The overturning of Roe v. Wade would be a conservative victory nearly 50 years in the making if the Supreme Court does, in fact, decide to strike it down in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization next year. But no matter how revolutionary such a decision would be, it should not and cannot be enough for the pro-life movement.

If abortion opponents believe, as we say we do, that abortion is a grave evil and injustice that takes hundreds of thousands of innocent lives every year, then we cannot be satisfied until the practice is abolished completely — in every state, forever. (Some exemptions will be necessary, especially in cases where the mother’s life is at risk).

I say this because there are many pro-life conservatives who, though they mean well, are acting as though leaving the abortion debate for the individual states to decide themselves is an acceptable ending. Legally and politically, this is a compelling argument. In fact, it’s the exact one Mississippi is making before the Supreme Court in Dobbs. But it is not a compelling moral argument.

Returning abortion policy to the states would be an excellent and necessary step in the right direction. Hundreds of thousands of lives would be saved, and that matters. But it will not be enough for Texas and Mississippi and other red states to restrict abortion if New York and California still permit the mass murder of unborn children. This might make for a good political solution, but it would be nothing more than a temporary fix, because it doesn’t get to the root of the issue.

At its very core, the abortion debate is about whether one human being gets to decide the dignity and personhood of another. That’s a question that has to be answered definitively, one way or the other. Everything else is just noise. We cannot, as a society, coexist and work together if one-half of the country legally degrades the moral worth of human beings while the other does not.

Abraham Lincoln once made this argument about slavery and whether the states should decide the issue for themselves. The policy in question at the time was very similar to the one being proposed today: the doctrine of "popular sovereignty" would have allowed the people of federal territories to decide for themselves whether to enter the Union as free or slave states. Lincoln called this policy a “living, creeping lie.”

“I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free,” he said. “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall. But I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”

Lincoln understood that political compromise simply was not possible on questions of basic morality because those questions form the very foundation of this country, its constitutional system, and its legal order. Either a human being has innate dignity that is worth protecting or does not. There can be no ifs, buts, or maybes.

This is why conservatives need to start planning for what comes next if Roe is overturned. Our goal must be to abolish abortion nationally, and we must have a strategy to accomplish that.

Politically, states that restrict and ban abortions should pair those laws with bills that support families and parents, such as expanded child tax credits, voluntary paid parental leave, and increased obligations for delinquent fathers. Legally, conservatives should adopt the view that the 14th Amendment recognizes pre-born personhood and nominate Republican political candidates and judges who agree. Culturally, the pro-life movement should continue to do what it has been doing for decades — change hearts and minds through the power of its example, so that we can, as Lincoln said, put abortion, in the public mind, on the path toward extinction.

This might take another 50 years, or 100 years, or 150 years. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that we never lose sight of this goal and fall into complacency if the Supreme Court does rule in our favor next year. Overturning Roe is just the beginning. The hard part is what comes next.