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A Couple’s Long Journey in the Anti-Abortion Movement

In the early 2000s, Harvard Right to Life, the university’s chapter of a student organization that opposes abortion, had T-shirts made that say, “Working for the Class of ’25” on the back. Another shirt from that era reads: “Smile! Your mom chose life.”

On June 6, a month after the news broke that the Supreme Court was planning to overturn its landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion, a married couple who have become leaders in the anti-abortion movement pulled the 20-year-old shirts out of their closets and tried them back on, posing for a photograph on the deck of their home in a Virginia suburb outside Washington.

Three weeks later, the couple, Carrie Severino, the president of the Judicial Crisis Network, a group closely affiliated with the Federalist Society, and Roger Severino, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation and former Trump administration official, have seen their shared dream come to pass: the end of Roe v. Wade, the 50-year-old ruling that enshrined the right to an abortion in federal law.

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A majority of Americans disagree with the decision, polls show, and it devastated many people across the country, with thousands protesting in cities and abortion providers scrambling to help women who now face long journeys to obtain care and, in some cases, the threat of prosecution.

But to the Severinos, a socially conservative Catholic couple who met at Harvard Law School and married two years later, the turn of events was the culmination of their life’s work — a decades-long campaign to reverse the ruling and then, they hope, to pass into law a ban on abortion everywhere in the United States.

“The shirt signaled our hope that we could help save lives of children that would graduate from Harvard by 2025 and into a world where Roe v. Wade had been overturned,” Roger Severino said in an interview on Friday, a few hours after the Supreme Court announced its 6-to-3 opinion overturning Roe.

“It was an audacious goal at the time, and we had serious doubts it would happen,” he recalled.

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When the ruling came out, Severino said, he made the sign of the cross and offered a brief prayer thanking God before joining the crowds near the court to savor the moment.

The news came as the Severinos continued to face personal challenges.

Carrie, a mother of six in her 40s, learned she had breast cancer in late summer 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The news of her diagnosis emerged to the broader public in one of those happenstance ways so common on the modern internet. Her parents’ church posted a note online asking its congregants to pray for her good health.

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At the time, Carrie Severino said, she did not mind that her health condition had been unexpectedly revealed, because a huge development had coincidentally just come to pass and grabbed everyone’s attention: the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to replace the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and cement the court’s conservative majority.

Severino said that she also didn’t mind sharing the news, despite its awkward disclosure, because it allowed her to connect and bond with women who had experienced similar health challenges.

On the eve of Election Day 2020, Severino was undergoing chemotherapy and steeling herself for surgery and radiation therapy. Her particular kind of tumor, her doctors assured her, tended to respond well to chemotherapy — and it was already shrinking “dramatically,” she said at the time. Two years later, her doctors have seen no signs that the disease has returned.

“As strange as it sounds,” she added, with an additional touch of optimism, 2020 was “a good year to go through this.”

With much of America still somewhere in a gray zone between open and closed, there was less likelihood of infection — and from the relative safety of the Severinos’ impromptu TV studio in the corner of their home library, she could blanket Fox News and other news outlets with her no-holds-barred defense of Barrett and her quick appointment by Republicans.

Cable news channels pitched in, sending mobile studio vans when the video quality needed to be perfect. And to manage her exhaustion because of her medical condition, Severino collapsed in bed or took breaks between the frenetic pace of TV and radio hits sparring with Barrett’s critics on the left.

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With activities for her half-dozen children canceled, she was also free, she said, to focus on time with family at home and set aside the usual guilt most working parents have as they navigate blurry boundaries between home and work.

Roger Severino praised Clarence Thomas, the court’s senior-most justice, for assigning the majority opinion to Samuel Alito, who represents the hard-line, conservative Catholic judicial philosophy shared by the Severinos and others in the anti-abortion movement.

Severino recalled his parents’ meeting Thomas for the first time when he brought them to a celebration for the justice at the court.

“My mom could barely speak English,” said Severino, the child of immigrants from Bogotá, Colombia, whose mother was an orphan with only an elementary-school education.

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He said he was stunned at the deference shown by Thomas, who has an external reputation, especially on the left, as a rigid, taciturn ideologue.

“He treated my parents like royalty,” Severino said.

On Friday, Thomas issued a concurring opinion that stunned and dismayed liberals, a sweeping exposition of his judicial philosophy suggesting that beyond Roe, cases establishing the right to contraception, same-sex consensual relations and same-sex marriage warranted new reviews.

Roger Severino said that of all the sentiments expressed by various Supreme Court justices on Friday, Thomas’s concurrence best laid out the road map for where he wants the conservative movement to go next.

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Carrie took no position on Friday on which of the conservative justices who issued their own separate takes was right, whether it be Alito, writing for the majority; or one of the others, who agreed with Alito in part but not on all details.

“Finally we have a court where the majority of the justices recognize what the Constitution says and they have courage, even in the face of these outrageous displays — the violence, the threats, and the intimidation,” she said in a television interview that morning.

But for Roger, Thomas got things mostly right. “He influenced a whole generation of lawyers, myself included,” he said. “And now his views have prevailed.”

  • The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol abruptly scheduled a hearing for Tuesday afternoon to hear what the panel called “recently obtained evidence” and take witness testimony.

  • President Biden and his top aides are stung by Democratic questions about his plans for 2024, irritated at what they see as a lack of respect from their party and the news media, and determined to tamp down suggestions that he’s effectively a lame duck a year and a half into his administration, Jonathan Martin and Zolan Kanno-Youngs write.

  • Violent threats to election workers are common. But prosecutions to combat them are not, Michael Wines and Eliza Fawcett report.

— Blake

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