Don’t Blindly Trust in the Supreme Court

As somewhat of a follow-up post to my analysis of the deciding vote in Russo v. June Medical Services, I want to caution optimists and pragmatists on the pro-life side. There has long been an implicit deal whereby we are granted court appointees who will (theoretically) protect life and religious liberty as long as we go along with the general Republican platform. The problem, as Sen. Josh Hawley recently pointed out, is that the bargain hasn’t worked, and we don’t have a great reason to think it will suddenly start working in the future.

There has been much clamor about the “conservative” Roberts Court overturning Roe v. Wade. I’ll admit, I indulged some optimism at first, though it quickly became apparent that getting a majority to overturn long-standing precedent required at least one more conservative justice. But recent cases have illustrated how fickle the Republican-appointed justices are, as contrasted with the utter steadfastness of most Democratic appointees.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Supreme Court

First, the Chief

Let’s take a look, first, at the man in the center: Chief Justice John Roberts, who is quite happy to be a centrist even though he’s supposed to be a conservative. He seems to be concerned primarily with protecting the legitimacy of the Court (and implicitly the legal system), so that when they make a controversial decision the outcome of the case is still respected. Without respect for the integrity of the Supreme Court, the thinking goes, there is no real arbiter about law and the Constitution in America.

I’ve already demonstrated the problematic nature of Roberts’ insistence on institutional values, as he refused to overturn a precedent he voted against and maintains was incorrect. But, perhaps more tellingly, the appeal to the legitimacy of the Court was one of the premises of the Court’s decision to uphold Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. I’m not saying Roberts is dog-whistling that he won’t overturn Roe…but we shouldn’t count on him as the deciding vote.

Analyzing Roberts’ Opinion in June Medical Services v. Russo

The decision of the Supreme Court in June Medical Services v. Russo, a case which was previously covered in this blog, was a blow to pro-lifers trying to use the legislative process to chip away at abortion-on-demand. Chief Justice John Roberts, once again, joined with the liberal bloc to deliver a bad judgment. What went wrong?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Supreme Court Justice Roberts

One of the challenges of analyzing any jurisprudence by Roberts is that he seems to be inconsistent. Someone will guess his decision based on politics (he’s conservative…right?), and then he’ll flip. People talk about his commitment to the “legitimacy of the court,” and then he upholds a decision which he explicitly believes is wrong.

Roberts could have a grand, overarching plan for guiding jurisprudence over the course of decades, chipping away at old foundations to lay the groundwork for good decisions. But it more frequently feels like his pragmatism causes him to hurt conservative causes at critical junctures.
First, I’ll look at his explicit justification for the decision in Russo as he states it. I’m of the opinion that his surface-level obedience to stare decisis is not the only thing going on in his thinking. Roberts is playing something of a game with the rules of the Supreme Court, and I’ll explain what I think is going on later in this article.

Our Take on the “AKA Jane Roe” Documentary

Estimated read time: 8 minutes.

You’ve likely heard about the documentary that premiered on FX, AKA Jane Roe, claiming to offer the true story of Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade. Pro-life and pro-choice people are interested in this story, regardless of how relevant it actually is (or should be) to our beliefs about abortion. Even if it feels off-topic, we need to be prepared to talk about this, and shifting to another topic too quickly will likely hurt your conversations about abortion.

I’m explaining our main thoughts below but feel free to use these links if you’d prefer to watch or listen to our discussion on the documentary that covers all of the points below, albeit in more detail.

Why does this matter, especially if our views on abortion shouldn’t be influenced by whether Roe was pro-choice or pro-life? The question this documentary poses isn’t what people should believe about abortion, but rather whether the pro-life movement is corrupt. We then need to answer whether it contains an accurate depiction of the modern pro-life movement.

What You Need to Know About Tomorrow’s Supreme Court Abortion Case

Botched abortions. Filthy medical instruments. Unlicensed staff administering controlled substances.

These are some of the frightening practices that have pervaded abortion facilities across Louisiana. Women deserve to be safe from negligent practices like this. But in Louisiana, patients weren’t sufficiently protected—some of them paid a terrible price.

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear a case called June Medical Services v. Russo that will decide if a Louisiana law addressing these problems will be upheld.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes.

A Heartbreaking Story

One woman named Brenda J. went to a Louisiana abortion facility to get an abortion. During the procedure, the abortion practitioner perforated her uterus and left her bleeding on the operating table for over seven hours. The abortion practitioner finally sent Brenda to the hospital, but he didn’t call an ambulance. He had a staff member take Brenda in their car and instructed the staff member to lie to the hospital about what had happened.

As a result, the doctors and staff at the hospital did not know Brenda was suffering from a botched abortion procedure, so they didn’t know how to properly treat her. Days later, they found Brenda’s baby’s skull in her uterus. The doctors treated Brenda as best they could and they were able to save Brenda’s life—but not her torn, infected uterus. Because of the abortion practitioner’s decision to prioritize his reputation and convenience over Brenda’s life, Brenda was left infertile.

Several Louisiana women have stories like Brenda’s, and Louisiana legislators realized they had a dangerous health and safety issue on their hands. So, in 2014, the legislature passed Act 620, the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, to protect women from incompetent abortion practitioners. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support, with a vote of 88-5 in the House and 34-3 in the Senate.

March for Life Signs: The Bad and the Ugly

I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of the March for Life. Still, I’d never been, so I was excited to take the opportunity to go for the first time last year. Now, big gatherings aren’t exactly my thing, and the March is roughly 20 times the size of my hometown by population, so I was a little on edge to start. Still, I live in a very pro-choice part of the country (Boston), so there’s something inspiring about seeing hundreds of thousands of people gathering to proclaim that they oppose the wrongful killing of fetal humans. Do I think the March for Life is helping end abortion as much as some people seem to think it is? No, probably not. Do I think it’s, on the whole, positive? Sure.

Except for the signs.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes.

Some of the signs weren’t bad. The first signs I saw as we walked towards the pre-March rally were those passed out by particular groups; they may have had branding and some kind of slogan, but they were pretty neutral and “classically pro-life” with your average positive messaging. But I would classify many of the signs that I saw as actively detrimental to the pro-life cause.

Maybe you’ve never seen the signs or really thought about them in detail, or maybe you already sympathize with my frustrations. Either way, you might wonder why it matters for me to talk about all of these signs (and surely they’re not representative of the entire March)? Besides, you might say, the media consistently has neglected the event, so it’s not like anyone actually sees the signs.

What we see influences us. If the major pro-life event of the year is full of low-quality sloganeering that disposes us to be less thoughtful about the pro-life position and less compassionate to pro-choice people, we normalize ineffective and immoral behavior for the rest of the year. This is a self-reinforcing cycle capable of doing lasting damage to the pro-life movement. We are training ourselves in mediocrity.

These signs also send a message to others and ourselves that this is who we are and how we think. Bad signs speak poorly of the movement. If our signage indicates that we don’t understand what pro-choice people think and that we demonize them any chance we get, even if our movement as a whole isn’t really like that, we’re giving people every reason to believe those things about us. When your pro-choice friend sees your pictures on social media, the signs in the background could turn them off from ever having a good-faith conversation with you.

I want to share a few of the worst signs with you to illustrate why certain approaches to public messaging are problematic. Then, I’d like to give you a few ideas to raise our game so we can more effectively advocate for the pro-life position during marches and public demonstrations.