And not through eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, — how slowly!
But westward — look! the land is bright.
~ A. H. Clough
And so Roe is overthrown.
Some desire to downplay this victory or even to lament the manner of it. We should not. Federal law in America once recognized a right to kill unborn children. Now it does not.
Our feelings should be unambiguous: it is a great good that over half the states in our union are soon likely to have laws granting sweeping protections to the unborn. And we can just say that it is good.
It should also be noted that the legal reasoning of the decision is something like the weighted average of all conservative arguments against Roe. There is nothing here that suggests that the Constitution is pro-life; there is no explicit argument for a right to life established in the 14th Amendment. All that has been said is that the Constitution does not guarantee a certain right.
So in this respect the ruling reflects the more modest conservatism of the French school rather than the maximalism of Adrian Vermeule. Thus, in different ways, both the Trumpist and Frenchist schools of the American right are vindicated by this ruling: The Trumpist’s frank assessment of the importance of actually having and using power is vindicated—and those of us who thought he would fail in his promises are shown to have been sorely mistaken. But the Frenchist modesty that seeks to stick to the letter of the law, place its confidence in an institutionally rooted gradualism, and which seeks to preserve the right working of the American system is likewise vindicated.
Where do we go from here? The ending of Roe is a legal victory. If it is to become more than that, we will have to do the work to make that a reality. Overthrowing Roe is not the totality of what our response to abortion ought to be, nor does it mean that the culture of death has been defeated (or the culture of life established), nor does it mean that our work to promote a culture of life is done. It simply means that one highly significant step in the quest to create a culture of life has been taken. But more must follow.
Even as Roe finally passes away, the work for us does not end. We must care for at-risk mothers and their children and provide safe alternatives to abortion so that women and babies can receive the care they need. We also must work for the creation of a society ubiquitously defined by mutual care, attentiveness to the disadvantaged, and a veneration for life of all kinds. If abortion is now, praise God, to be made illegal in many of our states, the next step is to make it feel unnecessary.
A cultural backlash against the decision is likely. This is the most obvious case since the sexual revolution of our nation using political power to roll back the effects of the sexual revolution. And the champions of that revolution will respond. We must be prepared to meet that response, which requires both the nerve to not compromise an inch on the matter of protecting the unborn while also holding onto hope that some can still be persuaded to join the cause for life. If there is a danger for us now, it is that seven years of focusing so narrowly on the legal question and calling for the use of power to rightly end Roe has atrophied our other necessary muscles which would help us with the works of mercy and reason now called for in our moment.
So even after the end of Roe, we must not weary, we must not rest.
As we labor onward, however, the ending of Roe should provide us with yet more reason for hope. It ought to remind us that history takes surprising turns, and that we should not be surprised when the unexpected and unlooked for actually happens.
If you had told Richard John Neuhaus that some of his lifelong friends would actually live to see the end of Roe, I’m not sure he would have believed you. If you told any pro-lifer during the Obama years that we would see the end of Roe within a decade, I’m not sure they’d have believed you. (I wouldn’t have.) And yet here we are. The end of Roe is a reminder to never give up hope that God can and does work in history to bring about justice. But westward — look, the land is bright.