If Roe is overturned, nothing changes in Oregon, but the implications for pregnancy centers across the country, including here in greater Portland, are significant.
At First Image, our orientation is not political. We are laser-focused on creating places in the world where women and men facing unsupported pregnancy can find a way forward and experience abundant life for themselves and their children. And, where those that carry the burden of past abortion can experience renewal.
There are others whose stewardship is to work on behalf of our fellow Image-bearers in the realm of public policy, and we are thankful for them. We have rarely been pulled into the political sphere, except on a few occasions when direct attacks on our ability to carry out our mission have been attempted in the Oregon legislature, and that is as it should be. It is very important to our mission that we are able to retain our singular focus on what we’ve been called to do.
Even so, we are regularly asked our opinion on legislative or Supreme Court actions. That’s been especially true lately, with the Texas Heartbeat Bill, and the upcoming oral arguments in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which will be heard on Dec. 1st, and likely decided in June of 2022. We typically don’t weigh in, but the Dobbs case is very significant, and its litigation over this next season and its outcome has the potential to impact pregnancy centers across the country, to varying degrees, including us here in Oregon.
A (very) Brief Primer on Dobbs
As the Texas heartbeat bill is very unlikely to be the case that ultimately impacts the state of abortion in America (for a lot of reasons I won’t go into here), I’ll give a (very) brief primer on the Dobbs case, which is the most significant abortion-related case to reach the supreme court since Roe v Wade was decided 48 years ago. It’s significant, both because of the case itself, and the current make-up of the court, which without doubt makes overturning or diminishing Roe a real possibility (though not a certainty).
The key Supreme Court cases that created the existing legal regime are Roe (1973) and Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992). As a result, the current legal precedent in America disallows any “pre-viability” abortion restrictions (Roe) that put an “undue burden” on access to abortion (Casey).
Viability refers to the baby’s capacity to live outside the womb. It is a moving set of criteria, inching earlier as technology improves. Currently, viability is considered 22–24 weeks. Casey introduced the “undue burden” standard, which allows for some pre-viability restrictions to abortion (think parental consent, waiting periods, etc.) as long as they don’t constitute an undue burden on abortion access.
The Dobbs case is the first direct challenge to the pre-viability ban on abortion restrictions since Roe was decided. It concerns a Mississippi law called the “Gestational Age Act,” which bans most abortions after 15 weeks. The Supreme Court has agreed to take up the “question presented,” which is whether all bans on abortion pre-viability are unconstitutional.
The Dobbs case could result in an overturning or diminishing of Roe. If that were to happen, abortion itself would not become federally illegal or unconstitutional, but states would have the ability to impose restrictions on abortion pre-viability (as they did before Roe).
What does this mean for Pregnancy Centers?
Currently, according to this map, if Roe is struck down, there are 12 states where abortion would immediately become illegal, and additional states that would be likely to make it illegal soon after. There are 16 states where abortion would remain legal, and the rest don’t yet have a law on the books one way or the other.
In states where abortion would become illegal, pregnancy centers and local churches will have an upgraded challenge: Creating neighborhoods, cities, and broader communities where women and men—who will be facing the same challenges with unsupported pregnancy that they are today—are so loved, supported, and upheld, that abortion can’t get a foothold. It would be a critical moment for followers of Jesus to increasingly live in a way that makes abortion feel totally unnecessary for people facing unsupported pregnancies.
This is a call to deepen and expand the work of pregnancy centers. Certainly. It is also a call to tap into our historic roots as people who adopt, who foster, and who extend our own families and communities to sacrificially embrace the Image of God in our neighbors—the women and men facing unsupported pregnancy and their babies. In those states where abortion may become illegal, this is a moment to put our money where our mouth has been.
But what about states where nothing changes, such as Oregon?
Abortion on demand will remain legal in Oregon, for the foreseeable future, regardless of what happens at the Supreme Court. So, what are the implications for the pregnancy centers of First Image?
I believe they are the same as for those states where abortion will become illegal.
Here in the Portland area, we must continue to deepen and expand the work of our pregnancy centers. Also, as emissaries of Jesus and His kingdom, we must also continue to live out the good news in word and deed by working for the abundant life of our Image-bearing neighbors. This is especially true for those most vulnerable, like preborn children and parents facing unsupported pregnancy.
If Roe is overturned, there are parts of the country that will be celebrating and others that will be lamenting. In Oregon, the mainstream reaction will be lament, anger, and probably activism. Things may heat up for people who do the kind of work we do in places like this.
Let us not grow weary. Even though our hometown doesn’t always see that the work is good, in the words of Peter, let us keep our conduct honorable, so that when they accuse us of doing wrong, they may see our good works and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)
Pray for these…
The scriptures call us to pray for all those in authority. During this season, let us pray in the Spirit for the nine members of the Supreme Court as they make incredibly consequential decisions that significantly impact the lives of our neighbors.
Also, at First Image, we have the honor of walking with women and men that have had abortion experiences. I have had conversations with post-abortive women who have told me that when the abortion debate heats up, they check out. The public conversation about abortion can be brutal, and sometimes lacking a sense of the redemptive love of Jesus that has brought freedom to these women.
Let us also remember those who are finding themselves pregnant, looking for a way forward, and wondering whom they can trust. These are the people who come into our centers, and while the public debate ramps up, their needs continue. These people are listening in, so let us pray for them during this season, that they would continue to find compassionate voices in their lives to help them find a way forward. And may we also be those people, defined by the Fruit of the Spirit, in all that we say and do.