The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, January 24, 2022

It’s Monday, January 24, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

America Marks the 49th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade: Will it Be the Last? A Look at the March for Life and its Opposition

Saturday, January 22nd, 2022, was the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. We’re going to have to take a closer look at this anniversary and what it means, but we also need to recognize that on Saturday, the annual March for Life was held in Washington, D.C.

Let’s go back to 1973. By that time, everyone knew, at least everyone watching the Court and everyone involved in the abortion issue, knew that the Supreme Court was about to hand down a huge precedent. That’s because the Supreme Court doesn’t have to take cases like Roe v. Wade, and taking the case was an indication that at least a significant number of jurists wanted to move in the direction of legalizing abortion. More specifically, at least several of the Justices, we knew by then, had already agreed to take this case, which challenged the constitutionality of certain State statutes criminalizing, outlawing, or restricting abortion. By the time the case was handed down, the Supreme Court had actually heard not only one set of oral arguments, but two, because the transition on the court itself.

America was waiting to see how the Supreme Court would rule. And on January the 23rd, 1973, it did rule, and it ruled in a way that basically put the Court in the position of deciding that it would legislate the morality of the United States on the issue of abortion, claiming a flimsy constitutional argument and striking down laws in the States that would have restricted or outlawed abortion. Roe V. Wade really was a sweeping decision, and in that comprehensive nature, it caught many Americans on both sides of the issue by surprise.

Everyone knew it was going to be a big decision, but when the decision was actually handed down, there was an almost immediate understanding that this was yet another of the progressivist decisions handed by the court that really had very little of anything to do with the United States Constitution and everything to do with the giant revolution in morality and sexuality that was reshaping the entire American landscape.

This really wasn’t the court deciding that it was going to take up a major constitutional issue. This was the court responding to political pressure. And at least the majority of the justices, remember this was a seven-two decision legalizing abortion, at least at that time, a majority of the justices felt that it was the court’s right to basically establish, to legislate law, concerning abortion nationwide, striking down any kind of criminalization or limitation on abortion that had been put in place by the democratic process in the states.

A pair of associated press reports on the March for Life indicated a spirit of hopefulness on the part of so many of those, by the thousands, who were marching for the cause of life in Washington, D.C. That march took place mostly on events on Friday and Saturday. As one set of the reporters tells us, “Thousands of anti-abortion protestors were in a celebratory mood Friday, as they rallied in the nation’s capital and marched to the Supreme Court with a growing sense of optimism that their goal was finally in reach, a sweeping rollback of abortion rights.”

One of the persons who was involved in the March for Life said, “It doesn’t feel real. There’s so much hope and vibrancy and happiness and joy at this thing.” He said, “I really do believe we’re in a post-Roe generation.” Well, we are not there yet. And it remains to be seen exactly how the Supreme Court will rule. But once again, the fact that this court has taken this case at this time and the course of the oral arguments and the questions posed to attorneys by those conservative justices on the court, would indicate that there is good ground for hopefulness that Roe v. Wade might at last be reversed.

Now, remember, that would return the abortion question to the States, that would not outlaw abortion coast to coast. But according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that is basically pro-abortion, about 26 States already have statutes on the book, so-called trigger laws that would go into effect the instant the Roe V. Wade decision is struck down.

By the time the various events were over this past week and both sides in the increasingly acrimonious abortion debate in the United States had made their points, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat of New Hampshire, said at a pro-choice, a pro-abortion event, “The stakes are higher than ever with the health and autonomy of women and families across the country hanging in the balance, as Republicans work methodically to challenge and overturn Roe.” She went on to say, “It’s time to sound the alarm and make clear decisions about our bodies, our healthcare, and our future belong to us.”

Notice the logic here, these kinds of statements, albeit short, really are incredibly revealing. In this case, this Democratic Senator from New Hampshire spoke about autonomy, the autonomy of women. We’re going to see that theme coming up again, and again, and again. One of the things we talk about on The Briefing is that one of the hallmarks, one of the most dangerous hallmarks of the modern age, is this idolization of the idea of personal autonomy.

Now, again and again on The Briefing, we have to look at this modern idol of personal autonomy and recognize just how flimsy it is, just even at face value. We didn’t decide to be born, we didn’t decide when to be born, to whom to be born. Most of the biggest issues that define our life aren’t even relevant to the category of autonomy. On the other hand, there’s something that’s going on there, and that something has simply been exploited by the modern age at an idolatrous level. There is a sense in which we want to claim protection from the state, autonomy from the larger society, in at least some issues, but that autonomy is completely distorted because of the absolute lack of intellectual accountability when it comes to defining autonomy in the secular worldview.

The secular worldview has no divine constraint on autonomy. Therefore, the claim of personal autonomy looms as a gigantic idol on the landscape of the age. Speaking about what she would characterize as the lamentable threat of a reversal of Roe V. Wade, NARAL Pro-Choice America Vice President of Communications and Outreach, Christian Ford, told the associated press, “This could be a really, really dramatic year in terms of people’s ability to access abortion care and to decide if, when, and how they become a parent.” She went on to say, “At this time next year, we could be looking at a scenario in which more than half the country has lost access to abortion. It will have consequences for everyone.”

Now, sometimes you look at a statement like that and you just need to get a bit of distance, look at it again, and say, what’s odd about that language? NARAL Pro-Choice America, and by the way, NARAL once represented the National Abortion Rights League, they rebranded themselves like Dunkin’ Donuts in one sense, but NARAL Pro-Choice America is now talking about people and reproductive freedom, and in particular, with reference to abortion, talking about people whose rights of abortion may be threatened. Once again, you see that the “T’ in LGBTQ has absolutely changed the vocabulary of so many people in discussing what, until as recently as say, last year, many of these organizations would’ve described as a woman’s so-called right to an abortion. Women didn’t last too long in the transgender revolution.

Reporters for the New York Times ran an article that was printed with the headline: With Roe V. Wade Teetering Marchers Strike a Celebratory Tone. The New York Times also reported the fact that this year’s theme of the March for Life was “Equality begins in the womb.” The New York Times cited people on both sides of the controversy. It went first to those who were participants in the March for Life, and they spoke of their hope at Roe V. Wade being reversed, they would hope, in the Dobbs case that will soon be announced by the Court in this term. But then the reporters turned to those who were supporters of abortion rights. And we are told that they too “were anticipating that the 49th anniversary of the Roe decision could be the last. All week they held events underscoring the ways the Roe decision has advanced the health and economic security of women and families and warning of the risk if the court strikes it down.”

Then this paragraph, “On Thursday evening, the abortion rights group Catholics for Choice beamed messages in light on the side of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington, the largest Catholic church in North America, as anti-abortion marchers convened inside for an all-night vigil. The messages on the tower of the Basilica noted that one in four women who get abortions are Catholic and that 68% of Catholics in a new Pew poll support the Roe decision, “Pro-choice Catholics, you are not alone.”

Well, there’s a lot going on here. For one thing, the New York Times that the pro-abortion side at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., was the more interesting side, rather than what was taking place inside. But let’s just think about that for a moment as something of a parable. You had a crowd inside the Basilica, you had a crowd outside the Basilica. Those inside were actually meeting consistent with historic Roman Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life, moral teaching that condemns abortion.

And let’s just be clear, in that sense, the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church is very much in line, and with continuity, even as you go back to the earliest church and the earliest statements of the Christian Church against abortion. The Christian Church has been a stalwart opponent of abortion. The exceptions here are mostly in Europe and in North America, where you find liberal Protestant denominations that have moved towards the kind of positions in the sexual revolution you would expect of the rest of liberal culture. In this case, we really do have a parable. Those outside the Basilica are far outside the Christian consensus against abortion. Those inside the Basilica, in this case, are standing with a long heritage of Christian condemnation of the abortion of unborn human life. Let’s just keep that in mind, inside and outside in this picture makes a big difference.

Part II

‘Jane Roe Did Nothing Besides Sign A Paper That Said She Doesn’t Want to be Pregnant’: Sarah Weddington and the Road to Roe v. Wade

But thinking of the Roe v. Wade decision, I want to go back to something that happened the day after Christmas of last year. On December the 26th, Sarah Weddington died. Now, what makes this important is that Sarah Weddington was the young attorney who made the case for abortion rights before the Supreme Court in both of those sets of oral arguments. Thus, she was the main attorney who prevailed in the Roe v. Wade decision. Her death coming the day after Christmas didn’t get the kind of cultural and media attention it otherwise would have garnered.

But I want to go back to it for a moment, because there too is a huge story. That story is best told actually by author Joshua Prager in his book published last year, The Family Roe: An American Story. It’s not just about the Roe family, because there isn’t a Roe family. Roe is a legal name that was inserted in order to protect the identity of the woman who was the actual plaintiff in the case.

Now, we know that that person was Norma McCorvey, but more about that in just a moment. We also know a great deal about how the Roe v. Wade case came together and how two feminist pro-abortion attorneys in Dallas, Texas, really worked together to get this case before the Supreme Court. But this is where the situation turns much more interesting. The first of these lawyers is Linda Coffee. She still lives in the Dallas area, and she was the original attorney working on this kind of case, but she wanted to work with another attorney, even as she was looking for the right kind of abortion case, and eventually she decided that Sarah Weddington just might be that lawyer.

Now, even as you read Joshua Prager’s excellent reporting on the background to this case, as well as its aftermath, the reality is that Linda Coffee is a rather private person and Sarah Weddington was quite ready in her own ambition to make those arguments before the Supreme Court. Here’s another interesting fact, Roe v. Wade was the very first case she ever argued. But Americans know now, or at least can know now, much more about Sarah Weddington than we knew at the time. It turns out that she’d actually had an abortion herself. She felt very viscerally about this issue. And like so many of the other feminists of her day, she felt that laws restricting abortion were an impediment to women making progress in the workplace and particular in the professions like law.

But by now we know a great deal more. We know that she and her colleague, Linda Coffee, were actually shopping for a plaintiff and they were looking for someone. The plaintiff was brought to them by an adoption lawyer who went first to Coffee, and that eventually led Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee to becoming attorneys for Norma McCorvey, convincing her as she was a woman who was pregnant, that even as she was not able to gain legal access to an abortion in Texas, she should become a plaintiff in federal court against abortion laws in general, arguing their unconstitutionality. Now, we knew at the time, in Roe v. Wade 1973, Americans knew that there was a real woman behind the case, but her name was hidden, as was also the case in Doe v. Bolton. Just thinking about history, by the way, the reason the case is known as Roe v. Wade is because Roe was the stand-in name, and the Wade in this case refers to Henry Wade who was the district attorney in Dallas, arguing against Sarah Weddington over the issue of the abortion and constitutionality.

Over the course of years, Norma McCorvey made very clear that she felt used in the process. As Prager writes, “Norma was angry above all at Weddington, who had not told her that she’d had an abortion and had made no effort to help Norma have one too. As Norma now told Koppel, ‘She lied to me.'” That would be Ted Koppel of ABC News. What makes that very interesting is that even as Norma McCorvey couldn’t gain legal abortion in Texas at the time, she almost assuredly could have obtained legal abortion elsewhere. She was angry because Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington didn’t try to help her to get the abortion she said she wanted. They were looking for a plaintiff whose case would be useful to them. Norma McCorvey was useful and she felt used.

Prager tells us that Weddington responded to Norma’s criticism by saying, “What she does isn’t going to affect one vote, one opinion maker, one lawyer, one Supreme Court Judge. All Jane Roe did was sign a one page affidavit she was pregnant and she didn’t want to be,” end quote. That tells you something of the cold calculating manipulation that was taking place, as these lawyers were looking for a plaintiff in order to bring a challenge to Texas abortion law and thus to abortion law that would restrict abortion in any States before the nation’s highest court. As Prager continues, “Such comments reinforced the notion that Weddington and all the pro-choice movement had used Norma. Some on the left took her rebirth as a signed to look within. ‘There is a moral responsibility to treat the principles in these cases as complete human beings,’ said a spokesman for People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group. He charged that Norma was a plaintiff betrayed.”

Now, by the time Prager ended his book, he made very clear that Sarah Weddington had not cooperated with his massive research. And this is the definitive work. There’s nothing that comes even close to Joshua Prager’s research on the Roe v. Wade decision. He identifies himself as pro-abortion rights, but the book is incredibly judicious and the story it tells is one that I don’t think really helps the pro-abortion cause at all, certainly in moral terms. Joshua Prager goes so far as to make clear that Sarah Weddington not only didn’t participate in offering any research for his book, but by the time he came to his own conclusion, he had determined that Sarah Weddington had lied to Norma McCorvey.

Anyway you look at it, it’s a tragic American tale, but it’s one that has contemporary relevance and it is one that has had a deadly effect, because we’re talking about the deaths of millions and millions of unborn human babies, simply because of the mechanism that came before the court in this case that gave a very progressivist majority on the court then, the opportunity to strike down all State laws restricting or outlawing abortion in all fifty states, coast to coast. It was a sweeping decision. Just think about the fact that next year, January 22nd, 2023, the nation will mark the 50th anniversary, the half century mark of Roe v. Wade.

I pointed to the fact that Justice Harry Blackmun, who was the author of the majority opinion, at one point, had indicated that he had hope that the sheer brilliance, and he clearly thought that his majority opinion, dark as it is, was brilliant, would resolve the issue of abortion once for all. We can only be thankful that there is enough residual common sense, common grace, conscience, in the United States, that the abortion issue is still very much alive.

And that takes us back to the fact that even as we were talking about being inside and outside that Basilica in Washington on this issue, and at least some research indicates that a majority of American Catholics support Roe v. Wade, you should look at every one of those research claims with a pretty high degree of skepticism. Because by the time you look at it, you recognize that many of these people are already really outside the Basilica when they’re being asked about what should be the position inside. That’s not a problem that is limited to Catholicism.

Part III

Evidence of the Conscience, Rooted in the Image of God: Vast Majority of Doctors Avoid Abortion Practice Like the Plague

But I want to conclude today on the most important argument on abortion to appear, I think, in the media in recent years. This is an article and opinion piece of the New York Times that ran on Sunday by Eyal Press. He’s a journalist and an author whose most recent work is Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America.

Now, here’s how he starts, quote, “Saturday marked the 49th and quite possibly the last anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in every State. Roe’s precarious future can be attributed to various factors, the tenacity of the anti-abortion movement, the addition of three conservative Justices to the Court. During Donald Trump’s presidency, the opportunities that pro-choice advocates may have missed. But…” And this is where the words get really interesting and morally urgent, “But, if as is widely expected, the Supreme Court upholds a Mississippi statute that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and overturns or guts roll later this year, I will be thinking about something else, not the legal precedent, but the role that lawlessness and terrorism and the medical community’s response to it played in hastening Roe’s demise.”

Now, at this point, he talks about the fact that his own father was an abortion provider, and another abortion provider, back on October the 23rd 1998, had died as the result of a sniper’s attack. Now, let’s just point to the moral incongruity and contradiction that comes by someone who claims to be acting on behalf of the sanctity of human life and turns to murder. This is something that the pro-life movement has had to make very clear. It has had to separate itself from any kind of potential sanction of violence in any form.

But the really interesting thing here is the math that is revealed very early in this opinion piece, arguing that if Roe v. Wade falls, there will be a lot of responsibility that will fall on the medical community because there’s so many doctors who do not perform abortions. But you could turn that on his face. That means only very, very few doctors have ever participated in offering abortion procedures. He’s writing here about a suburb of Buffalo, and then says that, in the greater Buffalo area, back then in 1998, there were only three physicians who performed abortions. Again, we’re talking about hundreds, indeed, thousands of physicians, and only three who performed abortions. He writes about what he describes as the isolation of abortion from mainstream medicine.

And he says, “Had a critical mass of doctors adopted this approach, the crisis in abortion care that exists today, where many women in the South and Midwest are forced to travel more than 100 miles to find a clinic, might not have reached such an acute stage. Abortion might have become a more routine part of reproductive healthcare with more OB/GYNs seeing it as part of their professional responsibility.” Than he goes on to say, “By 2017, just 1% of abortions were performed in private offices, owing in part to the fact that doing so carries risk that most physicians, including many who are sympathetic to abortion rights, generally prefer to avoid.”

Now, just think about that. For instance, bad public relations is a big part of this. Doctors just don’t want to be associated with abortion. Here you have an abortion rights supporter saying, “You know, had the medical community turned out, had doctors turned out and simply brazenly performed abortions and made it routine medical care, we wouldn’t be in this situation today.” That’s an incredibly explosive, revealing argument. We need to look at it very closely. Let’s just pay it adequate heed.

The medical community has never offered much support for abortion. Abortion doctors are a tiny minority of physicians in the United States. From a Christian Biblical perspective, the reason for that should become very apparent. People go into medicine to save lives, not to take them. They go into the profession of OB/GYN in order to help deliver babies and bring babies to full term, and to give healthcare to women seeking to have babies. A range of medical issues, to be sure, but they do not go into medicine to destroy human life.

The author of this piece gets right to the issue and we need to pay heed to what he says: “Less understandable is the failure of the mainstream medical community, and an array of powerful institutions within it, to respond to the hostility and violence directed at clinics and abortion providers, by affirming support for them. Hospital officials could have stepped forward to assert that they too would help ensure that abortion services remained available, particularly in States and communities where clinics were under siege. Medical school deans could have announced that they would redouble their commitment to providing training in abortion to residents at teaching hospitals.”

But as this article acknowledges, even now, many, perhaps even the majority of medical schools, don’t want to offer any kind of residency that has anything to do with abortion, and most of them do not offer instruction on how physicians can perform abortions.

Let’s turn this on its head. Let’s just look at the reality. This man’s making the complaint. Let’s find some encouragement in this. There are very few doctors, a very small percentage of doctors, who ever have or ever will perform abortions as a matter of their own choice. The medical profession stands apart from abortion. And this is true from the very beginning. And it is because the stigma of abortion is not something that is socially constructed and simply invented by the pro-life movement. It is there as a part of the moral instinct in humanity that is evidence of the fact that we are made in God’s image. It is a part of the common grace revealed in creation, where our very basic moral instinct is to protect a baby, not to expose it, not to endanger it, not to harm it, much less to kill it.

And as you’re looking at the medical profession, here you have a bold complaint that doctors overwhelmingly just haven’t gotten with the program. Even when they say that they are morally for abortion, they don’t perform abortions, neither do their hospitals, their medical schools don’t teach abortion, they want to have nothing to do with it.

This writer says that the reason abortion is now limited to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood is because the medical profession just wouldn’t buy in, didn’t show medical courage. I’m going to argue the opposite, it’s because these doctors, who may not have been paragons of courage, were at least demonstrating a moral instinct for which we, as Christians, should be very, very thankful. And we should be thankful that it’s not there as some kind of residual moral instinct just from human tradition, it’s there because God gave us the instinct of looking at a baby and saying, “I must protect it, not harm it.” And by extension, when it comes to the unborn child in the womb, that moral instinct is at least still partially and visibly there.

And just think of the fact that the emergence of the ultrasound has made it all the more difficult, indeed, impossible, to deny that the inhabitant of the womb really is a baby. Let’s hold onto that truth this Monday after the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and let’s seek to bear witness to the sanctity and dignity of all human life, of all human life, equally of all human life. Not because we hold that status in and of ourselves, but simply because our sovereign, gracious, creator Lord made us in his image. That’s why C.S. Lewis rightly said, “You have never met and will never meet an ordinary human being.”

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Jacksonville, Florida, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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