Hope has been an essential part of the March for Life since the first march in 1974, but rarely has that hope seemed so palpable or concrete as it does now. That’s because this year, the Supreme Court will issue a ruling in the landmark abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which could right a historic injustice and transform the way we protect life in America.
The case involves a 2018 Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court is set to determine whether that 15-week limit or any pre-viability limits on abortion are constitutional – a decision with profound ramifications for the lives of all Americans, particularly those yet to be born.
The justices will determine another matter of crucial importance to the future of our constitutional democracy: Is abortion policy best decided in a courtroom by a panel of unelected judges (such as the all-male Supreme Court that usurped the people’s voice in Roe v. Wade) or by elected officials in state legislatures and Congress, who are accountable to their constituents?
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If Mississippi’s law survives its Supreme Court test, authority to determine abortion policy would return to the states. The tragedy of abortion would not disappear overnight. Rather, the battle for life would shift to state legislatures, where the resulting laws will finally mirror the wishes of the people – an opportunity for pro-life leaders to build consensus. “It will be messy and it will be hard, and may play out differently from state to state,” tweeted Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch. “But that is the role the Constitution gave to the people, and the court needs to return to us now.”
We live in a very different world from that of the Roe Court nearly half a century ago. Dramatic advances in medicine and technology have opened new frontiers in our understanding of how human beings develop before birth.
Technology has come a long way since the days when grainy black-and-white dots on a machine provided only a basic shadowy image of an unborn baby. By week 15 today, we can see an unborn child’s fully formed nose, lips, eyes and eyebrows. We can often tell whether the child will be left-handed or right-handed based on which thumb he or she prefers to suck. Science tells us that by 15 weeks, every major organ has developed and most are functional. More critically, we know now that by the 15th week, the unborn child’s brain can process pain. Armed with insights like these, basic compassion demands that we protect children in the womb.
Americans agree that our policies should reflect these realities. In an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released last June, 65% of Americans said abortion should usually be illegal in the second trimester, with 80% saying it should be illegal in the third trimester.
Nevertheless, the United States lags behind Europe in recognizing the march of scientific progress.
There Mississippi’s law is the norm rather than the exception, with 47 out of 50 European countries placing limits on elective abortions at 15 weeks or earlier – eight don’t allow elective abortion at all. During oral arguments for Dobbs in December, Chief Justice Roberts noted the shocking fact that America’s unlimited abortion-on-demand policy has more in common with China and North Korea than what we think of as progressive Europe.
Rather than having a sound foundation in the Constitution, Roe relied on flawed and now outdated science that contended an unborn child could not be viable outside the womb prior to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Advances in medical care allow premature babies born at just week 22, and sometimes earlier, to survive and thrive. Groundbreaking fetal surgeries have made it possible to treat conditions like spina bifida or twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome right in the womb and save babies before they are even born – making it impossible to ignore that there are at least two patients in every pregnancy.
This is a culminating moment for the pro-life moment, and life is winning. The Dobbs case shows that our decades of work, sacrifice and prayers are making a difference, that we were right not to give up, and that the dismantling of Roe is a real possibility – all reasons for optimism. At this year’s March for Life on Jan. 21, our faces will reflect the hope that our representative legislatures will soon allow “We the People” to speak on behalf of the unborn.
LifeNews Note: Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.