What the Supreme Court decision on Roe v Wade means for the West and the Church

Wikimedia Commons/James McNellis

In a momentous judgment, the Supreme Court of the United States has overturned its 1973 Roe v Wade decision that abortion was a constitutional right in the US.

The reaction, as expected, has been fierce and indeed even violent – including attacks on centres seeking to provide support to pregnant women.

There are those who genuinely believe that we are headed back to the Dark Ages (although they would struggle to tell us what those ages were and why they were dark!). Others think that The Handmaid's Tale has now come true.

Some politicians from both inside and outside the US have been quick to express their horror. But their comments reveal the inconsistency, illogicality and inhumanity of their confused views.

Boris Johnson, for example, told a conference in Kigali, "I think it's a big step backwards. I've always believed in a woman's right to choose, and I stick to that view and that is why the UK has the laws that it does."

Apart from implying that his hosts are backwards (Rwanda has far stricter policies than the US), the Prime Minister seems to be unaware of the law in his own country. Abortion is technically illegal in the UK apart for the exceptions provided in the 1967 Abortion Act which state that there must be the danger of grave permanent injury, risk to life, or serious handicap.

Legally a woman cannot just choose to get rid of her child without two doctors agreeing that at least one of these grounds has been met. If the UK law was honestly carried out, there would be far fewer abortions in the UK.

Kamala Harris said, "Let me be clear: each person has the right to make decisions about their own life—decisions such as the right to start a family, use contraception, and marry the person you love."

The Vice President seems unaware that you cannot just marry the person you love in the US – there are still limitations. And no one is preventing someone from starting a family or using contraception - unless she thinks that abortion is a form of contraception.

Michelle Obama said, "I am heartbroken for people around this country who just lost the fundamental right to make decisions about their own bodies."

This is a quote which illustrates the confusion and the unscientific illogicality of the abortion case. If only one body was involved, then there might be a case. But there are at least two others – the body of the father (who we would expect to support, provide and care for his own offspring), and most importantly the body of the baby – which she thinks can be dismembered and killed as a human right!

Joe Biden said, "This landmark case protected a woman's right to choose, her right to make intensely personal decisions with her doctor, free from the interference of politics. It reaffirmed basic principles of equality — that women have the power to control their own destiny. And it reinforced the fundamental right of privacy — the right of each of us to choose how to live our lives."

President Biden hits on the heart of the Supreme Court decision. Abortion is not in the US Constitution so on what basis did the 1973 Supreme Court rule it was a constitutional right? On the basis of the right to privacy.

To say the least, that was a somewhat bizarre ruling. If someone wishes to abuse their child in private or have a slave, does the right to privacy mean that they have the right to do so?! Most constitutional lawyers recognise that Roe v Wade was bad constitutional law even if they supported abortion.

Justice Samuel Alito, who penned this Supreme Court's majority ruling, said that the 1973 decision was "egregiously wrong," that the arguments were "exceptionally weak", and that it amounted to "an abuse of judicial authority."

Julia Hartley-Brewer (UK commentator) said, "America has just turned the clock back by decades for women's rights. Terrifying."

What turned the clock back centuries was the so called 'right' to kill your own baby - a practice common in the Greco/Roman/Pagan world. It is sad to see intelligent commentators so blinded by ideology and the zeitgeist of the times that they cannot see what they are proposing. They are not advocating for progression but rather regression.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister, said, "One of the darkest days for women's rights in my lifetime. Obviously, the immediate consequences will be suffered by women in the US - but this will embolden anti-abortion & anti-women forces in other countries too. Solidarity doesn't feel enough right now - but it is necessary."

Nicola Sturgeon recently refused to answer the question 'what is a woman?' so it seems somewhat difficult for her to defend the rights of what she does not know! She also believes that men can get pregnant (the Scottish government has in some instances removed references to mothers and speaks of pregnant people, rather than women), and presumably have abortions too – so why is this about women's rights? Keir Starmer, another politician who cannot tell us what a woman is, tweeted in a similar vein.

Interestingly the SNP, who oppose the UK government making laws in the devolved government's areas, have largely supported the UK government imposing abortion on Northern Ireland. Last week, MPs formally approved moves to allow the UK government to directly commission abortion services in Northern Ireland.

Emmanuel Macron said, "Abortion is a fundamental right for all women. It must be protected. I wish to express my solidarity with the women whose liberties are being undermined by the Supreme Court of the United States."

President Macron is complaining about an abortion law which is less strict than France's. The Supreme Court voted by a majority of 6-3 to uphold the Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. France has just voted to increase the abortion limit from 12 to 14 weeks – with Macron expressing his doubts about doing so!

Of course, it is not just politicians but also celebrities like Taylor Swift and journalists – some of whom seem to have lost all sense of being journalists rather that purveyors of political propaganda. The issue is much more complex than the somewhat simplistic take you will hear on the BBC, ABC or CNN.

The big corporations are also weighing in. Mastercard, Disney, Netflix, JP Morgan, Amazon, Citi, PayPal, Bank of America, Meta, Tesla and Microsoft have all said that they will pay for their employees to travel to get abortions elsewhere if they live in states where abortion is banned.

They may be for 'choice' but it is also financially advantageous for them that they don't have to pay maternity pay and lose their female employees for several months.

What should also be noted, amidst all the hysteria, is that the US Supreme Court has not banned abortion – it has just ruled that it is not a constitutional right, and that it is up to individual states to determine their own abortion policy.

I find it somewhat ironic that there are those in Australia – my current base - who are condemning this 'backward' American policy when it is precisely the policy that exists in Australia, a country where each of the states determines their own abortion policy.

But what about the Church?

In the US the Episcopal Public Policy Network immediately sent an e-mail action alert urging Episcopalians to advocate for Congressional action "to provide a right to abortion care in federal statute". Unbelievably, a number of their clergy offered a liturgical Service of Healing and Lament to mourn the overturning of Roe v Wade.

In the UK, the Establishment Churches such as the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, who are not usually slow to comment on political/moral issues such as Brexit, climate change, refugees and Ukraine, have been remarkably silent on this vital moral issue. Why?

While that are faithful Christians in these denominations, and others, seeking to work for the protection of the most vulnerable in society, it is the Catholic Church, working together with evangelicals in the US, who are largely responsible for bringing about this change. Catholic social philosophy and theology of life has been incredibly influential. There are six Catholics on the Supreme Court (together with two Protestants and one Jew).

Of course, in this confused world, that is enough to unleash a tidal wave of anti-Christian hatred and prejudice. But the fact remains that it is not the progressive position but rather the Christian position which is coherent, rational, scientific, moral and humane – seeking to balance the rights of the woman and the child.

Those of us who rejoice at this amazing decision know that this is only the beginning. We have to provide support, help and care for those who find themselves in the desperate situation of wanting abortions.

We have to provide support and the Gospel of forgiveness for those who have had abortions. And we must seek to care for children born in difficult circumstances.

The early Church did not just reject the prevailing abortion and infanticide – they also provided and cared for the unwanted children. If we are serious about being pro-life, we must do likewise.

David Robertson runs The ASK Project in Sydney, Australia. He blogs at the Wee Flea.