How Roe warped the republic

From the perspective of geography and class, a group of robed lawyers in Washington, D.C., demanding that the country simply accept their settlement on one of the gravest moral questions imaginable is the perfect primer for a populist revolt. What has happened in similar ways with other issues — immigration, most notably — happened with abortion first: The elite settlement failed to settle the issue, and the backlash encompassed not just the issue itself but elite legitimacy writ large.

From the perspective of religion, meanwhile, by constitutionalizing the issue Roe didn’t just hand a normal political defeat to the pro-life side; it seemed to read their core convictions out of the American constitutional order entirely, seeding a religious alienation that continues to bear bitter fruit today. And the timing was particularly unfortunate: When Roe was handed down, both Catholicism and evangelicalism had just passed through periods of reform and modernization that promised a reconciliation between Christian faith and liberal modernity. Then immediately, liberal modernity changed its demands and made them all-or-nothing, making the moral price of admission more than many Christians could reasonably pay.

Finally, and crucially for the deformation of liberalism itself, the price demanded was not just moral but intellectual — because Roe was not a persuasive constitutional decision, but rather the clearest-possible case study in what it looks like when justices legislate from the bench.