They Paved the Way for Dobbs
By Christopher Dodson
North Dakota Catholic Conference
On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court issued its historic opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, overturning Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood.
Many discussions about the decision’s impact will follow. The North Dakota Catholic Conference will help clarify laws and provide guidance to both lawmakers and interested persons. There exists much more to do to help women and children and to build a culture of life. For now, though, I want to offer a personal reflection on how we got to Dobbs and some of the people who helped get us there.
The body has many members. The pro-life movement’s members include pregnancy centers, activists, legislators, adoption agencies, post-abortion ministries, physicians, scientists, and many others. My career over the last three decades exposed me to some of the legal minds in the cause for life. They may not be familiar names, even within the pro-life movement, but they influenced me and helped pave the way for Dobbs.
Although I had some pro-life law professors at Berkeley, the first encouragement I received came shortly after I graduated from law school It came in a letter from Notre Dame law professor Charles Rice, a leader in the pro-life movement dating back to Roe. I had written my first nationally published article on abortion and he had read it. His letter encouraged me to write and do more.
Shortly after that, Helen Alvaré called me and we began a relationship that led me into this work. At the time, Helen was the pro-life spokesperson for the United States Catholic Bishops. While many knew her as a great speaker for the pro-life cause, she is also a brilliant lawyer. After leaving USCCB, she became a law professor, specializing in the defense of life and the family. She helped draft an important “friend of the court” briefs submitted in the Dobbs case.
Around this time, Mark Chopko was the general counsel for USCCB. Chopko and Mike Moses — another lawyer with USCCB — published important law review articles examining the weakness of Roe and Casey. Whenever the Supreme Court issued a major abortion case, Chopko would summon the best pro-life legal minds to Washington, D.C. to discuss the case. He also wanted some state Catholic conference directors to attend and give a political and legislative perspective. I had the privilege of attending these sessions.
Those sessions included Clarke Forsythe of Americans United for Life, state constitutional law expert Paul Linton, James Bopp of National Right to Life, and law professors Robert Destro, Teresa Collett, Robert George, and Mary Ann Glendon. Included among them was one non-lawyer: Richard Doerflinger. Richard was the policy director for USCCB’s pro-life office and is one of the smartest individuals I have ever met.
These great minds examined the cases and explored what opportunities the Court provided to “push the envelope." The general strategy among these thinkers was to find ways to chip away at Roe and Casey. Eventually, the Court would have to confront the flawed holding of Roe itself.
Understandably, some in the pro-life movement did not like this strategy. Some wanted to strike at all of Roe immediately. We should remember, however, that for many years we did not have the votes on the Supreme Court and a ruling affirming Roe would make it harder to overturn it in the future.
For my part, I never doubted that Roe would either be explicitly overturned or whittled down so much as to become meaningless. If I said it aloud, people might have thought I was naive, but when I started working for the North Dakota Catholic Conference in 1995 I thought to myself, “Lord, help me do what I can to make North Dakota abortion-free.”
By the time this is published, that day may have arrived. The North Dakota Catholic Conference has dealt with many abortion-related bills since 1995. Some good, some bad, some ill-timed. None was in vain. We often tried to be part of a national strategy shaped in part by the people I mentioned. They helped build what Mississippi eventually took to the finish line on June 24.
This year, June 24 was the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Usually, June 24 celebrates the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, who as an unborn child heard the voice of Mary, leaped in his mother’s womb, and received the Holy Spirit. St. John the Baptist was the forerunner. He helped prepare the way for the coming of Jesus.
I think of these of the people I have mentioned as helping to prepare the way for Dobbs.
What We Do
The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.
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