The Bulwark ran another thoughtful pro-life essay last week that I’ve been meaning to note. Sarah Quinlan argues that opponents of abortion must change the culture, not only the law. That’s right and important, and no doubt some pro-lifers could use the reminder. I think, though, that she puts a foot wrong when she suggests that it might be “time to move overturning Roe or implementing restrictive abortion legislation to the bottom of the priorities list entirely.”
These are perennial debates among pro-lifers, and the debates perennially suffer from a tendency to view culture and law as separate boxes. It makes more sense to view law as a part of culture, and a part that influences that larger whole. Quinlan implicitly affirms this view when she recommends various public policies that she believes will move the culture in a pro-life direction. Whether abortion is prohibited, regulated, or subsidized surely belongs high on the list of public-policy questions that can affect its place in our culture. Over the last generation, public policy, public opinion, and the number of abortions have all moved in the direction that pro-lifers want (albeit more slowly than we want). I suspect this is not a coincidence.
Pro-lifers have another reason for wanting to change the abortion laws, beyond their effect on abortion rates: They’re unjust. It is gravely unjust for the Supreme Court to amend our nation’s highest law to say that certain human beings are unpersons who can be subjected to lethal violence without legal consequence. And that injustice is inseparable from the injustice of abortion itself. Why do pro-lifers want to change the culture to make abortion less prevalent? Because it’s the unjust taking of a human life. Different pro-lifers have different roles to play in acting on that conviction. But there should be no question that it requires us to work to change the law too.