Five Questions for James Bopp Jr.;
Lawyer Who Undermined Roe v. Wade Until It Fell

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James Bopp Jr. has served as General Counsel of the National Right to Life Committee since 1978.  He was a major strategist in attacking the legal foundations of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, until it was overturned in June 2022.  He has also drafted legislation for state legislatures interested in restricting abortion.

As founder of The Bopp Law Firm, of Terre Haute, Indiana, Mr. Bopp has represented conservative causes in many legal cases.  Among others, he drafted the original complaint in the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which resulted in corporations and unions being allowed to make independent expenditures for political campaigns.

Mr. Bopp, 75, was raised a Methodist.  He became a Roman Catholic in 2017.

Mr. Bopp is the main speaker at the upcoming annual brunch of the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund, during which he is to receive the organization’s Thomas More Award.  The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 29, 2023 at the Newton Marriott, at 2345 Commonwealth Avenue (Route 30) in the Auburndale village of Newton, Massachusetts.

Tickets are $60 per person, which includes $30 for the brunch and a $30 tax-deductible donation.  Tickets may be purchased by check made out to PLLDF and sent by mail to PLLDF, 2 Neptune Road, #167, Boston, Massachusetts 02128.  Tickets may also be purchased online using PayPal with a note that says “Brunch 2023.”  For more information, send an email message to [email protected] or call 617-970-0928.

New Boston Post’s Matt McDonald interviewed Mr. Bopp by video link on Saturday, April 22, 2023.  The transcript below has been condensed for space.


1.  From the early days after Roe v. Wade was issued, you supported a piecemeal strategy to overturn it, bringing various cases that nibbled away at the idea of a constitutional right to abortion.  Did you ever find that approach frustrating? What was the lowest moment?

Well, of course, I came on the scene in 1978 as General Counsel for National Right to Life. One of my responsibilities was to develop a plan to overturn Roe v. Wade and then execute that plan. And I would call it not piecemeal. I would call it incremental. And the first thing I did — and I was actually, you know, kind of young out of law school at the time, five years — was to research how does the Supreme Court overturn precedent?  What do you see when you see the court overturning precedent as far as what leads up to it that makes them willing to overturn a precedent?

And what you find is a series of cases.  Not just one case, but a series of cases where the court nibbles away, as you describe in your question, the precedent by distinguishing it, explaining it, criticizing it, questioning it, until they are finally willing to overturn the precedent. Often, the precedent by that time is really devoid of any content. Sometimes, though, there’s still content there, but it’s the willingness of the court after a series of cases to overturn a precedent.

And that’s what you see, almost invariably — and they’ve overturned, depends how you count them, 150 to 250 precedents over the years, and certainly one or more a year you see.

And so I was convinced that if you’re going to do a plan, a strategy, you have to do it in accordance with how the Supreme Court functions, and hope for divine intervention that shortens the process.


2.  Going into the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case in 1992, did you have hopes that justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter might vote to overturn Roe?  Which justices surprised you in that case?

We thought there was a substantial reason why each one of those would have voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, for different reasons. And that would have given us a seven-to-two majority. So that case is probably our biggest disappointment because we thought we had a legitimate opportunity, a potential for seven votes, the court explicitly agreed to reconsider Roe v. Wade, and thereby possibly overturn it. And we thought that the case was really perfect for that opportunity.  But three of the seven — and you mentioned them, of course — voted to reaffirm the core holding of Roe v. Wade, which was that there’s a constitutional right to abortion.

But there was a silver lining. The silver lining was that they substantially reduced the bite of Roe v. Wade by adopting the undue burden test, which permitted a lot more regulations or restrictions on abortion. And of course that allowed us to go right back to the states to have them adopt additional restrictions and limitations on abortion under this undue burden test.

And so this ended up being both a bump in the road, but also a case that propelled us eventually to overturning Roe v. Wade, because it gave us much more opportunity to regulate abortion, therefore more cases going up to the court, keeping the issue alive, protecting lives in the meantime.  And so it was, while disappointing at the time, looking back on it now, it was a critical step in leading us to overturning Roe v. Wade.


3.  Anti-abortion referendums have been rejected by voters in every state where they have been tried since Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Services overturned Roe in June 2022, even in states thought to tilt pro-life.  What should pro-lifers do to try to reduce or prohibit abortion post-Roe?

Well, in order to limit abortion, we need to work through our state legislatures, and ultimately Congress and the presidency in popular elections.  I mean, that’s our vehicle.

Now, the reason for the difficulty with referendums is that that is a context in which the advantages that the pro-abortion movement has are most at play. Their advantages are, one, control of the media, the mainstream media that then frames, you know, every abortion referendum as itself a ban on all abortions. And where, like in Kansas, it was not that at all. It was just removing a right to abortion from the Kansas Constitution and had no substantive results. The legislature would still have to pass laws, and whatever, you know, they might be.

The second is that the richest people in the United States are overwhelmingly pro-abortion. There are many reasons for this. But, you know, of the ten congressional seats where they had the highest per capita personal income, nine of them are represented by liberal pro-abortion Democrats.  Nine of the ten wealthiest congressional districts.

Billionaires are overwhelmingly pro-abortion and there’s reasons for that, too.  The vast majority are men.  They want to be in control of their lives.  And that includes not having their wife pregnant when they don’t want her to be.  That particularly includes not having their mistress or their sexual partners being pregnant at all.  They are used to being independent and in control of their lives. And you know, an unwanted, untimed pregnancy is the one of the things they worry about more than anything.  And so the abortion policy of abortion on demand throughout pregnancy benefits them tremendously. And so they want to fund it.

So when you see one of these referendums, what you see is, number one, the media falsely characterizing the pro-life position on the referendum. And then you see millions and millions of dollars being poured in by the richest people in the country, either personally or through organizations — you know, pro-abortion organizations they’re supporting — and that makes it very difficult to win.


4.  A human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing abortion would end it legally throughout the country.  What do you think of that approach?

Well, that’s our ultimate goal. We fix the U.S. Constitution so that, number one, a future Supreme Court doesn’t overturn Dobbsand reinstate a right to abortion. But also we would have the opportunity to establish that the unborn is a person under the constitution, and there would be some obligation for the states to be required under the constitution to protect the unborn. So it would serve a very useful function.

Now, it doesn’t eliminate some of the challenges we have now and would have then, which is the utter lawlessness of the Democrat Party generally, and specifically, radical Democrat prosecutors in every state that not only are refusing to enforce many different state laws, but specifically would refuse to enforce abortion laws that restrict abortion.  You know, if you rely solely upon criminal penalties in your state to protect the unborn by restricting abortion, you are doing something that is utterly futile, because they won’t enforce those laws in their county and you’ll have abortion on demand throughout pregnancy in your state regardless of what the state law is.  So there’s a lot of problems here.

Another problem we face is, the resources that are and will be brought to bear to have an underground illegal abortion industry and trafficking is going to be enormous.  It makes the mafia look like chicken feed, compared with the support that is available and being deployed to protect and promote illegal abortions throughout the country.  So we face enormous challenges to make any legal regime practical, and that is actually protecting the unborn.


5.  You have said that you want to see an abortion-free America, in which abortions occur only if necessary to save the life of the mother.  Do you see that happening?  If so, when?

I think that, again, is our ideal position, a goal. But you know, but that’s going to require the creation of a culture of life within America.  It’s going to require a remarkable consensus among the American people that that should be the proper state of the law.  I mean, it’s obvious to me right now that the pro-life movement needs to embrace not only life of the mother, but also rape and incest — with proper safeguards, so that it’s limited to that. We need to recognize that that’s where the American people are, that that is frankly the best we can probably achieve in any legislature that would vote on it today.

But that’s a huge victory. That would mean that 95 percent of the abortions that were being committed prior to the overturning of Roe v. Wade would be outlawed, and that only 4 or 5 percent would be allowed under those three exceptions.

You know, look, politics is the art of the possible, and that is, in my opinion, what is currently possible — which would be a huge, huge victory.


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