". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Explainer: What ‘Limits’ Did Roe v. Wade Really Put on Abortion?

October 27, 2022

As abortion activists see voters rejecting their message, they have conspicuously reframed their views to say they support some restrictions on abortion: the ones allowed under Roe v. Wade. But what pro-life protections did that 1973 Supreme Court opinion actually allow? Is Roe v. Wade a standard most Americans support? And how should Christians view the controversial ruling?

Biden and Democrats Retreat to Roe

In the years before its repeal this June, abortion activists had become increasingly strident in their demand for “abortion on demand without apology.” In the 2022 midterm election cycle, numerous Democratic candidates failed to name a single pro-life protection they would support until the moment of birth.

President Joe Biden tried to set himself apart from a string of faltering Democratic candidates on October 20, telling EWTN’s White House correspondent Owen Jensen he supported the restrictions in “Roe v. Wade. Read it, man, you’ll get educated.” Similarly, Senator Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) attempted to walk back his previous statements on behalf of unrestricted abortion-on-demand, saying, “Under Roe v. Wade, there were protections and there were restrictions … and that’s what I support.” But he still refused to endorse any limitations on abortion whatever.

The reality is Roe v. Wade allowed virtually any abortion, for any reason, if you could find an abortionist willing to take the child’s life. Yet that’s not how the case is presented in the media.

NPR described Roe’s “central framework” (at your expense) this way: “women have a constitutional right to an abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy when a fetus is unable to survive outside the womb.” The reality, as NPR might say, is much more complicated.

When Did Roe v. Wade Actually Allow an Abortion?

The Roe v. Wade opinion said, since the state has an interest in protecting “the potentiality of human life,” legislators may “regulate, and even proscribe, abortion” after viability — except “for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.” (Emphasis added.) Roe did not define “health,” but in its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, the same justices decreed the health of the mother includes “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the wellbeing of the patient.”

The nation had recently gotten a lesson in how the term “health of the mother” could be wrenched out of context. In 1967, the newly elected governor of California, Ronald Reagan, signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act, which allowed abortion for the life or health of the mother. Abortionists immediately cited the mother’s “health” to allow abortions for any reason. As Grove City College historian Paul Kengor noted, “the mental-health provision was abused by patient and [abortionist] alike,” and the statewide number of abortions skyrocketed from 500 to more than 100,000 a year. Reagan’s adviser, Bill Clark, called signing the deceptive act “perhaps Reagan’s greatest disappointment in public life.”

Similarly, the terms of Roe v. Wade led abortions to reach a record high of approximately1.5 million in 1990six times as many as in 1969 — and a total of 63.5 million abortions since 1973.

How Does Roe v. Wade Impact This Year’s Elections, and Beyond?

“This election cycle, the question over which party is more extreme on the issue of abortion has been front and center,” Connor Semelsberger, director of Federal Affairs at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand. Pro-life advocates believe that is a battle that favors them, if Roe is properly understood.

“The law that led to the recent Dobbs decision was a 15-week abortion ban, which would have put Mississippi in line with many countries in Europe and around the rest of the world,” Roger Gannam, vice president of Legal Affairs at Liberty Counsel, told “Washington Watch” recently. Only six nations allow abortions after 20 weeks, including China and North Korea. Most European nations protect unborn children from abortion after the first trimester. “The law that Mississippi passed and that led to the decision really wasn’t radical at all.”

A Harvard/Harris poll found 72% of Americans, including 60% of Democrats, believe unborn children should be protected after 15 weeks. A law protecting life at 15 weeks would be intolerable to Roe and a growing share of Democratic office-seekers. At a forum in May, a reporter asked Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor and Democratic Senate candidate, John Fetterman, “Are there any limits on abortion you would find appropriate?”

“I don’t believe so, no,” Fetterman replied. He has also said abortion is “between a woman, her doctor, and a God if she prays to one.”

A mere 8% of people support abortion during the third trimester, and 6% believe in unrestricted abortion-on-demand until birth, according to a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll. Presumably, fewer would invoke the Lord God Almighty to justify that position.

In Georgia, Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams tied abortion to voters’ concerns of surging inflation, calling abortion an “economic imperative.” While many found the linkage inexplicable, Abrams’ abortion-centric worldview is “just a consequence of 50 years of abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy, which has been the law of the land since Roe v. Wade,” Joy Stockbauer, a policy analyst at Family Research Council’s Center for Human Dignity, told Hice. “Abortion has infiltrated our culture. It has infiltrated the worldview of our leaders. And so, the fact that abortion is now being touted as a necessary component of our economy is just a logical consequence of this line of thinking that the Democratic Party has so wholeheartedly embraced.”

Attempts to retreat behind Roe v. Wade as a commonsense compromise flounder on the facts. Roe v. Wade opened a 50-year culture war paid for by the blood of 63 million innocent children and the mental anguish of untold millions of grieving mothers. Most importantly, it is incompatible with the biblical imperative to protect all innocent life from the moment of conception.

“The bottom line is conservatives [and] Christians really want to protect mothers and babies at all stages,” Gannam concluded.

Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.