Monday, January 23, 2023

It’s Monday, January 23rd, 2023.

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

Part I

Yesterday Marked 50 Years Since the Infamous Roe v. Wade Decision, But How Did That Decision Happen in the First Place?

Yesterday marked exactly 50 years since the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its infamous Roe v. Wade decision, and the 50th anniversary of one of these major turning points in America’s moral history demands some closer attention today. It’s a very sober matter to look back at 50 years of Roe v. Wade, remembering, of course, that just this past June it was struck down by a new conservative majority on the United States Supreme Court. But as we shall see, that was a necessary but woefully insignificant victory in the cause of contending for life, the dignity and sanctity of every single human life, including life in the womb.

But as you look back at this 50-year anniversary, it’s also important for us to go back and ask the question, how could this have happened in the first place? Well, this is a point at which conservative, biblically minded Christians need to remind ourselves that you can’t just jump to something like a woman’s so-called right to abortion. You just can’t jump to something like Roe v. Wade. There has to be some kind of framework that is built, some kind of roadway that is constructed. And the reality is all of that came with massive social and moral changes in the middle of the 20th century. But those actually accelerated some tendencies that had emerged even earlier. And for one thing, you need to look back at something like the earliest decades of the 20th century to see just how transformed America was by the end of that same century, just in moral terms. If you were to go back to the beginning of the 20th century, abortion would’ve been increasingly unthinkable and outlawed throughout the United States. There had been a physician’s crusade against abortion and a basic understanding that abortion was one of the most heinous evils confronted by any society.

So by the time you get to the end of the 19th century, most of the states have adopted very restrictive laws on the question of abortion. But at the same time, virtually every single Christian church, denomination or Christian body was very clear about the un-biblical and immoral character of any form of artificial birth control, period. Not a single church, not a single denomination of any stature had stated anything positive about birth control and just about every one of them considered such a thought to be basically, from a Christian worldview perspective, unthinkable. That did not change until the early decades of the 20th century, and it didn’t change very fast even then.

The Church of England, more about that in just a moment, was the first major church in the Christian world to reconsider the morality of birth control. Now, many Americans living in the 21st century say that’s a Catholic issue. Well, it’s true the Catholic Church in the late 1960s adopted an official condemnation of artificial birth control, but actually all of the major churches, denominations associated with institutional Christianity shared that judgment of the beginning of the 20th century that only began to crack with the Church of England. And its consideration, we should note, was entirely limited to biblically defined marriage, and with the understanding that sex was absolutely limited to marriage as the union of a man and a woman in an exclusive covenant. But nonetheless, in retrospect, it is clear that this is where the landscape begins to crack, and this is where the moral change begins to gain velocity. Because if you can separate sex and procreation, guess what? Human beings will and they will champion sex without reproduction.

As a matter of fact, from a biblical worldview, let’s just remind ourselves that children are understood to be unalloyed promise, they are unmixed good gifts. The announcement of a pregnancy is to be celebrated, not dreaded. But all this began to change in the 20th century along with other liberation movements that included feminism. And the idea of many ideological feminists in what was known as second wave feminism beginning in the early 1960s is that women could never be truly equal to men unless and until they were truly able to be as unpregnant as a man. But that of course would require the availability of artificial birth control on a widespread basis, and that wasn’t possible until the second half of the 20th century with the development of what became known as the pill.

Before that, you’re really looking at very primitive means of artificial birth control that pretty much would’ve been continuous for a matter of centuries. Not much new there, the pill changed everything. And since the pill, there have been other forms of so-called birth control. But the reality is that by the end of the 1960s, American women decided that they had and should have control of their own reproductive futures, and that included birth control. But birth control is not enough. Artificial birth control, the demand was, simply doesn’t go far enough. The ideological left of then what was second wave feminism began to demand abortion rights, a fundamental right to abortion as the great equalizer.

And of course a lot of this had to do with lifestyle. But it’s also interesting to note that one of the arguments made on behalf of second wave feminism and abortion at the time was economic. Women are entering the workforce, that is a good thing. That women will never be equal to men in the workforce if they have to keep leaving the workforce because of pregnancy. Therefore, they must have an absolute right to abortion.

Now going back to the 1960s, most people in the United States seemed to be very dubious that there could be any kind of national legislation on abortion. For one thing, there is a very big question of the constitutionality of such an issue since it is not one of the powers that is granted to the federal government. Abortion laws basically are established by the 50 states.

That’s a part of our constitutional system of federalism. State by state you had some that were moving in a more pro-abortion direction, and certainly by the time Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973, millions of Americans lived where abortion was freely available, states like New York or, for that matter, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and also states like California. The question of the state in which you lived determined whether or not a woman had access, as it was defined then, to legal abortion, and you have the feminists making the case that that simply isn’t enough. What they demanded was the striking down of any abortion restrictions, especially those that basically outlawed most abortions, in states which were clearly pro-life.

And by the way, if you look at a map, that would’ve been the majority of the landscape, but of course the population distribution is another matter.

Part II

A Thunderclap Across the U.S. Moral Landscape: Justice Harry Blackman’s Majority Opinion That Led to Abortion on Demand

The Supreme Court of the United States in the 1960s decided on the basis of what was simply invented as a woman’s right to privacy or a couple’s right to privacy in one case, they went ahead and decided that the constitution allowed for a right to contraception and birth control, and thus state laws forbidding it were struck down as unconstitutional for married couples. Then a couple of years later another case just for couples, regardless of whether they were married or not, the state was basically saying, in this case by state we mean government, we take no moral position on the question of marriage. Now, allow that to sink in for just a moment.

But after that came other Supreme Court decisions and most importantly, Roe v. Wade in 1973 handed down at 10 o’clock yesterday morning 50 years ago. The pro-abortion movement had been shopping for a case, as it’s known, it had been looking coast to coast for just the right plaintiff in just the right state. The case had to come from a state with restrictive abortion laws because otherwise it wouldn’t have made sense. Eventually that state was Texas and the woman who was identified simply as Roe in this case was Norma McCorvey By the time the case was handed down, Norma McCorvey had had her baby. And by the time Roe was handed down, the pro-abortion movement really didn’t care about her much at all, she was a useful means to an end.

Roe v. Wade, which became known of course as one of the most infamous decisions in Supreme Court history. It actually had to be heard twice before the court, two different sets of oral arguments. The court eventually handed down its decision January 22nd, 1973. That’s why we marked yesterday as the 50th anniversary of Roe. And Roe lasted, at least as a precedent and judgment of the court, for about 49 and a half years. And one’s response to the fall of Roe tells you just about everything about the clash of worldviews in the United States on an issue as basic as the sanctity of human life and as important to our national life as how the Constitution of the United States is to be interpreted.

So what happened exactly 50 years ago at 10:00 AM? Well, at that time, the justices entered the court and it was clear that a decision was going to be handed down. The man who made the decision public was another than the author of the majority opinion Associate Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. Blackmun had been the author of this majority opinion, it was a seven two opinion. And what’s really important to recognize is that the seven justices who were determined to legalize abortion on demand didn’t really have any constitutional argument, they simply decided that that was their goal, and then they assigned to Justice Blackmun the responsibility to come up with the argument.

Justice Blackmun had some difficulty doing that. As a matter of fact, his first draft majority opinion wasn’t met with much support from his colleagues on the pro-abortion side. He had to go back and try again. He did of course, and by the time 50 years ago yesterday, he announced and read out the decision Roe was a thunderclap on the American horizon. It was now a reality. Justice Blackmun, by the way, really didn’t make much of a constitutional argument and both sides in the abortion debate. Understand that so much so by the way, that pro-abortion activists including future, at that time, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that a great opportunity had been missed by the Supreme Court. She wanted the court to rule that a woman had a right to an abortion on equal protection grounds, but the court didn’t do that. Instead, it went back to that invented right of privacy that was invented in the 1960s in order to legalize contraception, or to strike down laws in the states that restricted the sale and use of contraceptives.

Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court Justice, who wrote the majority opinion was from Minnesota. And during the time that he was a lawyer in Minnesota, he was legal counsel to the famed Mayo Clinic. And so as he was making his argument for a woman’s so-called right to an abortion, he really didn’t look much to the Constitution. Instead, he basically took what amounted to a medical argument, the structure of his majority opinion, that was the law of the land in Roe v. Wade was to divide nine months of pregnancy into three separate trimesters.

And he argued that in the first trimester, very early in the pregnancy, the state had no right to interfere in a woman’s access to an abortion at all. In the middle or second trimester, the state could in some situations put some restrictions on abortion, but it wasn’t really clear how a state could get away with that given the logic of Roe. In the third trimester, he said the state was now dealing with the fetus that was viable and it could move towards restricting abortion further.

But here’s what we need to know. By the time Roe was basically incorporated into America’s legal tradition, it amounted to abortion on demand. Because there was something sinister beyond even just the trimester structure in the basic pro-abortion argument in this case, and that was the extension of abortions that might be justified in order to save the life of the mother, it was extended into the logic of Roe to the health and life of the mother, and health was expanded to mental and emotional health. So that meant that virtually any woman at any point in pregnancy would at least have a very good case for aborting her baby almost until the moment of birth.

Now, fast forward a few decades and go to the controversy about 20 years ago over the so-called partial birth abortion, and that’s exactly what it was. It’s one of the most evil procedures you can imagine. It’s when a baby virtually, fully formed and ready to be born is aborted by the most grotesque mechanism, I will not go into in detail here. And what we need to note is that the pro-abortion movement steadfastly, defended even partial birth abortion and did everything within its power to try to prevent legislation and then to counter that legislation in the courts. So we really are talking about a massive clash.

Justice Blackmun understood, and he made this comment at 10 o’clock on January the 22nd of 1973. He said he knew that the abortion issue was divisive. And yet here’s something you need to keep in mind, he was pretty certain that the public would get in line with the logic of the court’s majority and just settle into the idea of legal abortion.

In his book entitled, The Family Roe, Joshua Prager makes this point when courts recognize a new constitutional right or liberalize in some way the social order, the public usually acclimates. Now, that’s exactly what the pro-abortion movement and the Supreme Court’s majority were counting on. They were counting on the fact that the American people would say, hey, the Supreme Court of the United States has now said that a woman has a right to an abortion, so that must be so. But what we now know is that Roe v. Wade not only opened the door for abortion on demand in the United States, terrifyingly enough.

Part III

The Awakening of the Christian American Conscience: The Emergence of the Evangelical Response to Roe v. Wade

It also on the other hand set the stage for the awakening of the American conscience on the part of millions of Americans including American Christians on the question of abortion and the sanctity of human life. The fact is that most Christians in the United States were caught by surprise with the Roe v. Wade decision, and they were unprepared to respond to it or to know what to do about it.

Now, we need to give some credit to the Roman Catholics in the United States who on the basis, at least in part of their experience with dealing with abortion as a challenge in other parts of the world, they had official church teaching on this and they were ready to mobilize nuns and priests and a good number of Catholics in the fight against Roe v. Wade and abortion. It took a while for the evangelicals to get there. But actually looking back, it was very fast between the handing down of Roe v. Wade in 1973 and the fact that by the end of the 1970s, evangelicals, having been very confused about the issue of abortion, if they had thought about it at all, were aligning themselves very clearly with a developing pro-life movement. The court really did count on the fact that having handed down this liberal judgment, Americans would get in line, and let’s face it, many Americans did. But on the other hand, millions and millions of Americans did not.

Now, there have been subsequent developments including the fact that the emergence of ultrasound technology and imaging in the womb helped to prick the American conscience and to make very clear, this is not merely some kind of blastocyst, this is not just something that can be adequately described as a fetus. If you’re putting the picture of the unborn baby or at least the image of the picture, perhaps an ultrasound, taping it up on the kitchen door in order to tell big brother and big sister that a little sibling is on the way, you can’t then turn around and say, oh, it is just a nameless, formless inhabitant of the womb.

So let me just insert here something that’s important and I hope will help us to think through this issue. The Christian worldview is consistent. The biblical worldview doesn’t have to have all kinds of contradictions and twists and turns because it’s revealed by God and consistent with truth. The secular worldview, on the other hand, finds itself in some very awkward positions. For instance, you have a secular person whose pro-abortion who does put up the picture of the ultrasound image and say to the family, look, this is baby brother or baby sister. At the same time, they contend that when it comes to abortion law, that unborn childhood at that very same point of development should have absolutely no legal protection whatsoever. Big brother and big sister have legal protection. It is absolutely inconsistent to say that personhood does not extend to the unborn child.

And that’s where the pro-life movement gains further consistency by saying it actually points to the truth that a human being after fertilization, at that very point, when there is life according to God’s decree, is not only new life, but a human being, a human person.

Yesterday I preach on Psalm 139 where King David makes that very point emphatically, when he was not yet formed in his mother’s womb, God knew him and even numbered his days, every single one of them. David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, spoke of being knitted together in his mother’s womb. All of that is just absolutely important for Christians to recognize.

In constitutional terms Roe v. Wade was absolutely wretched, there’s no other way to describe it. The legal theory behind it insofar as it was a legal theory at all was specious, and it was recognized as such at the time. Yet it’s also clear that Roe v. Wade was a part of a basic political and moral revolution in the United States. It was from the viewpoint of those who were arguing for moral liberation, even from marriage itself, not to mention from biology, it was argued as absolutely necessary for the cause of women’s equality. But of course, what that meant, sadly enough, is that the inhabitant of the womb, that baby there in his mother’s womb, was treated as a non-person.

And one of the things that we need to note, and this extends even until this very day, is that the pro-abortion movement steadfastly, insistently, doesn’t ever want to talk about the baby at all. And we understand why, the moment you talk about the baby, it is really clear we are talking about a baby, a person demanding respect, demonstrating the image of God and the sanctity of human life deserving protection.

Part IV

Abortion and the Clash of Absolutes: You Either Recognize and Defend Life in the Womb or You Do Not

Fast forward to 2023, yes, the Supreme Court of the United States in the Dobbs case struck down Roe v. Wade last June. That is exceedingly good news. And for those who would prize the sanctity of human life and contend for the protection of unborn life, it was a necessary, absolutely important step. It was a major change in the nation’s moral landscape. Such that even as the pro-life movement speaks of the infamy of Roe v. Wade, the pro-abortion movement is speaking of the infamy of Dobbs. But here’s where you note that even though I am in basic disagreement at almost every point with Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, now retired, he is absolutely right when he speaks of abortion as a clash of absolutes. That’s exactly what it is. It is a clash of absolutes. You either have a human person or not, and if indeed in the womb there is a human person, that any morally sensitive person would have to speak up to defend it from destruction.

Laurence Tribe described this clash as the clash of absolutes with liberty on the one hand and life on the other. Now, one of the things interestingly he called for was some kind of adjudicated or negotiated settlement between those two absolutes. But in a very real sense, Laurence Tribe in his book proved the point that those who hold to the absolute of liberty by his definition, simply have to say that abortion is absolutely necessary, and that’s the argument they make. Absolutely necessary to liberty, absolutely necessary to freedom. Again, the freedom of a woman to be as un-pregnant as a man.

At this point, Christians just need to step back and say, we are in absolute agreement that this is a clash of absolutes. But it also demonstrates that claiming liberty as an absolute-absolute is moral insanity because there is no society that defines liberty as a person’s right to destroy another human life, and that is exactly what is at stake with the question of abortion. After the Dobbs decision was handed down, Professor Tribe in an interview made this statement. He said, “This is the first time in American history when the court has taken an individual right that has been deemed fundamental to the way people lead their lives and then taken it back, especially after five decades.”

It’s an amazing statement. He acknowledges here that the court, in his words, has dealt with a right that was deemed fundamental to the way people lead their lives and you’ll notice, however, of course, abortion isn’t in the Constitution. It’s not imagined in the Constitution. It’s not mentioned in the Constitution. But here you have the bald assertion that the Supreme Court of the United States has the right, indeed even the duty to invent new fundamental rights. That means rights that mean that law has to give way to it, and that a right to an abortion was one of those rights. But the incongruity, the inconsistency of that argument is declaring that the court has that power and then complaining when it rules the other way, which is exactly what took place in Dobbs.

But this gets back to the fact that the progressive left in the United States has for decades, especially since the Roosevelt era, has counted on the Supreme Court to be an engine for social liberalism, and it has been for most of those decades. Just consider the fact that it’s the Supreme Court that has established national legislation striking down state laws, preventing marriage in Roe v. Wade in 1973, and then as recently as 2015, legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States and striking down laws against same-sex marriage in the States. Following basically the very same legal logic, something that Justice Samuel Alito acknowledged in his majority opinion striking down Roe in the Dobbs case last year.

But I’ve given this attention to Roe today simply because the 50th anniversary of the date when Roe was handed down demands this kind of attention and in truth, much more. American Christians have the temptation to want to go ahead and move on from this issue, but we can’t move on. Even Dobbs is not anything close to a final victory. It just means that now the battle for the sanctity of human life moves to all the states.

Part V

The Power of Law and the Corruption of the American Moral Conscience: The Darkest Legacy of Roe v. Wade

But I want to conclude with a very humbling observation about the power of law, because God gave us law, and by the way, our laws may be righteous or unrighteous.

Human laws may correspond to God’s revealed law or they may be absolutely opposed to it, but in any of it the law teaches. And so this takes us to a very sobering observation, an observation that could only come now something like six months after Dobbs reversed Roe, and that is this. It becomes very clear to us now in our national politics in the midterm elections, in several statewide efforts to restrict abortion in recent months that failed after Dobbs, in the conversation in the media, it becomes very apparent that the legacy of Roe includes not only, and this is difficult even to say, something between 60 and 70 million unborn lives terminated in American wombs, it also shows that one of the chief legacies of Roe that continues is the corruption of the American moral conscience.

The fact that Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973 is a horrifying scandal and stain on the American conscience and on our history. The fact that it stood as a Supreme Court precedent for about 49 and a half years, almost 50 years, just adds to that scandal. But it may be that the greater scandal is the effective roe on the American conscience with so many millions of Americans just assuming that abortion is, morally speaking, no big deal. And so yesterday, with the arrival of the 50th anniversary of Roe, a half century of Roe now in the nation’s history, American Christians have better recognize now we have even more work to do than was apparent in 1973.

But the generation of Christians now living is the generation called to this battle, and that means that God intends for us to be in this battle and that it is nothing less than unfaithfulness to evade it.

We press on for the cause of life because we believe in the sanctity of human life, and we believe in the sanctity, the sacredness of human life, because we believe in the Creator who made us and said, “Let there be life.”

That is the very side we simply have to be found on.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can call me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

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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