This former anti-abortion activist believes Alito used his rhetoric in Dobbs ruling
For many years, the Rev. Rob Schenck was a prominent figure in the anti-abortion movement and led Faith and Action, a Christian Right organization that lobbied members of Congress and set out to influence the U.S. Supreme Court. But Schenck later changed his mind about outlawing abortion, realizing that making abortion illegal would do more hard than good.
Faith and Action, now Faith & Liberty, spent decades pushing for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, and they finally got their way on June 24, 2022 — when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And Schenck believes that Justice Samuel Alito used some of his old anti-Roe arguments in the decision.
During a podcast posted on July 16 by the Interfaith Alliance, Schenck told Rabbi Jack Moline, “I can say with a certain level of certainty: I don’t think we would have gotten the decision as it is worded from Justice Alito without the work we did.”
It wasn’t something that he was bragging about. As aggressively as Schenck railed against abortion during the 1980s and 1990s, he later came out against the anti-abortion movement in a big way.
In an op-ed published by the New York Times on May 30, 2019, the reverend wrote, “Over the last decade, I have changed my view on Roe. I’ve come to believe that overturning Roe would not be ‘pro-life’; rather, it would be destructive of life. I have witnessed first-hand and now appreciate the full significance of the terrible poverty, social marginalization and bald-faced racism that persists in many of the states whose legislators are now essentially banning abortion. If Roe is overturned, middle- and upper-class White women will still secure access to abortions by traveling to states where abortion is not banned, but members of minorities and poor Whites will too often find themselves forced to bear children for whom they cannot adequately care.”
Schenck continued, “What is ‘pro-life’ about putting a woman in a situation where she must risk pregnancy without proper medical, social and emotional support? What is ‘pro-life’ about forcing the birth of a child, if that child will enter a world of rejection, deprivation and insecurity, to say nothing of the fear, anxiety and danger that comes with poverty, crime and a lack of educational and employment opportunities?”
Nonetheless, Schenck’s anti-abortion arguments of the past remain influential — perhaps even influencing Alito in Dobbs.
Journalist Josh Gerstein, in an article published by Politico on July 20, explains, “A former leader of the Religious Right contends that an effort he helped lead to influence conservative Supreme Court justices through prayer sessions, private dinners and other social events contributed to the stridency of the Court’s opinion last month striking down Roe v. Wade. Rev. Rob Schenck said, on a religion-focused podcast released last week, that the behind-the-scenes lobbying effort led by his former group Faith and Action to encourage the conservative justices to ‘be bolder and far more assertive in their opinions’ on social issues like abortion contributed to the sweeping nature of the five-justice majority’s decision to roll back abortion rights.”
According to Gerstein, Schenck’s “latest claims are fueling a heated debate about outside influences on the Court and whether justices’ family and social relationships are driving the Court’s agenda and increasingly conservative bent.”
Gerstein notes, “Schenck said Justice Samuel Alito’s 79-page opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization included language and framing that Schenck and other anti-abortion activists had touted for years in their efforts to stir up sentiment to ban abortion in the U.S…. The Supreme Court-focused campaign Schenck mounted, known as ‘Operation Higher Court,’ sought to use social interactions with a slew of religiously-conservative couples to coax justices to be more vocal about defending and promoting conservative religious views and values in their opinions. The couples built relationships with the justices through dinners at private homes, vacation getaways and swanky restaurants and subtly offered suggestions that the justices were the nation’s last line of defense against surging liberalism, said Schenck, who pointed to Justices Alito, Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia as the most frequent targets of Faith and Action’s overtures.”
Schenck, on the podcast, said of Alito’s writing in Dobbs, “It was a polemic from our side of the movement, which startled me, took my breath away. He was using phrases we had invented as bumper sticker slogans in a Supreme Court decision. It was breathtaking to me.”
Describing his past efforts to influence the U.S. Supreme Court, Schenck recalled, “You know, Washington is built on relationships. So, you build relationships and the Supreme Court justices have a very tight constellation of people that they keep company with. I set out to meet those people and build relationships with them and to set up arrangements where there were reciprocal debts owed. And one of the ways you pay a debt in Washington is you give access — you open doors for people that are, in some cases, as with the Court, that are otherwise impenetrable. I benefited from that. It took a long time to do that. At least a decade.”
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