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.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).

9 Comments

  1. Amen. Thank you Jake for your brief, but winsome perspective here. So much to be grateful for. So much still to lament as we prayerfully labor on, in hope recognizing that a culture of life—to be ‘pro-life’—extends well beyond today’s landmark decision, well beyond but no doubt minimally including this ‘single issue’ to a thousand other considerations/issues plaguing our nation (and the world) that many of us have sadly been slow to appreciate and for which we need God’s abundant forgiveness.

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  2. […] the right: The Land is Bright (Jake Meador, Mere Orthodoxy): “Some desire to downplay this victory or even to lament the manner […]

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  3. […] FAQ explains what happened and what happens now. Al Mohler rejoices. Jake Meador’s The Land Is Bright celebrates a victory while also reminding Christians that the work is not nearly done. Bethel […]

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  4. I don’t see that the Dobbs opinion merits criticism as minimalist. After all, the Court could have affirmed the Mississippi law on the much narrower ground set forth in Chief Justice Roberts’s concurrence. The notion that the Court would conjure up a right to fetal life in the text of the Fourteenth Amendment seems rather preposterous, and suffers from the same kind of malady that made Roe such a bad opinion.

    We have long recognized that there are certain natural rights that are implicit to our constitutional order, even if not explicitly set forth in the text of the Constitution. Such rights lie beyond the reach of majority impulse. Abortion was never such a right. In fact, tight restrictions on the availability of abortion were common in 1973 and nearly universal just a few years before that. Moreover, these restrictions depended on far more than societal biases concerning the proper social roles of women. Roe was a clear instance in which seven (of nine) unelected and unaccountable judges used the power of the Court to promote one legislative policy over another on matters where the Constitution is unquestionably silent.

    It does give me pause that some social conservatives would prefer that these unelected and unaccountable judges arrogate themselves into something of a super-legislature and promulgate socially conservative legislation that has no chance of making it through the legislative process (because 80% of people oppose such laws).

    In that sense, I’d suggest that David French is vindicated once more, and that those, like Vermeule, who favor a kind of theocratic authoritarianism, are disproven as crackpots once more.

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  5. Well said. Thank you. And praise the Lord!

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  6. There is a reason to partially rejoice here. But recent SCOTUS decisions, including this one, are also causing ominous storm clouds to not just appear but to be moving in from the horizon.

    In capitalist economic system, the love of money and the maximization of profits is the enemy of a culture of life. And this SCOTUS decision has knocked off one defense against that enemy: the right to privacy.

    Though the SCOTUS decision accomplished a desired ends, its means, which is the rationale for the decision, is what’s threatening. If there is no Constitutional right to privacy, then government can not only chip away at other rights whose recognition was won by court battles, the government can begin to move at will to become invasive on our personal lives. The recent SCOTUS decision on Miranda rights better protects the police from accountability. And the SCOTUS decision on New York’s law on carrying concealed weapons puts us all at risk.

    When you add the toxic combination of narcissism, authoritarianism, and vindictiveness that are major portions of the charm of what seems to be the leading contender for the Republican nominee for President in 2024, the culture of life could very well be in full retreat in 2025. For what Jake rightfully calls for a society marked by ‘mutual care, attentiveness to the disadvantaged, and a veneration for life of all kinds,’ the burden for that society will be put almost solely on the religious portion of the private sector. For in cutting taxes and regulations of the corporate portion of the private sector, Trump’s mission was clear and is best described by the title of a Noam Chomsky book: Profits Over People. Another way to summarize Trump’s mission is to say that he desired to deeply cut the social responsibilities of those who financially benefited the most from the American economy. So Trump targeted social safety nets, environmental regulations, and regulations protecting workers. In addition, Trump targeted educational programs and groups that taught about the history of racism and discrimination against the LGBT community.

    In addition, what is the culture of life in the social conservative agenda outside of its concern for the unborn? For doesn’t the social conservative agenda concern itself with rolling back freedoms and rights earned by racial minorities, women, and the LGBT community. And how much does the social conservative agenda favor government protection for those groups especially the LGBT community? How much does the social conservative agenda favor government help for the poor? And what is the conservative social agenda for gun control?

    If SCOTUS had overturned Roe v. Wade because it recognized the unborn as being human life, we would have much more reason to rejoice. As it stands now, overturning Roe v. Wade by denying the Constitutional right to privacy has, in addition to giving states freedom to craft their own laws prohibiting abortion, really opened a Pandora’s box of assaults on freedom and life for those who have already been born.

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    1. I would suggest that Dobbs vitiated a right to privacy. Rather, Dobbs vitiated a kind of free-floating right to privacy that was unmoored to any kind of concept implicit within our historical notions of ordered liberty. Without that limitation, the Fourteenth Amendment becomes nothing more than a vehicle by which unelected and unaccountable judges can enact their own policies preferences without reference to the people and their representatives.

      I say that as someone who believes that the analytical framework of Roe reflects a certain degree of pragmatic wisdom. And I suspect that most states will end up with laws that reflect something akin to that wisdom. Even so, I acknowledge the Constitution’s fundamental silence on this question.

      As for the gun case, I don’t see how any other outcome is permissible. The Constitution unequivocally guarantees to the individual the right to keep and bear arms for self-protection. If the right to bear arms for self-protection is to have any meaning, such a right surely extends to that arena where one is most likely to face situations that require self-protection.

      As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a particularly Christian viewpoint on the outcome of either of these cases. The question is whether the text of the Constitution has credence, or does the Constitution merely express wishful sentiments that courts are free to rewrite or ignore at the subjective whims of a judge. In both cases, I see this as a victory for the text of the Constitution. Besides, neither case is likely to have a substantial effect. The few states that will impose severe limits on abortion already have extremely low abortion rates. And the gun case only deals with the six states that continue to maintain oppressive “may issue” regimes for concealed carry.

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  7. I believe it is completely adequate for people to feel a set of mixed emotions with this ruling. I am surely pro-life and lament the destruction of abortion. I believe the overturning of Roe is a good and just thing. However, the sadness that sits alongside my rejoicing in justice stems from the people who are fearful and broken, of the institution of our Supreme Court which has now become a commodity for political initiatives, and for how tenuous and precarious our democracy feels. Yes, I believe the overturning of Roe is a just and good endeavor. I am thankful for it. Unfortunately, it didn’t take place in a cultural/political vacuum.

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