For decades to come, every American will be able to recount what they were doing the moment the Politico article dropped announcing the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion on the future of Roe v. Wade. Me? I was having about as normal a day as a congressional candidate could have two months from Election Day, connecting with Illinois voters over the phone.
But what I’ll remember even more than where I was is where our nation was.
America was in an interesting place.
In politics, the fight over abortion had reached a fever pitch. Some states had passed near-complete bans on abortion; others had removed the few restrictions still on the books. Many Republicans were hoping that the upcoming Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court decision would finally end Roe, whereas most Democrats had abandoned the “safe, legal, and rare” rhetoric that had defined their support for abortion for decades, instead pushing for unrestricted access.
But while activists and political elites fought in an increasingly polarized landscape, everyday Americans were getting tired of the way things were going. Two-thirds were dissatisfied with the discourse on abortion, including 66 percent of pro-life and 62 percent of pro-choice Americans.
Most Americans do not identify with the abortion platforms of either major party. Most do not want to see Roe v. Wade completely overturned. But most also support at least some abortion restrictions. Even 29 percent of Democrat voters identify as pro-life, placing them on the margins of a party that increasingly repudiates anti-abortion views.
Furthermore, the polarizing rhetoric surrounding abortion seems increasingly out of touch with those facing real pregnancy decisions. Today’s political discourse sounds nothing like what I’ve heard in my pastoral study when counseling those facing unplanned pregnancy. The women I’ve walked with (even those who ultimately chose abortion) rarely use the impersonal language of abortion rights advocates when describing their pregnancies. No woman has ever come to me exclaiming that she has “a clump of cells inside her uterus”. She says, “Pastor, I’m pregnant.” Neither have I seen the coldness of murderous intent that extreme “pro-lifers” attribute to women considering abortion. I’ve shared in the tears of lament caused by date rape, the mourning of dreams that now seem out of reach, and more.
By building infrastructure to support families, we remove the crushing burdens of unplanned pregnancy – thus making abortion unnecessary and unthinkable.
A recent study showed 40 percent of women chose abortion primarily because they could not afford children. Language that trivializes this complex decision, or shames and demonizes women, is unhelpful and does not reflect real people’s experiences.
That’s where America was when the opinion was leaked. But the question we must ask at this pivotal moment in our nation’s history is, “Where do we go from here?”
We need a new way forward.
Whether or not the Court ultimately overturns Roe this year, we cannot afford to remain stuck in the old paradigm. Americans understand that abortion ends a precious life, but they also realize that preborn lives aren’t the only ones deserving protection. Vulnerable expectant parents, facing record-high costs of living, unaffordable healthcare, inaccessible childcare, and more also need support.
A holistic approach to abortion must address both of these concerns. This means recognizing that abortion restrictions alone won’t create a society in which all lives are protected. It means listening to the diverse voices of families who face real abortion decisions, not political elites and extremists repeating abstract slogans. It means making unprecedented investments in these families, offering support that tackles the root causes driving 630,000 women to abortion every year. Policies such as guaranteed basic income, paid parental leave, and universal healthcare are examples of such necessary investments. Additionally, efforts to end disparities in childcare access, education, and maternal well-being will eliminate the barriers that make women feel like they must choose between their child and their job, school, and health. By building infrastructure to support families, we remove the crushing burdens of unplanned pregnancy – thus making abortion unnecessary and unthinkable.
It also means embracing a fresh group of leaders who can change the landscape. While Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot are working to make Illinois the abortion capital of the nation, everyday Illinoisans need leaders who can make their state a place where people go not to have abortions, but to have babies, raise strong families, and thrive.
That’s the new way forward that Illinoisans and Americans need. And forging this new path is what I’ve been committed to for the past several years. That’s what I was doing when the opinion was leaked, and that’s what I’ll continue to do, Roe or no Roe. For the good of our country, our nation’s political leaders should join me. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, if you’re part of the majority of Americans who want to fix this broken conversation and move forward together, then join this emerging movement.
Pastor Chris Butler is the senior leader of the Chicago Embassy Church Network and has been involved in several efforts to improve educational equity in Chicago. He serves as the founder and executive director of Parent Power Chicago as well as the founder of the Chicago Peace Campaign, which organizes churches and other faith-based institutions to build peacemaking networks in local communities. He is running for election to the U.S. House to represent Illinois’ 1st Congressional District. He is on the ballot in the Democratic primary on June 28, 2022.