have come together to use their time and talents to protect and care for the vulnerable. They do this through advocacy and by showing up in Washington every year at the annual March for Life to honor and speak for those who cannot march or speak for themselves. They do this through legal efforts by supporting candidates and legislation intended to protect the lives of preborn children. And perhaps most importantly, they do this through innumerable forms of humanitarian work from adoption and orphan care to mentoring, counseling, and meeting material needs for mothers, fathers, children, and families in difficult situations.
Whether Roe is overturned or not, the work of the pro-life movement can and must go on.
A perfect example of this incredible work is the proliferation of crisis pregnancy centers. Often, numerous churches and community members band together to establish and support the work of these organizations. Crisis pregnancy centers are beacons of hope in their communities. They represent a refuge for young women facing unplanned pregnancies, a safe haven where they can turn for love, care, and support. And having witnessed this work firsthand in many different locations, I can attest that—contrary to the way they are sometimes portrayed in the media—these centers are amazing, life-giving places where young mothers and fathers are met with understanding and compassion. Because of the generosity of people who believe that every life matters, these centers are staffed by trained and competent professionals who put the love of Christ on display each day for those who don’t know where to turn, offering each person walking through their doors the resources and support they need at one of the most difficult moments in their lives.
Seeing abortion access restricted would not mean the end of unplanned pregancies. Instead, pro-life advocates would need to be prepared to expand the critical work they are already doing. By God’s grace, we will see needs and opportunities multiply to love and serve our neighbors. More mothers will need support. More children will need care. More schools will need volunteers. More fathers will need mentors. These are just a few of the obvious reasons that pro-life work will last far beyond the end of Roe. As pro-life advocates—and especially as the people of God—we must be prepared for such a moment.
There is, of course, no guarantee this will happen. It is known that Judge Barrett is personally opposed to abortion. And it is also apparent that the ideological makeup of the court would make it more favorably disposed toward such a legal challenge to abortion rights than it has been in decades. Still, neither Judge Barrett nor any of the current justices of the court have expressed any kind of commitment or intent to overturn Roe or restrict access to abortion. And we shouldn’t assume that they will.
Regardless of what happens, the work of the pro-life movement is critical. And it is not contingent on the legality of abortion. Roe v. Wade is the most tragic ruling in American history. Since 1973, more than 50 million children have been killed through abortion in United States. In response, millions of Americans have been galvanized to action to uphold the dignity of our unborn neighbors. Whether Roe is overturned or not, the work of the pro-life movement can and must go on.