The past few months following the overturning of Roe v. Wade have been fraught with heated debates and misinformation in the media. But as the nation grapples with heartbeat bills and abortion laws, what is the heart of the matter? Jonathan Youssef and special guest Carrie Murray Nellis drill down on the legal reasoning behind the Dobbs case, the importance of state legislation on abortion, and next steps for the body of Christ.
This interview is condensed and excerpted from episode 150 of Candid Conversations with Jonathan Youssef. Listen today on your favorite podcast platform or online.
"We have a moment as the body of Christ to show people who Jesus is."
Jonathan: It's my privilege to have Carrie Murray Nellis join us. Carrie is an attorney at the Murray Nellis Law Group, and she specializes in adoption and child advocacy. She's also the executive director of [an adoption agency] . . . Carrie, can you help us think through the legal ramifications of the overturning of Roe v. Wade?
Carrie Murray Nellis: I love the way that Justice Alito lays out his argument for the majority. He goes through the history: How are we where we are today? The truth is abortion really was first a states issue. Every state had the right through voters and their legislators to make laws regarding abortion. And then Roe, of course, came in in 1973, and basically federalized it, saying it was not a states issue anymore.
So this Dobbs case is saying, "We need to go back to how it was before Roe and make it a state issue." One of the big misconceptions is that Dobbs is abolishing abortion. What it's doing is saying, "You know what? In Roe you were legislating from the bench," which is a huge no-no. If you want a law, then it needs to go through the proper channels, through the House and the Senate and then the President signing it or, within the states, through the state house, state senate, and then the governor.
In Alito's opinion, he talks a lot about what the Constitution does and does not say, and the truth is that the Constitution does not talk about abortion. [The pro-abortion movement has] taken all these amendments and tried to create a foundation to kind of hang their hat on within the four corners of the Constitution. Alito says there isn't one, that [the issue] needs to go back to the states and the legislators need to make a decision. Our forefathers were brilliant in so many ways, having checks and balances in the judicial system, in the executive branch, in the legislative branch; we are not supposed to legislate from the bench.
Jonathan: Let's talk quickly about the benefits of this going to the states. What does it look like and how does it help, for instance, organizations like yours?
Carrie: I love that it goes back to the states because we are a democracy and we vote our legislatures. . . . Abortion doesn't do anything other than say, "You can't do this. You're not going to be able to go to school and be a mom," or, "You'll never be able to make an adoption plan because of x, y, and z." By taking it back to the states, the state not only can put in their own pro-life bill that [bans] abortions after the heartbeat is detected but also [can] safeguard women within the state to make sure that they're safe medically and can get the social services they need. For example, I love the fact that in Georgia's heartbeat bill, men have to pay child support before the baby is born. That shows the mom whether or not he's going to step up and do what he says he's going to do. Our heartbeat bill lays the foundation for that.
Jonathan: I've spent some time reading through major publications voicing their opinion—what their concerns are—and a lot of them just seem really ungrounded. Let's talk a little bit through the [misconceptions] so people have clarity on what is and isn't realistic.
Carrie: One of them is that women are going to be prosecuted for having abortions. The general premise [of the heartbeat bills I have read] is women will not be criminally held responsible. Who would be criminally held responsible is the doctor or medical professionals that actually perform the abortion. I've [asked] my OB/GYN friends, "Are y'all scared that you'll [be held liable in] criminal cases when you were doing a D&C [for a miscarriage]?" And the doctors look at me like I have three heads: "When [a patient has] a miscarriage, there's no heartbeat, so you can't be held criminally liable for that."
[Others have been told] that Dobbs would keep people from being able to get contraception. This has nothing to do with contraception. Let me be clear that abortion is not contraception. Contraception, like birth-control pills, is not at all involved in our heartbeat bill or any heartbeat bill that I have read or heard about.
Jonathan: Let's think from the perspective of the Christian believer and relate to people who are going through this trial. I'm guessing that people will start going to other states to have abortions if they live in a state where it is outlawed. How can Christians come alongside them and be supportive? Some argue that Christians want to be involved in the decision but then [don't show up in] the aftermath: "Where are the believers after an adoption, after the choice to pursue life?" I think that's important because that's what we're really called to.
Carrie: It is time to put our actions to what we have been saying for decades. And we have a moment as the body of Christ to show people who Jesus is. We can either really mess this up and show people who Jesus isn't, or we can really show them the love of Jesus. And if we look at Jesus' life, He was loving sinners. He was sitting with them. He was talking with them. He was healing. He wasn't sitting on a big platform and just speaking; He was doing. And this is our moment to get going. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
I was talking with someone about what we are going to do after [the overturning of Roe v. Wade]. Should we have a big march? And I said, "You know what? You can count me and [my ministry] out of this march unless we are going to cover the capitol steps with diapers and formula and clothes and the tangible things that women are going to need because it is time to step up."
I feel that the church has done that in a mighty way, but it's going to have to be done even more. We're going to have to work together, and that's where the beauty of the body of Christ is. . . . It's going to take the churches saying, "Okay, what can we do? How can we be the hands and feet of Jesus and show them Jesus' love by the way we love?"
I really am praying that women will know that they can be empowered. We can empower women to make decisions and not have to do it in a crisis, but that they can be surrounded by others who are loving them.
The church can solve a huge part of our foster-care problem. That's a huge area that we're going to have to step up in. Maybe not everybody is called to be a foster parent. But we can bring meals to people that we know are foster parents. Or we can bring them diapers when they get a placement. We can get approved for respite just for the weekend so they can have some time away. We can all serve, and again, that is our calling as the body of Christ. God gave each of us [giftings], and our job is to use [them] to the best of our ability. That's where working together is going to make a huge difference.