News & Commentary

New book examines fall of Roe and role Catholics played in effort

Demonstrators protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 25, 2022, the day after the high court ruled in the Dobbs v Women's Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision. (OSV News photo/Elizabeth Frantz, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — In the nearly 50 years separating Roe v. Wade from the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that reversed the court’s previous abortion precedent, abortion opponents argued against the Roe ruling many of them saw as judicial overreach.

But the demise of Roe largely took place in the last decade of its existence, New York Times journalists Elizabeth Dias and Lisa Lerer write in their new book, “The Fall of Roe: The Rise of a New America.”

The book delves into the history behind the fall of Roe v. Wade, including the role of many Catholics in that effort.

Dias told OSV News in an interview with OSV News that in an effort to chronicle the events of the final decade with Roe on the books, they examined “the behind-the-scenes, inside strategy of the anti-abortion movement, especially women activists, conservative women, who’ve made it their life’s work to fight abortion in America, and we chronicle their rise, which was a bit behind the scenes to a lot of people, especially at the time.”

“We also weave in the story of liberal women who support abortion rights, of the leaders of groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL et cetera, and sort of track these two different storylines,” she added.

The book, a nonpartisan chronicle of the last decade of Roe, features interviews with relevant players on both sides of the abortion debate, including those who sought to protect or undo Roe. It argues that through a combination of strategy and luck, abortion opponents used legal and political means to unravel Roe, all while abortion advocates largely failed to convince their allies on the left that the fall of Roe was imminent.

In one portion of the book, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reflected on her 2016 presidential loss, which came as a surprise to many, and features prominently in the story, as pro-life advocates sought to fill roles, and judicial nominations, in the ensuing Trump administration.

Clinton criticized her party for underestimating abortion opponents, and being “taken by surprise” by the landmark Dobbs decision.

“We didn’t take it seriously, and we didn’t understand the threat,” Clinton said in the book of her party.

The book also notes that Catholic pro-life activists played prominent roles in the legal and political efforts to overturn Roe. One pro-life activist featured prominently in the book is Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which works to elect pro-life candidates to public office.

The book says Dannefelser, feeling as if other prominent figures on the right were blaming social issues for Republicans’ loss in the 2012 election, shifted her groups’ strategy to secure political and legal influence for the pro-life cause.

Asked about her thoughts on the book, Dannenfelser told OSV News, “The grassroots groundswell for 50 years leading up to the defeat of Roe’s culture of death is a testament to the unwavering dedication and tireless efforts of the pro-life movement, propelled by the deeply held belief in the inherent value and dignity of every human being.”

“The pro-life movement’s ability to defy the odds, even when facing political pressures and attempts to sideline pro-life issues, speaks volumes about the resilience and determination of our movement,” she said. “We worked together to overturn Roe by persisting in our mission to protect the unborn and support mothers, seizing every opportunity to refocus, strategize and renew our commitment to transform culture and policy.”

“The defeat of Roe v. Wade,” she continued, “is a historic victory for the pro-life movement, giving life a winning chance and ensuring that the voices of the most vulnerable are heard and heeded in the ongoing struggle for human dignity and justice. Now, we must use this same persistence and dedication in this post-Roe era until every child is saved and every mother is served.”

Dias said Catholic figures are a central part of the story of the fall of Roe.

“There’s an idea that actually it was evangelicalism that pushed this through, but actually, evangelicals were really late to the anti-abortion movement, and the role of Catholics, especially white Catholics, white conservative Catholics, ended up being completely pivotal in the overturning of Roe,” Dias said. “Almost all of the main players who we document and share their stories are Catholic.”

Dias added that the book “is a political story, but we really wrote it as a personal story too.”

The book features interviews with staff and volunteers at pro-life pregnancy resource centers, as well as abortion clinics.

“Yes, this is an investigation and it looks at these big political changes (but) this at heart is a story about people, exploring questions about what it means to be human and what it means to be a woman,” she said. “And it’s an intimate story.”

The second anniversary of the Dobbs decision is June 24.

By Kate Scanlon | OSV News