They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. (Romans 1:29-31)
New York’s Reproductive Health Act (RHA), signed into law on the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, drew thunderous applause in the senate chambers. Most Americans, even those who identify as “pro-choice,” were appalled at these celebrations. The idea that late-term abortion and even infanticide could be cheered awakened the conscience of the nation. Still, many people were left unsure and in disbelief at what this law actually does and doesn’t do and how, in turn, the pro-life movement should respond.
The RHA moved abortion from the criminal code to the health code, securing Doe v. Bolton’s broadly defined “life and health of the mother” rule (i.e., abortion-on-demand throughout pregnancy) into practice. This seismic shift now expands who can perform abortions, eliminates protections for babies born alive after failed ones, and repeals the state’s fetal homicide law, meaning those who murder pregnant women will no longer be charged with a crime against the child. Now, similar measures are underway in Virginia, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Arizona, and New Mexico.
What in the world is happening?
What we are witnessing right now is a glimpse of a post-Roe future where protections for pre-born children—where the value of human life—will have extreme variation from state to state. Of course, once Roe is gone, we can expect blue states to follow in New York’s footsteps and red states to head in the other direction. However, abortion advocates are beginning to use blue courts in red states, like Iowa and Kansas, to embed abortion into state constitutions. It’s a strategy they’re publicly and actively promoting. How is the pro-life movement responding? To answer this question, we need to consider a bit of history.
At the federal level over the past 46 years, legal experts and legislators have proposed several ways to end legal abortion altogether or restrict it in various ways. These efforts have included human life amendments to the US Constitution, life at conception laws, bans on specific procedures, pain-capable restrictions, a heartbeat bill, and protections for newborns who survive abortions. Despite incredible feats over the last five decades, there are only two federal laws currently in place: The Born Alive Infant Protection Act of 2002 and the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. As written, neither of these laws has been effective. This is why Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has repeatedly pushed for a roll call vote on a new law—the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.
Strategies among the states have been just as varied, but all restrictions put in place at this level are subject to the US Supreme Court’s “undue burden” test, first established by Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 and made much more abortion-friendly by Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016. This test has been used repeatedly to strike down any law that attempts to regulate or restrict abortion.
But what of this new era we’ve now entered, in which we’re actually debating the “moral good” of abortion-on-demand and even infanticide? With the abortion industry and its political allies pulling out all the stops, will these same efforts be enough? More and more states are answering no.
A new tide is rising
Several states are now pursuing personhood strategies that harken back to the pro-life movement’s unified efforts immediately after the Roe decision. Similar to the incremental approaches the movement has engaged in since then, personhood strategies don’t all focus on a specific legislative action. They do, however, stand firm on a single biblical principle: Humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and therefore, have an intrinsic value and an inalienable right to life that must be protected, in all stages and in all circumstances. Here are some of the ways states are working to implement this principle in practical ways:
- Removing the exemptions for abortionists in fetal homicide laws and thus, extending the definition of ‘person’ to include pre-born children who are targeted for abortion
- Using frozen embryo battles in divorce proceedings to prompt the courts to define embryonic human beings as persons, not marital property
- Criminalizing abortion by moving it from a quasi-regulated industry under the health code to an illegal act under the criminal code (the opposite of what New York’s RHA did)
- Passing a Personhood Act that clearly establishes the right to life for all born and pre-born human beings
- Putting a constitutional Personhood Amendment on the ballot or a resolution that further clarifies the constitution’s definition of ‘person with rights’
All of the pro-life organizations behind these efforts are faith-based. Many are newly forming out of a spirit of repentance and revival that’s beginning to sweep across the country, resulting from years of prayer and jolted forward by the current push for abortion-on-demand. Though this certainly isn’t the first time Christians have engaged in politics on a massive scale, it could be an early signal of a shift in the Church to return to biblical principles in the fight to end abortion.
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)
The next post in The Way Forward series will examine the biblical mandate to protect and defend human life and what that mandate might look like in our work to make abortion both illegal and unthinkable.