The end of Roe v. Wade: Thoughts and Memories
“Held: 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.”
— SCOTUS Majority Ruling, June 24, 2022
There is a day I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday. It was in early December 2000. I was riding in the car with my mom to drop off my older brothers off at Reagan National Airport. As we were leaving the airport to go home, she took a wrong turn and we soon found ourselves crossing the Potomac River heading into DC. She shrugged off the error with a phrase I heard often in my childhood, “Let’s just take a little joyride.” Looking back now, I think that accidental wrong turn may have been intentional. She had an uncanny genius for winding up where the action was, as if drawn magnetically.
The action that day was at the Supreme Court. Bush v. Gore was being decided and she had found her way there by sheer instinct a scant twenty minutes after making that wrong turn. We parked around the complex and walked around to the front of the court. There was a crowd of protestors and counter-protestors gathered outside with a police cordon to keep the crowd at the street level. My mom walked up to one of the officers and asked if she could take me up closer. The officer waved us through and we walked up the polished marble steps to the great bronze doors of the Supreme Court. I was awed at the grandeur of those massive imposing doors with their bas-reliefs depicting the evolution of Western law from the Shield of Achilles to Chief Justice Marshall. Mom took my hand and told me “The Bible says that if any two people pray and agree, it will be done. Let’s pray that God’s will be done and that he makes a way for Roe v. Wade to be struck down.” And we prayed, her hand over mine, pressed to the doors.
Some German tourists asked what we were doing after we finished, and Mom told them. At first they thought it was strange that a woman was against abortion, I suppose they thought that this was a treasured right of American women. At that point, there were virtually no restrictions on abortion anywhere in the United States. Bill Clinton’s Justice Department had effectively suspended the right to protest or offer counseling in close proximity to abortion clinics. Partial-birth abortionists like George Tiller were dismembering full-term infants with impunity. The Supreme Court stood in the way of states who tried to enact the most moderate of regulations. Just earlier that year the court had struck down a Nebraska law banning partial-birth abortion in Stenberg v. Carhart. Only two other countries shared such law restrictions as the United States on abortion: China and North Korea. I still remember the disbelief of those tourists, who assumed that legal abortion was subject to regulation as in Germany, where it was permitted only in the first trimester after counseling and a three-day waiting period.
The decision was released around the time we got home. George W. Bush was our new President. Of all the errors made by the Bush administration, the nomination of Samuel Alito to the high court was not one of them.
Sixteen years would pass before the next Republican President would be elected. If not for the open vacancy on the bench left by the death of Justice Scalia, Donald Trump would have never been elected President. October 2016 was a fractious time for many social conservatives. Many I knew had reservations. The seat on the court was on one side of the scales, and on the other side was the question of if Trump was yet another candidate who pandered to evangelicals during campaign season but would stab them in the back once elected. Nothing in his background gave a real solid sense of which way he would go in office and the “locker room talk” tape understandably was a stumbling block. But in the final debate, Trump pledged to nominate justices who would overturn Roe. He aggressively attacked Hillary Clinton on her refusal to support limits on even late-term and partial-birth abortion. It was the first time many Republicans had seen the party’s nominee actually go on offense on the abortion issue. Social conservatives who had previously considered not voting at all suddenly went all-in on Trump. And this bet paid off. Trump’s judicial nominees have disappointed at times, but on this key issue they are poised to deliver.
I was just leaving a showing of Robert Eggers’ The Northman last month when I got the alert on my phone that a draft opinion had leaked and the Supreme Court was set to overturn Roe. My mind flashed back to that day at the court twenty-one years prior. I thought about my mom and millions of moms like her who worked tirelessly, who marched in freezing rain, sleet, and snow at the March for Life held every January on the anniversary of Roe. My parents were the kind of people who would go the extra mile for others – like when they drove one night to the hospital with me in tow so that this young couple in our church stationed thousands of miles from their own families wouldn’t have to welcome their child alone. I’ll never forget the moment the stillness of the waiting room was punctuated by a cry, that of a healthy baby boy. Or like when she went up to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at a reception and said “Son, if you don’t stand up for life you’re not going to make it.” That turned out to be prophetic. Cantor did little to advance the pro-life cause and in the next cycle lost his seat in a shocking primary upset.
But politics were only a part of the pro-life environment I grew up in. My mom believed that “it’s not enough to believe something, you have to live it.” And she did, showing up to support expectant mothers, throwing baby showers, taking home-cooked meals to couples just home from the hospital, sharing her wisdom for raising children, and so on. She also voted in every election and was active in the local Republican Party. It wasn’t out of a sense of activism that she did this though, but out of a genuine feeling that life was a precious gift worth celebrating and nurturing. It was personal for her, and for me. Her first two pregnancies had gone smoothly enough but she had developed life-threatened blood clots during the next three. Then I came along unexpectedly in her forties. The family doctor was apoplectic. The blood clots returned. She went on bedrest, injected herself with blood thinner shots, but never once considered termination. She risked her own life for mine.
A few years back, I had a deep conversation one night with the hostess of a pousada I stayed at in a beachside town in Brazil. She had been a model in her youth and that night she was reminiscent. She carried scrapbooks and albums out to the patio and showed me her work. There was her mother on the cover of Vogue Paris, her father in a GQ photoshoot, her as a child model gracing the pages of the JC Penney catalog, and then came her work in major campaigns as she blossomed into womanhood. She flipped the last page shut and put the albums away before leaning back and lighting a fresh cigarette. Her memories then took a darker turn. Her moments of glory in her modeling career were mingled with pain. There was the casting couch, the pressures and fast pace, and… something else; during her career she had conceived two children but was pressured into aborting them.
At some point she had enough of the industry. She took her earnings from a major Calvin Klein campaign and bought a beach house in Brazil with them. She eventually married and became pregnant again. She was thrilled. Then, the bad news came. Blood tests revealed that she had become infected with a parasite that causes severe health issues in gestating infants, including mental retardation. Once again she was feeling pressured to abort her child. Her husband told her that she should. Her doctor told her that she should. Her friends told her that she should — one friend even offered to make her travel arrangements to the United States (abortion is illegal in Brazil). But she said that something rose up inside of her and simply said “no.” This was not an exercise of moral principle, it was the triumph of instinct made manifest in feminine stubbornness. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy, followed later by a sister. The kids were around six and four years old when I was there. A parent could not wish for more adorable, bright, and well-mannered children than these. I inwardly shuddered with horror at the thought of what could have happened instead, and what had happened to the older siblings. Left unsaid but mutually understood was the fact that my hostess had thought the same thing many times over. I could not imagine the pain and regret of having traded flesh and blood for a few faded photographs in an old scrapbook.
Nietzsche may have just as well said ‘Love is dead. And we have killed it.’ But love can also be resurrected. Much of the corruption within our culture can be traced back to attaching value to things that can’t love us back and choosing those things over what can love us back.
The legal precedent of Roe is now gone, but its normative precedent remains – what Red Scare host Dasha Nekrasova describes as the “abortive mindset that has made our culture a death cult.” Where this culture is dominant, abortion will remain largely unregulated. States like California and New York have recently eliminated virtually any regulation of abortion, even basic standards of medical competence. The result in those states will be more cases like that of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist who delivered live babies in the third trimester and subsequently severed their spinal cords with scissors to kill them. But in states like Texas and Florida, abortion will be restricted in a similar manner to that of various European countries. The fight over abortion is far from over, but it will now at least be in the hands of the people and their representatives rather than its former status as a perversely sacrosanct practice shielded from regulation by democratic institutions. Against the death cult of the monoculture, life is rising.