U.S. Rep. Chris Smith said Thursday that overturning the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide would signal a “new phase” — not the culmination — of pro-life efforts to protect the unborn.

“This is a new phase. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning of a national debate on abortion, and for the first time ever, the child will be paramount,” the New Jersey Republican told Raymond Arroyo on EWTN’s “The World Over” on May 5.

Smith, the co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, was responding to the leak of a preliminary draft opinion in a Mississippi abortion case written by Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. that suggests that a conservative majority of the Supreme Court is prepared to overturn Roe and another pivotal case that affirmed it nearly 20 years later, Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has ordered an investigation into the leak, and emphasized in a statement earlier this week that the draft opinion, dated Feb. 10, does not reflect the current status of the case, which was expected to be decided at the conclusion of the court’s term at the end of June.

Overturning Roe and Casey would not make abortion illegal across the U.S. Instead, it would leave the regulation of abortion up to state governments — something that Roe and Casey have largely prevented until now.

Smith, who began pro-life advocacy work in New Jersey in 1972, the year before Roe was decided, said a final decision consistent with Alito’s draft would be “an engraved invitation to legislate” abortion.

But, he cautioned, “that goes both ways.” While a growing number of states are moving toward passing laws that sharply curtail when abortion is permissable, others are moving in the opposite direction, in some cases even exceeding the legal protections that Roe created.

“My own state under Gov. (Phil) Murphy, passed a law that allows for abortion right up to the moment of birth, and he’s looking potentially to do even more,” Smith said. “We know Colorado did the same, and other states.” You can watch Smith’s full interview with Arroyo in the video below.

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An effort is underway in Congress, too, to codify Roe into federal law, thereby neutralizing a Supreme Court decision that would dismantle the nationwide legal abortion framework Roe and Casey established.

In response to the leaked draft opinion, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, has scheduled a vote Wednesday on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which pro-life leaders warn is more extreme than Roe. The House passed its version of the bill in September, with only one dissenting Democratic vote. It failed in the Senate in February.

“We're dealing with an opportunity on the pro-abortion side to provide abortion on demand till birth and to eviscerate, as the House bill does, all of the modest restrictions, like women's right-to-know laws, parental notification statutes, all of those [measures] that have been put into place as a very modest effort to protect life — all of those would be swept away,” the congressman said.

While the bill isn’t expected to win passage in the Senate, where Democrats lack the necessary 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster, Smith cautioned that the pro-life movement is entering what he called “a very dangerous zone.”

“This is the time to demonstrate our courage, our commitment, and frankly our willingness to protect the weakest and most vulnerable among us — and that includes the woman who is the co-victim in these abortions,” Smith said.