Last Friday the Supreme Court released its much-anticipated opinion on Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The majority opinion overturned precedents in Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey in a 5-3-1 ruling, returning the question about the right to abortion back to the states.
This opinion marks an enormous victory for the pro-life movement. For decades, countless Americans have fought, tooth-and-nail and on shoestring budgets, to protect the dignity of the unborn and to put a stop to federally sanctioned abortion.
Of course, the Dobbs opinion does not end legal abortion, but it allows Americans to ask that question fifty times rather than once. The majority opinion cites none other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg arguing that Roe did not end, but rather inflamed, “prolonged divisiveness.” Forcing through a one-size-fits-all solution that squashes a live political process does not solve division. It inflames division.
Allowing these disagreements to be hashed out democratically, at the state level, enables Americans to find themselves “locked together in argument” seeking together answers to difficult moral and political questions. As Howard Slugh and Tal Fortang write in Public Discourse, “there will be some tension and heated exchanges during this process. But channeling such debate through civic and political channels will be substantially healthier than the current situation, under which persuasion is futile and only pure power politics matters.”
Not only is there now the ability to be locked together in reasoned argument in pursuit of honest and compelling answers to difficult moral and political questions, but more importantly, these fifty smaller battles bring the argument to a healthier scale than one single argument at the federal level.
In the days and weeks to come some states will enshrine abortion access. Other states will enact strict abortion restrictions. In some states, we are already seeing judges striking down the “trigger laws” that immediately restrict abortion access.
And so it shall be for the time being.
The Dobbs decision will not in short order reduce our political divisions, but there is good hope that by making the question more local, we can achieve healthier attempts at making the arguments. Hearts and minds can be changed at this scale more easily than at the national scale. And that cuts in both directions: both—or rather, all—sides of the debate can more effectively persuade their neighbors in state than all across the country.
As ever, the pro-life movement has a tall task. We will see roughly two types of states emerging: those with strict laws and those with loose laws.
In the former case, pro-life organizations will have to meet a new and growing need. With less abortion access, there will be thousands of mothers facing the same hurdles in their lives that they faced last week—but without the ability to “solve” the hurdle caused by their pregnancy. From adoption services to career counseling to providing material support (food, formula, clothes, and cribs), there is a vastly expanded need in these states.
Fortunately, pro-life organizations have worked to provide these services for many years. The task before them now is two-fold: first scaling up those services to meet the increased demand; and second, communicating to their donors the shifting priorities in order to retain and upgrade their giving in this new era.
In the latter case—where abortion will continue to run rampant—the priority remains the same as it was last week: first to reach women seeking abortions, then to help them consider other options, and then to meet their needs, as possible, to make parenthood less overwhelming. Needless to say, access may expand and demand may increase, but the problem remains the same: identify, reach, and support women in need of care.
There thus appear to be two primary tasks before those leading pro-life nonprofits.
First of all, do not let this moment pass by. There is great energy and excitement, and fundraisers should be using this opportunity to motivate their donors to step up right now, to make a new gift for this “new beginning.” On the pro-abortion side there will doubtless be an enormous influx of “rage giving.” It is imperative that pro-life groups inspire an equal and opposite reaction on the other side—call it “enthusiasm giving.” It is time to pop corks and intone the Te Deum. It is also time to engage donors and solicit their support.
Second of all, pro-life groups need to be able to communicate this new beginning to their donors. What does this next stage look like? How is your work changing? Why does this work still matter? So much pro-life fundraising has focused (rightly) on the scourge of Roe. Well, its ill effects may still be with us, but the law is not. What is next, and why should your donors stay involved?
Or, better yet, why should your donors now increase their support in the wake of Dobbs? Too often donors have been hesitant with the pro-life movement, doubtful of their skills or savvy. Now is the time to communicate and celebrate this win to justify to donors their continued and increased investment in your work.
Depending on where nonprofits are located and the specifics of their mission, their work is very likely changing in some way. In a few cases, to be sure, little will change. Whatever the situation, Dobbs needs to be celebrated as a victory reining in a new era, and donors need to be quickly, clearly, and compellingly told where they fit into that new era.
Unfortunately, the pro-life movement has been too much on its heels. Cash-strapped, fighting an uphill battle, under attack from every side—groups and individuals have seldom had the time to plan for what’s next. This watershed moment is no different, and while it is incumbent upon nonprofit leaders to step up right now and chart out a course for a post-Roe world, this is not the time for pro-life donors to hold their cards close to their chest and wait for the chips to fall.
Several voices have counseled revisiting Lincoln’s Second Inaugural in the wake of Dobbs. Another tumultuous time in the country, Lincoln reminded us to have “malice toward none, and charity toward all.”
There is much to be hopeful about right now in fighting to protect the dignity of mothers and children, but the road ahead will be rocky. Fifty smaller battles means that these arguments take place at a more human scale, but it also means that we will be bombarded with fifty fraught conflicts spread across the country.
And, while being locked together in argument is essential for civil society, it is also the case that we have lost the habits and skills of arguing fruitfully. There will be much noise and division as we navigate the next steps out of Dobbs, but many of us doubted we would see the end of Roe. If that can happen, then maybe we can see the end of our hysterical arguments and again foster the skills of reasoned debate in pursuit of ordered liberty.
With charity for our neighbors and great deal of hope, we might see not only human dignity protected, but the pitch and fury of our debates brought down.