The leaked Supreme Court draft striking down Roe v. Wade, if it stands, would represent the biggest victory in the pro-life movement’s half-century history, but activists are taking a wait-and-see approach instead of a victory lap.
The response from major pro-life groups was muted but hopeful as leaders sought to keep expectations in check after a bombshell report Monday and wait for the final opinion in the Mississippi abortion case, which is expected as early as next month.
The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, centers on the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 2018 abortion law barring most procedures after 15 weeks of gestation.
“It is critical to note that there is no decision on the matter of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” the Right to Life League said in a statement. “Currently, Roe and [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey remain the law of the land.”
Just because pro-lifers aren’t popping champagne corks — at least not in public — doesn’t mean that the draft penned by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. overturning the 1973 Roe decision is anything less than momentous.
“It’s the most important thing that’s happened since 1973, no question,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, who served for three decades as legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.
“It opens the possibility for very widespread protections of the unborn,” he told The Washington Times. “It’s going to require the democratic process to revive itself. There was democratic debate over abortion from 1967 to 1973, and the court basically ended that. It ended the process of deliberation.”
Indeed, much of the pro-life movement sprang up in reaction to Roe. One exception: National Right to Life, which launched in 1968 to counter states seeking to liberalize abortion laws and picked up the anti-Roe mantle after the decision was handed down.
Even so, there was no public celebration at National Right to Life, which issued a statement echoing the response of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch: “We will let the Supreme Court speak for itself and wait for the court’s official opinion.”
March for Life was also subdued, saying it was “commonly known that Roe was erroneously decided” and that the Supreme Court “has a duty to correct this wrong and we await their official decision.”
The caution came in stark contrast with the outrage by pro-choice advocates, who gathered by the hundreds outside the Supreme Court as soon as the leaked draft was published Monday night by Politico, followed by nationwide courthouse rallies, protests and press conferences.
“I am angry because an extremist United States Supreme Court thinks that they impose their extremist views on all of the women in this country, and they are wrong,” a furious Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, said in a speech to demonstrators outside the Supreme Court.
In Los Angeles, pro-choice demonstrators blocked an intersection Tuesday night and threw rocks and bottles at officers, injuring at least one. The police department reacted by declaring a citywide tactical alert.
Pro-abortion protestors start to get violent with police & DHS in downtown LA
This is just the beginning unfortunately
— Kangmin Lee ✞ (@thekangminlee) May 4, 2022
Meanwhile, pro-life advocates reminded their supporters that the leaked document isn’t the final word. They noted that the majority opinion could undergo significant changes as drafts make the rounds and justices weigh in with edits.
“Justices can change their votes after draft opinions have been circulated,” Live Action said in a statement.
Pro-lifers were also chagrined by the unauthorized leak, believed to be the first time a majority draft opinion has been disclosed ahead of its release.
“On one hand I’m deeply saddened by the leak, and how toxic and damaging such an action is to our judiciary,” tweeted March for Life President Jeanne Mancini. “And then on the other hand, as I’m reading through the opinion, I’m blown away by the breadth, clarity and truth. Wow.”
Even if Roe is struck down, pro-life advocates say, their work is far from over. Without Roe, the abortion battle reverts to the state legislatures, where the landscape ranges from an almost outright ban in Alabama to states like Colorado with virtually no limits.
“If Roe is indeed overturned, our job will be to build consensus for the strongest protections possible for unborn children and women in every legislature,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.
As Students for Life put it, “we also remember that reversing Roe v. Wade is merely a checkbox on the pro-life movement’s to-do list (granted, it’s a big one)! When it is reversed, 50 individual state battles over abortion will commence. You can bet we’ll be there, too.”
Blue states have anticipated the ruling by seeking to “codify Roe” into law or their state constitutions. In Vermont, voters will decide in November on Proposition 5, a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting government limits on abortion.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said he will support a newly proposed state constitutional amendment protecting abortion. He called the draft court opinion an “appalling attack on the rights of women across this country.”
Lila Rose, president of the pro-life group Live Action, characterized the leaked opinion as not an end but a beginning. She said her group is “just getting started in our defense of human life.”
“We must be in every statehouse, the halls of Congress, and we will even be back to the Supreme Court to advocate for our preborn brothers and sisters,” she said.
One group that did show up at the Supreme Court this week was Students for Life Action. The band of the young pro-life activists, who held up a “Protecting Life in Law” banner and led a prayer, was confronted by a pro-choice protester, as shown on a video posted on Facebook.
“Today marked the most poignant moment, not only for the members of the Pro-Life Generation, but for everyone who has been a part of the pro-life movement since 1973,” Students for Life said in a statement. “NEVER have we been so close to dismantling the most egregious wrong our nation’s highest court has ever handed down.”
Asked what he was doing in response to the leaked opinion, Radiance Foundation co-founder Ryan Bomberger said: “Praying.”
He said he was concerned about the “meltdown” on social media, with “more and more on the pro-abortion side becoming unhinged.”
“I see chaos and confusion, but in the end, at the Radiance Foundation, we’re going to continue to love people and to speak the truth,” said Mr. Bomberger. “We actually do believe in the rule of law. What that leaked document shows is that [the justices] want to return this issue to the states. Well, isn’t that what democracy is? Letting the people decide?”
Before Roe, there was “a back-and-forth, with victories on both sides” of the abortion debate in the states, Mr. Donovan said.
“We’re in a situation where we have to go back and be citizens and participants in a democracy again,” he said. “Let’s hope we haven’t lost the habit.”