The landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision from 1973 was overturned in June. For many, this was an answer to decades of prayer. For some, this was a repeal of freedom. For Christians, this should be a call to action. Proper response, though, demands proper understanding of what happened.
Prior to 1973, abortion was a felony in most states, except in a few that had relaxed abortion restrictions in the years shortly preceding the ruling. “Jane Roe”—a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey—challenged Texas state law on abortion. To expedite the case’s hearing in the Supreme Court, McCorvey lied about having been raped. (She later recanted.) McCorvey didn’t actually have an abortion, but the case resulted in the striking down of all state laws that had previously made abortion illegal.
A companion case that challenged Georgia state law—Doe v. Bolton—was upheld that same year by the same seven U.S. Supreme Court justices; it broadened the definition of women’s health to make abortion on demand legal through all nine months of pregnancy. Like McCorvey, “Mary Doe” (Sandra Cano) later said she had been lied to and pressured by her attorney and abortion advocates. She didn’t have an abortion either.
Though the cases were built on deception and coercion of vulnerable women, they transformed our culture. The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research and policy organization, reported 744,000 abortions in the United States in 1973, the year of the Roe decision; the number of abortions rose sharply from there, peaking in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Guttmacher reported 1.6 million abortions in 1991; after that year, abortions saw a fairly steady decline. In 2020, an estimated 930,160 abortions occurred.
For perspective, if the U.S. observed one minute of silence for each of the 64 million babies who have been legally aborted in this nation, the silence would last more than 100 years. Aside from the hole in the population (equal almost to the combined populations of Texas and California), Roe has sharply split our nation on questions of personhood, women’s rights, social issues, and health and safety for nearly 50 years. With the nation divided and the decision reversed, where do we go from here?