The Dobbs Decision: The State Being the State

R.C. Sproul offered a succinct and profound statement on the relationship of church and state when he said, “The church is not calling the state to be the church. The church is calling the state to be the state.”1 When the state, and specifically the Supreme Court of the United States, decided Roe v. Wade, the state abdicated its role as the state. The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson is a major leap back to the state’s rightful position.

That rightful position of the state can be found in the opening chapters of Genesis and also in what may very well be the most brilliant documents in the history of political philosophy—namely, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution, ratified in 1791). The Declaration of Independence’s opening sentence appeals to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” That is the most stable, worthy, and certain foundation for all the particular laws that govern a body politic. The very next sentence enumerates particular “unalienable rights”—that is to say, rights that are absolute. They are not invented or created by human institutions. They exist. They are. Those rights govern men and are “endowed by their Creator.” Those rights are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”2 Liberty was the watchword of the modern revolutions, overthrowing the rule of the monarchies for the rule of law. But notice what comes first in the list of rights: life. The right to life is the fundamental and foundational human right. The founders of the United States may very well have invented a government with its three branches and bicameral legislature, but it did not invent the right to life. The Declaration merely declared what is already reality.

The right to life stems from one unalterable truth: All human beings are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:7–8). That means one unalterable conclusion: Murder is a violation of nature (Gen. 4; Ex. 20:13). That all human beings are created in the image of God means that all of human life is to be preserved and protected, and every body politic has the main function of protecting life. Governments that protect life are good, honorable, and just. Governments that don’t protect life are not good, are dishonorable, and unjust.

This is why governmentally sanctioned abortion is so egregious. This is why abortion is the abdication of the state’s role. Abortion is especially egregious because of the victim, who is powerless and vulnerable. The Supreme Court suborned injustice in the Roe decision.

One thing we know is that sin has consequences. The Roe decision had consequences not only for the tens of millions of lives aborted, but it also had consequences for the broader culture. R.C. Sproul, Francis Schaeffer, and others spoke of the culture of death. This is clearly illustrated in the work of Peter Singer, a longtime professor of ethics at Princeton University, who wrote,

I do not deny that if one accepts abortion on the grounds provided in chapter 6, the case for killing human beings, in other circumstances, is strong. Euthanasia is not something to be regarded with horror.3

Singer refers to chapter six of his book, in which he argues that the unborn child (he exclusively uses the word fetus) is not a life, and Singer further argues that the entire notion of sanctity of life is wrong. Then he moves from the fetus to the infant: “If we can put aside these emotionally moving but strictly irrelevant aspects of the killing of a baby we can see that the grounds for not killing persons do not apply to newborn infants.”4 We need to follow Singer’s train of thought. He denies the sanctity of human life. Then he justifies abortion as perfectly fine, even required in some cases. Then he justifies infanticide. Then he justifies euthanasia. This is “Exhibit A” of the culture of death, and this is the consequence of an unjust decision like Roe.

Dobbs is not a perfect decision. As many have observed, Dobbs returns the issue of abortion to the states. The political battle over the abortion pill has already started. That is sadly true. Some also have pointed out that some elements of the concurrences of the Supreme Court Justices of the majority opinion were weak (Justice Clarence Thomas being the notable exception). Dobbs is not the end of the legal battles, but merely the beginning of a new phase. All that to say, the fight for life and the end of legalized abortion is not over.

Nevertheless, there is much to celebrate here. The Dobbs decision is a giant step back to the culture of life declared in Genesis 1–2 and beautifully echoed in the founding documents of the United States. The decision of Dobbs holds, “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.”5 Those few words overturn decades of injustice and the murder of tens of millions of lives. Those few words uphold the Constitution, which is the singular task of the judicial system. The Dobbs decision is the state being the state—as ordained by God.

Genesis 1–2 does not present an exclusively Christian ethic. These two chapters present the foundational ethics that govern human beings and their interaction with one other. Genesis 1–2 is the basis of ethics and law. Genesis 1–2 is what lets the state know that the state is to uphold the sanctity of all human life. For decades, faithful Christians have advocated for the state to be the state on the issue of abortion and to reverse Roe. Dobbs is the state fulfilling its obligation as the state.

R.C. Sproul, Ultimately Podcast Episode, “Calling the State to be the State,” November 5, 2021.

This line, written by Thomas Jefferson, reflects the thought of John Locke, who spoke of the nature’s laws as comprising “Life, Health, Liberty, or possessions,” and as “Life, Liberty, and Estate [the ownership of property],” John Locke, Two Treatises on Government, Edited by Peter Laslett (Cambridge University Press, 1967) 270–71.

Peter Singer, Practical Ethics – Second Edition (Cambridge University Press, 1999, first published 1993), 175. Singer wrote the first edition while a professor at Monash University in Australia. He has been a professor at Princeton University since 1999, currently holding an endowed chair.

Ibid. 150.

19-1392 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, June 24, 2022.

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Ligonier Ministries