Cameron Smith: SCOTUS Dobbs opinion calls for knowledge and humility from lawmakers

This is an opinion column

“The Supreme Court just overturned Roe v. Wade,” my mother shouted from the back porch. My sons and I stopped pulling weeds in the garden. With sweat streaming down our faces and covered in dirt, my father asked for our attention. “Heavenly Father, we thank you for protecting life,” he prayed. “Watch over the judges who made the decision and give us wisdom as a nation.” I will never forget this moment. My boys won’t either. The Court’s decision doesn’t settle the issue of abortion, but it does pave the way for the difficult work that lies ahead.

Gone are the constitutional prohibitions on states regulating abortion prior to the point of fetal viability. The Supreme Court’s standard for the last half century enabled many anti-abortion politicians to attack the abortion without answering particularly challenging questions about the laws they hoped to enact.

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When does a human life deserve legal protection?

Is it the moment an egg is fertilized? How about when the zygote implants in a woman’s uterus? Does the developmental stage of an unborn child matter? Is a heartbeat still a meaningful policy threshold? What about a fetus’s capacity to feel pain?

Policymakers, particularly Republicans, must now answer such questions definitely.

How much does intent matter? What happens if a woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant and engages in conduct which unintentionally ends the life of her unborn child?

Under what exceptional circumstances might lawmakers allow otherwise prohibited abortions? Does the physical health of the mother matter? What about her mental capacity? Are rape or incest exceptions reasonable?

So, where are the rights of the mother in the balance? A pregnancy has a material impact on a woman’s body, mind, and soul even in the best of circumstances. Certainly, her voice during a pregnancy carries serious weight and significance.

Think about the penalties for unlawful abortions. When do they apply and how severe should they be?

Is an abortion tantamount to murder regardless of gestational state? manslaughter? something else?

We’re still not done.

What happens to child support, child tax credits, various criminal laws, and a host of other policies if children are legally protected and recognized from an earlier developmental stage?

After a few hours to read and process the Court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, my father’s reaction seems remarkably appropriate. Not only wisdom is desperately needed, but our lawmakers must simultaneously demonstrate unprecedented humility in answering the most challenging existential and policy questions imaginable.

As we returned to weeding the garden, I discussed the issue with my sons. We must be honest about sexuality, the consequences of our choices, and the responsibility to care for and protect life well beyond pregnancy and childbirth. My youngest is eight, and my oldest is a teenager. I expect them to thoughtfully consider the world as it is, not as we so often wish it to be.

Even at young ages, my boys understand the deep responsibility facing lawmakers nationwide. As pro-life Americans celebrate the Court’s decision, we also know what it’s like to disagree passionately with judicial opinions regarding abortion. Those who place primacy on a woman’s right to choose an abortion for much or all of a pregnancy will now feel that sting in many states.

The Supreme Court has not banned abortion or endorsed it as a matter of policy. The court simply shifted who is best situated to shape the contours of the issue. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” writes Justice Alito. “That is what the Constitution and the rule of law demand.”

As has been the case, Americans will not agree on the moment life deserves government protection. Nine appointed justices have stepped aside in favor of thousands of elected representatives across America attempting to provide a competent answer. In that endeavor, we’ll need all the wisdom, humility, and prayers we can muster.

Smith is a recovering political attorney with three boys, two dogs, and an extremely patient wife. He engages media, business, and policy through the Triptych Foundation and Triptych Media. Please direct outrage or agreement to [email protected] or @DCameronSmith on Twitter.

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