What's Changed Since Roe v. Wade? | Opinion

Even before the Supreme Court heard a single oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, prominent critics protested that the case—which will review the constitutionality of laws that protect unborn children before viability—is unnecessary, because "nothing has changed" in the nearly 50 years since Roe v. Wade.

In one sense, that's true: Roe and its companion cases have settled nothing in the minds and hearts of Americans. By imposing abortion on demand without limits and usurping the democratic process away from the people, the Supreme Court kept the controversy alive. We know the Court takes public opinion into consideration—which is encouraging, since the majority of Americans consistently favor limits on abortion that Roe forbids.

That's where any validity to the argument that "nothing has changed" ends.

In the political realm, the pro-life movement has made tremendous gains since 1973. By moving from defense to offense, exposing the extremes contained in lawmakers' endorsement of the so-called right to choose and holding them accountable to voters, pro-life advocates helped transform the major political parties. While Democratic Party leaders have gone so far as to embrace infanticide, today it's widely taken for granted that Republican candidates will stand for life. Life has become a defining issue for both.

Through the tireless efforts of millions, we elected a pro-life president and a Senate majority that confirmed more than 200 constitutionalist judges to the federal bench, including three Supreme Court justices. We also put fearless champions of life in state houses nationwide who are passing and signing an unprecedented wave of pro-life bills.

abortion protest
Pro-choice and pro-life activists demonstrate in front of the the US Supreme Court during the 47th annual March for Life on January 24, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Olivier Douliery / AFP/Getty

For the moment, pro-abortion extremists control the White House and slim majorities in Congress—but in hearts, minds and legislatures across America, life is winning. In 2021 alone, lawmakers in 48 states have introduced almost 500 pro-life bills, with 89 of them enacted in law. Mississippi's 15-week abortion limit—the law Dobbs v. Jackson will review—passed by overwhelming majorities in the state legislature, a testament to the boldness of pro-life state leaders.

The Court's decision to consider the constitutionality of laws that protect babies before "viability"—a direct challenge to the arbitrary standard imposed by Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed by Planned Parenthood v. Casey—reflects the exact grounds on which the pro-life movement has for years argued its case. States have the right and the duty to protect the most vulnerable human beings, representing the values of the people who live there.

Our laws should reflect modern science. Research, medicine and technology have certainly not stood still since 1973. At the time of Roe, babies were thought to be "viable" at around 28 weeks old. This has since moved back by at least a month and a half. Doctors can treat a growing list of conditions right in the womb—using anesthesia, because we now know unborn children can feel pain by halfway through pregnancy, if not earlier.

Scientific advances time and again affirm that the unborn are nothing less than human. As early as five weeks, unborn babies have a heartbeat, blood vessels are forming and their brains and spinal cords are beginning to develop. By 10 weeks the baby has arms, legs, fingers and toes, can kick and will jump if startled. By 15 weeks, babies in the womb have fully developed hearts—pumping 26 quarts of blood per day—along with fully formed noses, lips, eyelids and eyebrows. They can taste and make facial expressions, yawn, hiccup, swallow and suck their thumbs. Almost their entire body responds to light touch, and painful sensations trigger a hormonal stress response.

Pro-life advocates welcome this landmark opportunity to awaken consciences to the humanity of children in the womb and to educate fellow citizens about the brutal reality of abortion in America under Roe. Our Court-imposed national policy is so radical that only seven nations in the world share it—putting the United States in the company of North Korea and China, countries with abysmal human rights records. Many European countries limit elective abortion even earlier than 15 weeks. When our fellow Americans are informed of these facts, the vast majority are horrified and eager to humanize our laws.

Finally, the pro-life movement has spent decades building crucial social infrastructure to support women and families with love and courage as they prepare to welcome children into the world. More than 2,700 pregnancy centers nationwide offer millions of people every year vital services not found at abortion facilities, including material and educational support and, increasingly, high-quality medical care—typically at little or no charge. To foster even closer collaboration among local heroes and identify service gaps, Susan B. Anthony List launched the Pregnancy and Life Assistance Network.

While a pro-life outcome in Dobbs v. Jackson is not guaranteed, the pro-life movement has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Popular consensus, science and compassion are all on the side of life. Plenty has changed since Roe, and we hope the Court will finally catch up.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.