On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court issued an historic decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization case which has altered the whole approach to abortion in the United States. By a 5 to 4 majority, the Court overturned the 1973 Roe ruling that the Constitution grants the right to abortion, and by a 6 to 3 margin upheld the right of individual states to make laws regulating abortion. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito defended overturning such a long established law on the grounds that the Roe constitutional argument is so “egregiously wrong” and is not “deeply rooted in the nations’ history and tradition.”
Let us consider some positive responses to the Dobbs decision. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which for almost 50 years made overturning Roe their major public policy objective, lauded the decision as “historic in the life of our country,” overturning an unjust law which “legalized and normalized” the taking of innocent human lives and resulted in the “deaths of millions of preborn children.” The statement praised the countless ordinary Americans who supported the pro-life cause, one of the “great movements for social change and civil rights in our nation’s history.” The USCCB statement concluded with a call for “reasoned reflection and civil dialogue” to heal our wounds and create a more just society, where “every pregnant woman has the needed resources to bring her child into the world in love.”
Looking ahead to the post-Dobbs era, twenty pro-life scholars, including papal biographer George Weigel and Princeton professor of jurisprudence Robert George, published a statement “Protecting the Unborn” which offers guidance for the ongoing discussion of state laws on abortion. A just pro-life society would meet the “myriad needs of pregnant women,” while legally protecting unborn children at every stage of development. Since our political realities make full protection of the unborn impossible, it is morally justified to support the best law possible. The scholars recall the traditional axiom: “The perfect should not be the enemy of the good.”
It can be morally appropriate to support laws that ban some or most elective abortions even though they permit abortion in the case of “rape or incest or fetal abnormality, or at some early stages of pregnancy.” The scholars justify this practice with the reminder that “Law making is the art of the possible.”
David Cloutier, who teaches theology at Catholic University, welcomed the Dobbs decision which transfers the responsibility for solving our abortion disputes from the courts to state legislatures where the democratic process can lead to effective solutions. He recognizes that “moral zealotry” can sabotage this process, but he still hopes that states will make bipartisan attempts to find solutions that serve the common good. Furthermore, he believes states can serve as valuable social laboratories for forging an “alternative social framework,” which meets the needs of pregnant girls and women. Cloutier closes by insisting that Dobbs is truly “historic” because it opens up the crucial discussion of “who we are as a nation and what our fundamental moral principles are.”
What do I make of these affirmative responses to the Dobbs decision?