Reflections on the Overturn of Roe vs. Wade
Joshua D. Reichard, PhD, EdS, CCS
President and CEO, Certified Clinical Sociologist
As President of a faith-based graduate school of social research, I thought it was imperative for me to respond to today’s official Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade. Like past issues, I will frame this discussion in personal terms — and, I recognize I am a male speaking to an issue that does not directly affect me, so I will try to speak with a dose of humility. Those who know me well know that I try to take moderate positions on most issues and look for truth that transcends political extremes.
For years I have argued that the political right, driven by the religious right, would not actually follow through on an overturn of Roe vs. Wade. I have viewed abortion rights as a political “wedge issue” to drive voters, especially religious voters, to the polls for the purposes of advancing other agendas such as favorable tax policies for the wealthy or protecting systems of power and privilege. I did not believe this day would actually come — but clearly, I was wrong. My political cynicism was short-sighted. But, as I understand it, this ruling simply means the states will have more flexibility to establish abortion laws for themselves without the Federal guarantee of Roe.
At the time of writing this article, there has not yet been any notable political violence at the capitol in response to the decision, but just as our board of regents, chancellor, founder, and myself have condemned political violence in the past, we condemn it again should it arise in response to this decision. Even as I’m writing, our Chief Academic Officer, professors, and a group of doctoral students are in Washington, DC at the Library of Congress on a research trip. I will only note that abortion activists tend not to advance their agenda in the name of Christ or by carrying Christian flags. Pro-abortion activists tend not to represent the majority Christian position. Nevertheless, political violence of all forms must be condemned to ensure the stability of a democratic society.
As I expressed in an article back in 2020, I consider myself “pro-life” insofar as I believe a fetus is a human person and not a blob of cells. I do believe 50 years removed from the original decision on Roe vs. Wade, we are in a different place in our scientific understanding of life inside the womb. All theology aside, I am not a materialist and do not believe we can be reduced to matter alone — and I think those who do are utterly inconsistent in their own views. All life, but especially human life, is more than biology. My friend and mentor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Lloyd at the University of Oxford has said, “Sin is Anti-Human” and “Death is Anti-God”. I don’t know that I could express it any better — all death, whether “natural”, by murder, by war, by the death penalty, or by disease, is contrary to the purposes of God. The Resurrection of Jesus represents the triumph of life over death (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). Death never was, and never is, God’s will.
Our experiences with our daughter Maria’s premature birth, at just 27 weeks, made me realize that her little life was viable and surely worth saving. To see the beautiful young lady she has grown into today makes the notion of terminating her life, especially in the dawn of the third trimester, unconscionable to me. I empathize with pro-life people of faith and understand why there are strong feelings about protecting the lives of the unborn. Maria survived outside the womb for nearly two months in an incubator in the NICU. I can’t countenance the idea that terminating a life like hers is somehow something to be celebrated.
With all that said, I am also the father of two daughters and I want them to grow to have autonomy over their own bodies. I do not want men to control their bodies or force them to do things they do not want to do. I want them to make wise choices, develop healthy and God-honoring sexuality, and live productive lives. But, I also recognize that we live in a very broken and sin-stained world where bad things happen like rape and forced pregnancies. Moreover, there are serious complications, such as ectopic pregnancies, where the life of the mother is threatened. Having spent many years working among the poor, I have seen how women are often mistreated at the hands of more powerful men: if not rape, pregnancies are forced upon women who are left to raise children in poverty and the men are largely absent from the picture. In the case of pregnancy, the burden is entirely on the female and her body; a man can abandon both woman and child with little, if any consequence. Of course, these issues tend to affect women of color most. Any reasonable person can acknowledge that an unwanted pregnancy can cause immense suffering to a woman, especially if she lacks social support and personal autonomy. Worse, the thought of suffering women being driven to unsafe “back-alley” abortions should not be discounted. But, what is also often ignored, is the fact that women who have abortions undergo immense emotional and psychological trauma and may suffer PTSD for the rest of their lives. In fact, at OGS, we have a current student and licensed therapist who is researching the effects of “moral injury”, a term used in the context of the kind of PTSD soldiers suffer in war, on women who have abortions.
I acknowledge that the issue is complicated. We do not have the right to murder one another to ensure our own wellbeing or our constitutional right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. We do not have the right to terminate the lives of our children after they are born for the sake of financial stability or career goals. While the child is surely dependent on the womb of the mother, Maria’s case shows us a child is quite viable outside of the womb and outside of a woman’s body even before the third trimester.
Some Sociological and Theological Reflections
As a sociologist with a proclivity for quantitative research, I want to believe the data, which, though a little dated, suggest that only 1.4% of all abortions occur at or after 21 weeks (CDC, 2014). Late term abortions were very rare and, like the number of abortions overall, have been declining since the original decision on Roe in 1973. Most late term abortions are due to a major complication in pregnancy or a threat to the life of the mother. Abortions have bene declining overall in the United States because society is quite different from the 1970s. Women have achieved greater social equity, greater autonomy over their own lives and decisions, and greater access to birth control and safe sex practices. My girls are growing up in a world where women have far more autonomy than they did half a century ago. I know it sounds somewhat misogynistic and old-fashioned, but sociologically speaking, healthy family structures — beyond the 20th century suburban nuclear family — are an may inhibit the need for abortions at all. Multigenerational families, respect for elders and mothers and fathers, but liberated from some of the abusive and unhealthy paternalism of the past, can help reduce the need for abortions as well.
I do think the question of terminating a pregnancy in the first trimester is an open one and things like the “morning after pill” have changed the abortion debate entirely. Ideally, I think I speak for many who would prefer to see childbearing in the context of healthy, committed, monogamous marriage, followed by contraception and safe sex practices, followed by something like the morning after pill — and, if some states still permit abortions (which is highly likely), I pray they are safe and rare and conducted only when there was rape, incest, or the life of the mother is threatened. We have far too many tools at our disposal today to justify late term abortions for the sake of convenience, and the data support that fact. Besides, I want to believe it is a very extreme minority who would support late term abortions for “any reason”.
As a theologian, I unquestionably affirm that all human persons are made in God’s image and of infinite eternal worth. We are more than our biology and I refuse to reduce even a fetus to anything less than the miracle and wonder of every individual human life. I have never been able to understand how taking a human life, inside or outside the womb, could possibly be celebrated in any way — and for the most part, even those who support abortion rights acknowledge that it’s always something to be mourned, not celebrated. Hillary Clinton said that abortions should be “rare and safe” — and that, at least, is a sober position. I do not think the decision to overturn Roe was simply the imposition of religious views of radical justices on the rest of society. There is a very real and fundamental constitutional question at issue: how can a society ensure the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” of both a mother and her unborn child? Even Chief Justice Roberts said in the opinion, “I would take a more measured course.”
This thoughtful video from Phil Vischer (the Holy Post Podcast), a friend of our chancellor Dr. David Anderson and the creator of the hit Christian children’s program “Veggie Tales”, does a good job explaining the issue of Christians and abortion as a political issue. I’m sure he’ll be doing a video update in the near future! Here is also a video response from our Chancellor, Dr. David Anderson.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It seems to me that now the hard work begins. Although I don’t think we will see a huge difference in late term abortion practices, the social landscape will surely change. Since Roe vs. Wade has been overturned, there will be more children born in poverty, more unwed mothers struggling to care for their children, more men with less accountability for the children they father. I’m not sure people of faith are prepared for the tidal wave of social need coming our way. Are we now prepared to care for mothers and children? Are we prepared to adopt more born but unwanted children? We must now be ready to care for the born with as much passion and religious fervor as we have cared for the unborn, especially among the poor. Can we advocate for the expansion of healthcare for women and children? How about access to healthy food, mental health services, and clean, affordable housing? For all the years of political activism on this issue, it’s now time to align our walk with our talk and do all we can to meet the needs of those who need us most: widows and orphans (James 1:27). Now is the time for people of faith to shift from being anti-abortion to being pro-women and pro-children.
I pray that Omega Graduate School can continue to be an instrument for constructive social change. I pray our students can be the researchers who now find solutions to ensure healthy families are fostered, women and children have access to affordable healthcare, housing, and social support, and men are held accountable for the children they procreate and women they leave to raise their children. I pray we can be a voice of reason, hope, and love in the midst of the political rancor — and always continue to use the pen, rather than the sword, to do so.
Joshua D. Reichard, DPhil, PhD, EdS, CCS
President and CEO, Certified Clinical Sociologist
Omega Graduate School
American Centre for Religion/Society Studies (ACRSS)
500 Oxford Drive, Dayton, TN 37321 USA
CDC — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, November 28, accessed 2014, December 23). “Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2011.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63(SS-11). [Online]. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6311a1.htm?s_cid=ss6311a1_w.