The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case was welcomed with joy and relief by many people who have been working for decades to end abortion in our country.
For nearly half a century, Americans across the country have been marching, organizing and praying, calling for an end to abortion. The Catholic Church and individual Catholics have been prominent in the fight for the recognition of the inherent dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death, since the very beginning of the respect for life movement.
In Tennessee, the people have been moving steadily toward a culture of life, making clear their views on abortion. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the State Constitution includes a fundamental right to abortion, wiping out any attempt by the state to pass abortion regulations, such as a 24-hour waiting period and requirements for facilities that provided abortions. That ruling helped fuel the 2014 passage of a constitutional amendment that said nothing in the State Constitution “secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”
The authors of the Tennessee Constitution set a high bar for amending it to ensure that any amendment secures the broad support of the people. A proposed amendment must be approved by both houses of the General Assembly in successive sessions, and by a two-thirds majority in the second session. Once an amendment clears that hurdle, it is placed on the ballot for the voters to decide in the next general election when a governor is elected.
Not only must the amendment receive a majority of yes votes, that number must constitute a majority of the number of votes cast in the gubernatorial election.
The voters of Tennessee and their elected representatives cleared all those hurdles, and the amendment in 2014 was approved by a vote of 729,163, or 52.6 percent, to 657,192, or 47.4 percent. Clearly, the people have spoken.
More recently, the State Legislature passed a so-called “trigger law” that would outlaw nearly all abortions in the state in the event Roe v. Wade was overturned.
On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court did just that, reversing course and holding that Roe “must be overruled.”
The reaction to the court’s decision from those who put individual “choice” above a basic right to life for a distinct, unique life made in the image and likeness of God was fast and furious. They argue that the ruling was an assault on women, stripping them of an important right and relegating them to a stunted and dangerous life of forced pregnancies.
It is not misogyny that drives the respect for life movement but rather an obligation to defend all life, including the life of the unborn. That obligation does not ignore the mother, in fact, just the opposite. It requires that we care for the mother with the same dedication and compassion that we extend to her child during her pregnancy and beyond.
As Catholics we are trying to build a culture of life, where the life of every person is respected and supported. That blanket of love is large enough to warm mother and child, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the forgotten and the shunned. As a Church, we put the Corporal Works of Mercy into action, and in doing so, we walk in the footsteps of Christ.
The court’s decision is not the end of this journey. It will not wipe away unplanned or difficult pregnancies in the future. It will not erase challenging ethical and moral questions when the life and health of a mother and her baby hangs in the balance.
But the Catholic faith offers a firm foundation — that every life is a gift from God imbued with dignity by the Creator’s love — with which to find answers to those heart-wrenching questions. We must always seek a path that supports and cares for every life.
To truly respect life is to abandon no one. That is our mission as a Church and as individuals.