I have heard the steady drumbeat grow louder and faster over the past 3 decades. Roe Roe Roe… By the time I hit adulthood we were being warned. In law school, as I studied Roe v. Wade, 1973, I realized I had already lived through cases that initiated its unraveling: Rust v. Sullivan, 1991 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992. I became a woman and mother as the threat loomed. And now, here we are, it seems, at the final hour for Roe. And I just have to say something about what I think it all means, inchoate though my thoughts may be.
As someone who is always digging in the past, one of the things that most interests me about the anti-abortion movement is where and how it was born into U.S. political history. It wasn’t until the 1970s that abortion was sounded as a moral crisis among Protestants of the Bible Belt. Before that, Catholics were those largely associated with having taken a theological position against abortion, though even that position shifted over the course of time.
For generations, the Catholic Church cited “quickening” as the point when life began, and that was an amorphous term dependent on what the pregnant person felt and reported movement. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that life, in Catholic theology, was inched backwards to the point of conception. When U.S. evangelicals began to organize against abortion, they were coming off an association with a backlash against the Civil Rights movement and were easing their way into hard-lining against feminism (specifically abortion) and the burgeoning gay rights movement with a new theological intensity.