In the two months since the Supreme Court announced its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Orgaization, many have compared the anti-abortion movement to the dog that finally caught the car. Pro-lifers focused for half a century on the elusive goal of overturning Roe v. Wade. After years of organizing, many disappointments, and some Faustian political bargains, that goal has finally been reached. Now the movement faces a mas-sive backlash from Americans who supported Roe and had taken it for granted; it also faces the daunting challenge of devising new abortion restrictions that won’t endanger the health of pregnant women or alienate a majority of their fellow citizens. So-called “abortion abolitionists” have made it clear that they will accept no exceptions to abortion bans, not even to save a woman’s life. And much to the consternation of most pro-lifers, some of these “abolitionists” also advocate criminal prosecution for women who procure abortions. Alarmed by this extremism, voters in Kansas, one of the most conservative states in the country, recently voted down a ballot initiative that would have removed abortion rights from their state’s constitution. Many Democrats are now hoping to ride this wave of alarm and outrage to victory in November’s midterm elections, and polling suggests that it is indeed likely to help them. But they, too, must deal with the perils of policy overreach and rhetorical excess. While polling indicates that most Americans did not want to see Roe overturned, it also shows that a majority supports abortion restrictions that Roe did not permit and that almost all Democratic politicians now reject. Meanwhile, many advocates of “reproductive justice” now routinely decry “forced birth,” implying their opposition to any restriction on abortion at any stage of gestation. In these circumstances, the Catholic Church might seem like the one institution in this country that could credibly claim to combine consistent opposition to abortion with support for policies that would make it easier, and safer, for a woman to welcome and raise an unexpected child. But despite its official statements—and some important charitable activities that embody its commitment to the unborn—the U.S. Catholic Church has squandered much of its credibility on this issue by aligning itself with a political party that cannot plausibly claim to have the best interests of struggling mothers and families at heart. We asked seven Commonweal contributors, from various backgrounds and with various views, to discuss what Dobbs is likely to mean for abortion law, American politics, and the challenge of creating a “culture of life” worthy of the name.
Published in the September 2022 issue: