Today the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The first thing to say is “Praise the Lord.” We should be grateful for his providential governance, which will not abandon us to evil.
The second thing to say is “Thanks.” We owe a debt of gratitude to Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, who were fierce in their dissents in Casey and unflagging in their insistence that the abortion license is not protected by our Constitution and is a great evil. We need to thank the founders and leaders of the Federalist Society, which provided an ongoing forum for legal scholars to debate and perfect the judicial reasoning that led to this decision. And we need to thank the many thousands, indeed, millions of Americans who refused to make a false peace with our abortion regime. They joined protests, said prayers, sent donations, voted in elections, and lobbied legislators for nearly five decades. That labor has not been in vain.
The third thing to say is that we are turning a corner. By overruling Roe, the Court has done the country a great service. We are relieved of the scandal—moral, legal, and political—that was the Roe/Casey order, under which our most fundamental law was interpreted as endorsing a right to kill the unborn. All of us are now able to affirm our constitutional regime with greater confidence in its integrity.
The Court is also pointing us toward a restoration of democracy. Roe was decided in 1973. It came in the aftermath of Richard Nixon’s landslide election in November 1972. The huge margin of Nixon’s victory reflected a stunning repudiation of liberal-elite leadership in the late 1960s. Those elites did not respond by adjusting. Rather, they did an end-run. Roe was among the many measures (which included Nixon’s impeachment) that leadership took to nullify the election and reassert control over American society—a “usurpation of democracy,” as this publication famously put it in a symposium in 1996. The “End of Democracy?” symposium looked back at more than two decades of judicial activism that sought to overthrow the moral order that had long obtained in America.
The Dobbs decision has an immediate effect. Most importantly, it saves lives in states that seek to limit or forbid abortion. Politically, it undermines elite control over social policy in the United States. In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas observes: “In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” These cases have undergirded the elite-driven sexual revolution. Thomas is right. It’s past time to put an end to the capture of our Constitution by those who insist that sexual freedom is a great moral imperative.
Our society is polarized. To a significant degree, this has happened because of decisions like Roe. A relatively small minority of “progressive” elites have for far too long enjoyed privileged access to the power of law. They have used this power to achieve their ends, such as gay marriage, without entering into the political process to persuade their fellow citizens. They have also used legal power to destroy their opponents, as Colorado baker Jack Phillips can testify.
After Dobbs, those who believe that women cannot live free and full lives without a right to terminate the lives of their unborn children will have to make their case in public. Because they are so extreme, I don’t think they will succeed. In anticipation of the overturning of Roe, the Democratic-controlled legislature in California has declared the state a “legal sanctuary for reproductive choice” and proposes to pay for abortions for women who come from out of state. It will be interesting to see how voters respond to politicians who give greater priority to promoting unrestricted access to abortion than to addressing rising crime and homelessness.
For too long, progressives have been able to hide the costs of their politics from voters. They have been able to rely upon their capture of the rule of law to secure their aims. This has masked the fact that they care more about ensuring that a woman can have her child killed just before birth than about the more than 100,000 people who died last year of heroin overdose—or the inner-city kid condemned to dysfunctional schools, or the middle-class Midwesterner whose wages have stagnated for decades.
I applaud the courage of Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, who signed the opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that overturned Roe. They have served the cause of life—and democracy. Well done.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
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