Whole Life Responses to the Overturning of Roe

Tish Harrison Warren writes:

The Dobbs Supreme Court decision recognized that there is no inherent right to abortion that flows from a commitment to liberty or autonomy, in part because “abortion is fundamentally different, as both Roe and Casey acknowledged, because it destroys what those decisions called ‘fetal life’ and what the law now before us describes as an ‘unborn human being.’”

Here are three ways that I find abortion rights arguments that appeal to bodily autonomy unpersuasive and ultimately harmful to our understanding of freedom and what it means to be human:

    1. Bodily autonomy is limited by our obligation to not harm others. We already recognize in law that there are limits to physical autonomy….Twice, Justice Clarence Thomas brought up a case where a woman was convicted of child neglect for ingesting harmful illegal drugs while pregnant. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Dobbs addresses this as well, saying that an appeal to autonomy, “at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.” Our desires to do as we wish with our bodies must be respected but they also must be limited by the needs and rights of others, including those who live inside our own bodies.
    2. The term “autonomy” denies the deep interdependence and limitations of every human body. One definition of autonomy is “independence.” But no human has complete bodily autonomy from birth to death. The natural state of human beings is to be deeply and irrevocably interdependent on one another. The only reason any of us is alive today is that someone cared for us as children in the womb and then as infants and toddlers. Almost all of us, through age or disability or both, will eventually depend on other human beings — other human bodies — to bathe, dress, feed and otherwise care for us….A 1-year-old baby is dependent on adults for nourishment, protection and care in ways that can be profoundly burdensome, yet we cannot claim “bodily autonomy” as a reason to neglect the needs of a 1-year-old….Covid threw into sharp relief ways that our bodies and our bodily health depend on the choices of other people….
    3. The pressing issue when it comes to abortion is whether championing bodily autonomy requires us to override or undo biological realities….Except in the horrible circumstances of rape or incest, which account for 1 percent of abortions, women and men both have bodily agency and choices about whether they will have sex and therefore if they are willing to accept the risk of new life inherent in it.

Our bodies undeniably place a disproportional burden on women in reproduction. There is an inescapable asymmetry in male and female bodies when it comes to making and carrying life. To address the particular difficulty that pregnancy places on women, we need to hold fathers more responsible through child support laws. And we need to create a culture that does not shame women for unintended pregnancies but supports them through pro-women policies like paid parental leave, access to affordable child care, free health care and other measures. Yet, the state, in the end, cannot and ought not entirely rescue us from the known realities of human biology….

This is the heart of the question about abortion: What are our obligations to one another? We have an obligation to unborn children. We have an obligation to seek women’s safety and flourishing. For too long these obligations have been pitted against each other, but they need not be and, to move forward, we must create a world where they never are.

Elaine Godfrey writes:

Nathan Berning is one of many abortion opponents who wants, more than anything, to see a substantial expansion of the social safety net. I talked with a dozen others like him—people who said that advocating for things like universal child care and a higher minimum wage should be the logical next step for the movement. But theirs are minority voices in the broader anti-abortion tent. For decades, most abortion opponents have hitched their wagon to a party that has fought tirelessly against state expansion. That alliance is going to constrain any progress toward improving outcomes for women and families….

“The same energy that inspired many to stand for hours on hot pavements with signs, make numerous calls to their congressmen, march, and selflessly give countless funds must be the same energy implored to now demand early education, food assistance, and childcare relief,” Kori Porter, the CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide—USA, told me in an email, adding that activists should prepare for a rise in need for domestic-abuse centers, foster care, and low-income housing….

Last month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged lawmakers to address child poverty by extending the expanded child tax credit. Dioceses in California, Maryland, and Washington State have started programs to offer pregnant women free baby supplies and health services. In anticipation of Roe being overturned, the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame kicked off a new social-science project to research best practices for addressing poverty that its leaders hope will inform public policy. Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah recently released a new version of his child-tax-credit legislation that a handful of anti-abortion groups have already signed on to, and this week, Senator Marco Rubio released a slate of proposals to support pregnant women and families. A few red states also extended Medicaid coverage to postpartum women….

Abortion opponents who oppose a social safety net may come around to the idea that more social spending is the best way to reduce abortions. Restricting the supply of abortion doesn’t stop the demand for it, as studies have shown. “I would hope after a few years, [when] they realize that these laws didn’t have as much of an effect as they imagined they would, they would see a need for more,” Daniel K. Williams, a history professor at the University of West Georgia, told me. Roe’s downfall, in other words, will probably not be the moment that sends the movement in a new direction. If that moment comes, it will be further down the line.

Brian Fraga and Katie Collins Scott write:

Also through a prepared statement, the Society of Jesus in the United States said it welcomed the court’s ruling, adding that abortion “is a massive injustice in our society, and today’s ruling is a critical step toward the legal protection of all unborn children.”…

The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life also issued a statement praising the Court’s decision, but notably also called for “developing political choices that promote conditions of existence in favor of life without falling into a priori ideological positions.”

“This also means ensuring adequate sexual education, guaranteeing health care accessible to all and preparing legislative measures to protect the family and motherhood, overcoming existing inequalities,” the academy said….

Catholic Charities USA said in a statement it “remains committed to walking in solidarity with all those who come to our doors, whether they are girls or women in crisis pregnancies or families facing challenging social, economic or housing circumstances.”

Democrats for Life, a political advocacy organization that has sought to help elect anti-abortion Democrats to Congress, said they were grateful for the Court’s ruling and hope it will help pro-life Democrats nationally.

Kristen Day, the group’s executive director, told NCR she hoped Democrats “can take a more moderate approach and that both parties can come together and do what they can to support women, particularly low-income and minority women.”…

Gloria Purvis, a longtime Catholic pro-life activist and podcast host for America Media, said: “We have a lot of work ahead of us. This is just the beginning.”

Purvis told NCR she hopes that activists who have pushed for an end to abortion also focus their efforts now on advocating for family-friendly public policies that will support young mothers and women facing crisis pregnancies.

She mentioned paid family leave and stricter enforcement of anti-pregnancy discrimination laws as helpful measures, and suggested that anti-abortion activists can work with those who support abortion rights to lobby for those kind of policies.

Cardinal Blase Cupich writes:

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturns the court’s tragic 1973 decision that removed legal protection for unborn children. We welcome this important ruling and the opportunity it creates for a national conversation on protecting human life in the womb and promoting human dignity at all stages of life. This moment should serve as a turning point in our dialogue about the place an unborn child holds in our nation, about our responsibility to listen to women and support them through pregnancies and after the birth of their children, and about the need to refocus our national priorities to support families, particularly those in need.

The Catholic Church brings to such a conversation the conviction that every human life is sacred, that every person is made in the image and likeness of God and therefore deserving of reverence and protection. That belief is the reason the Catholic Church is the country’s largest provider of social services, many aimed at eliminating the systemic poverty and health care insecurity that trap families in a cycle of hopelessness and limit authentic choice.

We also come to this dialogue as Americans, knowing that the principle that all human beings are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, and that first among these is the right to life.

Anticipating the ruling, Jessica Keating wrote:

Contrary to popular belief, America’s abortion laws are among the most permissive in the world. The United States, as reported in a Washington Post factcheck, is included among the 30% of countries that allow abortion for any reason, and while the vast majority of these countries have gestational limits for elective abortion (usually 12 weeks), the United States is not one of them. Along with China, North Korea, and Canada, the U.S. is 1 of only 7 countries which has no federal ban on gestational limits. The United States Senate repeatedly failed to pass the “Pain Capable Act,” which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks (five months) gestation, more than halfway through pregnancy.

While we know that views on abortion are incredibly complex and vary significantly based on a cross-section of demographic markers, including race, gender, socio-economic status, etc., the majority of Americans do favor restrictions like the those passed in Mississippi. According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 70% of Americans either oppose abortion or favor limits on abortion, particularly during the second and third trimesters. The general approbation for abortion plummets after the first trimester. A reported 65% believe abortion should be restricted in the second trimester, and this number goes up to 81% by the third trimester….

In our time politicians, jurists, and journalists need to euphemize abortion because it is a process far too violent for most people to face, because it requires a brutality that is not easily reconciled with the professed aims of a political party or organization. This is what we have to admit to ourselves if we are going to be thoroughly realist about the consequences of abortion and its legality.