For nearly 50 years, the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of the debate over abortion and a fierce advocate for protecting the dignity and value of the lives of unborn children and their mothers. After a long struggle, it appears that the Supreme Court is tantalizingly close to overturning its decision in the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion.
On Wednesday, Dec. 1, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization over a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Those defending the Mississippi law urged the justices to use the case to overturn both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the two major cases establishing a right to abortion and the standard for how states might regulate it. The court is expected to announce its decision next summer.
After listening to the justices’ questions, many court observers believe a majority of the court is ready to overturn those precedents and send the abortion question back to state legislatures to decide.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement from Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, expressing the hope the court would do just that. “We pray that the court will do the right thing and allow states to once again limit or prohibit abortion and in doing so protect millions of unborn children and their mothers from this painful, life-destroying act.”
In its amicus brief filed in the Dobbs case, the USCCB argued, “The Constitution does not create a right to an abortion of an unborn child before viability or at any other stage of pregnancy. Abortion is inherently different from other types of personal decisions to which this Court has accorded constitutional protection. An asserted right to abortion has no basis in constitutional text or in American history and tradition. Quite the contrary, abortion prohibitions have been common throughout American history, including during the colonial and founding eras, in 1868 when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, and in 1973 when Roe was issued.”
Since long before Roe was decided in 1973, the Church has taught that every life, from conception through natural death, has value as a gift from God. “God loves each human life from the instant of his or her conception and entrusts this gift to the protection of a mother and father,” the USCCB declares on its website. “Abortion ends the life of a child and offends God. It also deeply wounds the women and men involved.”
In their statement on the 30th anniversary of Roe, the bishops reiterated Church teaching. “We will speak out on behalf of the sanctity of each and every human life wherever it is threatened, from conception to natural death, and we urge all people of good will to do likewise. For, as Pope John Paul II reminds us, ‘it is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop.’”
But even if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe, our efforts to defend life and to help both the child and their mother must continue.
In their statement nearly 20 years ago, the bishops recognized that “many contemplating abortion believe they have no other choice. We listen to them, we understand their sense of isolation and despair. We must strive to know their hearts.
“We renew our offer of assistance to anyone considering abortion: If you are overwhelmed by the decisions you face, if you cannot afford medical care, if you are homeless or feel helpless, whatever your needs, we will help you. The Church and her ministries, inspired by the word and example of Jesus Christ, will help you with compassion and without condemnation.”
The Church is still offering that same kind of care and mercy. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, recently said the vision of the bishops’ “Walking with Moms in Need” initiative, launched in March 2020, “is that a pregnant or parenting mother in need can turn to any local Catholic parish and be connected with the life-affirming assistance and accompaniment that she needs.” The initiative’s website is WalkingWithMoms.com.
Our obligation to care for all of God’s children was in place long before the Roe decision was handed down, and it will extend long after the precedent set in the Roe decision is no longer the law of the land. It is what Jesus would do.