On June 24, 2022, the US Supreme Court—by overturning Roe v. Wade—righted a wrong that has had decades of tragic consequences, leading to the loss of millions of lives. Despite the temptation to ease up and take a victory lap, the fight to ensure unborn children have the right to live is, in many ways, still an uphill battle. The following is an interview about the cultural significance of this decision with Dr. Wayne Grudem and Dr. Andrew Walker hosted by Jason Dees during a recent virtual meeting with pastors from across the country. We hope this Q&A is helpful as you determine the best ways for your church to live missionally in this new chapter of the pro-life movement.
Jason Dees: I think the best question to start with is kind of a technical question: How did this happen? How did the Dobbs case overturn the decisions of Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which had been on the books for many years?
Wayne Grudem: A lot of factors came into play. For starters, both Presidents Bush and more recently President Trump appointed justices who hold to a textualist view of the Constitution—the view that the Constitution means what a normal, ordinary reader would attribute to it at the time it was written. In the majority decision, Justice Alito went to great lengths explaining that the Roe and subsequent Casey decisions were wrong in trying to find a right to abortion in the Constitution. It’s a major victory for the pro-life cause, but it’s also, in a broader sense, very significant it has the potential to set a textualist tone for what will be acceptable in the legal world in the United States for decades to come.
Andrew Walker: Effectively what Dobbs did was to chip away at the central holdings of Roe and Casey. The Roe decision created this artificial construct in a “viability test,” suggesting that the state only has a compelling interest in protecting life once life is eligible to be living outside of the womb. Then in Casey, the plurality constructed an “undue burden” test. Justice Scalia, who Justice Alito cited, called that a standard-less standard. Who defines what undue burden means? That’s not for the court to decide. It ought to be defined by legislatures. Alito’s opinion isn’t actually all that shocking or original. It’s really more like an omnibus collection of pro-life arguments over the last five decades put together in one document. But while it’s not an original argument, it effectively dismantled the tests of Roe and Casey. The Supreme Court removed the subjective test of “viability,” and inserted a more objective standard: life itself as something within the legitimate purview of state interest and passing a rational basis review for a law to take effect. The Constitution now gives the presumption of protecting life at all stages, rather than carving it up with arbitrary divisions based on development. Now it will be shot back to the states, with that presumption underlying legislation on the right to protect life.
JD: That’s so helpful, thank you. So my next question is this: What will the continued efforts of pro-life organizations look like now that the laws they propose are not consistently undermined by Roe, and will any pro-life legislation passed under Roe be in peril now that the fight has been pushed back to the state level?
WG: One obvious result is that state level politics will become much more important. Not only in abortion legislation, but in other legislation. The 14th Amendment says, “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” It doesn’t say anything about abortion, but that’s where they found a right to abortion. Now, laws about abortion revert to the states, which means that Christians have a great opportunity to influence the laws in their state. Romans 13:4 says civil authority is God’s servant for your good, and we should seek to have government fulfill that purpose—to do good for its people. As an example, the Center for Arizona Policy is an evangelical Christian group aimed at influencing the politics of the state. Other states have similar organizations, and I think it would be excellent if pastors sought out those pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-religious freedom organizations. Remember that when a state legislator receives a call from a pastor in his district, he’s very likely to take it; he knows the pastor influences a lot of people, and that provides an opportunity for Christians to have influence for good in their individual states.
AW: Kentucky is a good example of how the state battle matters. In 2018, Kentucky passed a trigger ban that basically said after a situation where Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion is effectively outlawed immediately in Kentucky. The Attorney General basically certified that on June 24. Abortions are currently stopped right now in Kentucky. But that doesn’t mean that the fight’s over. Because we have activist organizations like Planned Parenthood filing suit against the trigger ban. Their argument is that even if the federal Constitution grants no right to abortion, Kentucky’s constitution does grant it. And so in Kentucky, a pro-life organization has done the work to have an amendment ready for ratification in November. Kentuckians will vote to explicitly say whether or not they agree that the constitution ought not to codify a right to abortion. Now the obverse of that is a place like California, where there is a ballot initiative to effectively ratify a constitutional amendment to guarantee a right to abortion in their state. So let me just say this—the fight is not over at all. Now we’ll need to fight this at the state Supreme Court level. We have 50 Supreme Courts, so we’ll likely see a hodgepodge of rulings at the state level about abortion. For righteousness to see the light of day, it’s going to require active attention on the part of our local churches. And so pastors will need to bring these types of issues to the attention of their congregants.
JD: My next question is about the psychological effect of the law. Things that are legal tend to be deemed as moral. Do you think that overturning Roe will help to slow down the sexual revolution? WIll this change the way we see human life and its value?
WG: I think we have to agree that laws have a teaching function. Many people reason that something like abortion is legal, therefore it must be morally permissible, as if society, through law, has made it morally permissible. But now with many states enacting restrictions on abortion, the general public—not everybody, but many people—will tend to think differently: it’s illegal, therefore it’s morally objectionable. So that’s positive. The degree to which it’s positive and to what effect it’s a positive consequence, we don’t know. But there’s some definite teaching function that laws have.
AW: I agree with Dr. Grudem. Law inevitably shapes belief, belief shapes behavior, behavior over time shapes custom. Which is why now, in the aftermath of this decision, those who disagree are responding as though they’ve had an aspect of their personhood taken from them. This ruling has demonstrated how deeply etched into the mindset of Americans expressive individualism really is. For many it seems unthinkable that there is moral significance to the use of one’s body, or that public policy would dare to say that there are ways that you ought not to use your body, duties that stem from how you use your body, and consequences to how you use your body.
JD: Thank you for that. OK, let’s pivot back to the church’s response. How do we respond with compassion and humility when people accuse Christians of imposing our beliefs on the world, or creating situations where women will be unsafe or the poor will be oppressed?
WG: If someone says the pro-life movement is Christians trying to implement a religion or impose a theocracy, that’s foolish. All laws are based on a moral conviction. For example most major religions teach that stealing is wrong. That doesn’t mean if you have a law against stealing that you’re imposing a religion on the nation. The same with laws against murder. Our desire to protect an unborn child doesn’t mean that we’re imposing a religious view on them.
And as to accusations of harming women or the poor, we have a great opportunity to give even more support to pro-life organizations—volunteer at pregnancy counseling centers, provide support for women who don’t have the financial means to earn a living and care for a baby. Christians should be giving care and compassion to those who are pregnant and helping them in every way possible. Many organizations already do this, but more could be done. And it is a great time for pastors to commit to doing what they can to support these organizations.
AW: I also think we should dispute the assumption that the church hasn’t already been doing this for five decades. If you go and look at the social science and polling data, it’s church-attending Christians who are most likely to volunteer their time and give money and resources to these ends. I’ve heard some people use the phrase, “well, now the pro-life movement really begins.” I understand the sentiment behind that, but that assumes that 50 years of scholarship, political organization, and pregnancy crisis center work has been playing second fiddle to post-Roe opportunities.
Now, as far as responding to the idea that we are implementing some type of theocracy, the simplest way to dispute that is to point out that abortion laws are homicide laws applied to unborn life. If we agree life is sacred outside the womb, then life is sacred inside the womb. This issue is not about implementing a theocracy, or about Christian domination in the culture, or white Christian nationalism. This is about justice and the common good. It’s about restoring a more expansive understanding of human dignity. We don’t want to draw narrower distinctions and narrower scopes around who earns the concept of dignity and rights. To do so is really dangerous.
JD: So, that brings us to my next question. Some suggestions for public policy that could address the expected influx of children include things like publicly funded daycare or healthcare services. Are there any proposed solutions that you think Christians should be concerned about?
AW: I would say, first and foremost, we’ll have to remember that Christians could have good faith disagreements on all of the entailments of how public policy would address these issues. There’s always trade-offs from public policy. A program like universal daycare sounds nice, on the one hand. I understand it. It also encourages separating children from their parents, so that’s the negative trade-off. We’ll have to consider that. There are real, tangible ways that public policy could address this.
Senator Romney proposed a new tax system that’s intentionally designed to give preference to the family, including monthly subsidies for children in the house. It may not cover every cost of raising a child, but it is a symbolic way to communicate that policy does care about the wellbeing of children. And a Christian could disagree with that proposal. I would caution against the idea that a pro-life response requires full scale adoption of socialism. I think the free market does have a role to play. Public policy has a role to play as well. We would be mistaken to think that policy has no role to play in protecting and furthering a culture of life.
In all these situations you have to determine your political priorities. I call myself a family-first social conservative. For me, protecting the family is my number one priority. Limited government is number two. And then probably fiscal issues are number three. And I still consider myself a fiscal conservative. But I’m willing to allow my views on economics to yield and bend to my prioritization of the family. We need to be clear about the principles guiding our thinking so we can have these discussions What we should focus on is a right motive and a right conclusion: to love our neighbor and see our neighbor protected in law. There are just going to be some determinations and differences on how to do that.
JD: So, what advice would you give to business leaders as they navigate these waters?
WG: Well, I’m not sure I know all the answers to this. I’m sure I don’t know all the answers, Jason. But I think the Christian business owner probably should not give moral approval to something that the Bible doesn’t approve of. I imagine Christian business owners face that challenge regularly, with Pride Month, and now they surely will with abortion.
AW: I think we want to establish some baseline principles. I think Christian business owners need to be attentive in not participating in any direct or indirect cooperation with their employees obtaining abortions. Pastors will be on the front line of this, counseling business leaders in your church that we shouldn’t be facilitating access to abortion. That’s just a basic moral principle. So, for example, there’s some debate about whether or not you would discipline someone in your church who is running a payday loan company, because that preys on the poor. We need to determine if we are business leaders first or a Christians first. Which speaks to the issue of the difficulties Christians will face in corporate life. As local churches, we’ll need to think through ideas like benevolence funds for Christians in corporate workspaces that can’t persist in their jobs. What are you going to do when a member of your church loses their job over a cultural issue that a Christian cannot, in good conscience, go along with? We’re going to have to prepare for more burden sharing. We’ve got to be thinking forward about that.
JD: Well, and that certainly wouldn’t be the first time the church has faced situations like that. Let’s end with your succinct responses to two common slogans you’ll likely hear. First is “my body, my choice.” What’s the Christian response to that?
WG: What about the body of the child within you? Do you have the right to take the life of another?
JD: That’s pretty succinct! You both already touched on this one to some extent, but the next one is “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have an abortion.” Which sort of implies the imposition of your beliefs on someone else. Your response?
AW: I would simply say that a pro-life law is no more of an imposition on anyone than a homicide law
JD: Well, thank you both for your time. It’s been such a helpful conversation. I just really want to thank both of you—and not just for this conversation, but for your larger body of work.
Dr. Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is an Associate Dean in the School of Theology and the Executive Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement at Southern Seminary. He is a Fellow in the Evangelical in Civics Life Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and serves as the Managing Editor of WORLD Opinions.