Tennessee bishops praise court’s ruling in abortion case 

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 High school students from the Diocese of Nashville participate in the 2022 March for Life in Washington, D.C., protesting the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion across the country. In its recent ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court reversed the precedent set in Roe v. Wade. Tennessee Register file photo by Katie Peterson

The three bishops of Tennessee praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which reversed the precedent set in the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade declaring a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. 

On Friday, June 24, the Supreme Court announced its ruling in the Dobbs case, which addressed the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that prohibits an abortion after 15 weeks. With the ruling, individual states are now permitted to enact their own laws and restrictions as they pertain to access to abortion services, particularly in regard to pre-viability abortions.  

“Together as the bishops of Tennessee, we thank the United States Supreme Court for its careful consideration of the constitutional issues surrounding abortion and express our encouragement that it has ruled in favor of the right to life for the unborn,” Bishops J. Mark Spalding of Nashville,  David P. Talley of Memphis, and Richard F. Stika of Knoxville said in statement released after the court’s decision was announced.  

“Arguments before the court made it clear that our ever-expanding scientific knowledge has identified the fact that everything essential for a growing human life is present from the moment of conception,” the bishops said.  

“Only time and nourishment are necessary to bring that life forward, created in the likeness and image of God with the human dignity enshrined by the creator in each of us as his children,” the statement continued. “We pray for all those facing pregnancies, both planned and unplanned, and pledge to redouble our efforts to support mothers, fathers and children at every stage of life.” 

The Tennessee bishops were joined by bishops across the country praising the court’s decision. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the decision a “historic day in the life of our country, one that stirs our thoughts, emotions and prayers.”

“We pray that our elected officials will now enact laws and policies that promote and protect the most vulnerable among us,” said the June 24 statement by Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, USCCB president, and Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“We give thanks to God for today’s decision … This just decision will save countless innocent children simply waiting to be born,” said a June 24 statement by the New York Catholic bishops shortly after the court’s opinion was released.

Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Perez tweeted that the decision “affirms deep value inherent in human life.”

In a statement released after the court’s decision was announced, the Catholic Medical Association commended the justices “for recognizing the inherent dignity each of us has from the moment of conception.”

“The announcement of these decisions signals a long-awaited return to consideration of the most innocent and defenseless of American citizens: the unborn child.”

‘Roe and Casey must be overruled’

The court voted to overturn its nearly 50-year-old decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in this country. 

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s opinion. Casey v. Planned Parenthood is the 1992 decision that affirmed Roe.

Alito was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in a separate opinion, said he agreed with the majority that the Mississippi abortion restriction should be upheld, but he said the court should not have overturned its Roe decision.

“The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely — the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Alito wrote. 

“That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be ‘deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition’ and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. 

“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” Alito wrote.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote a joint dissent that said: “Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens.”

They also noted that their dissent “with sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection.”

Protesters were outside the court when the ruling came down, as they had been for days, anticipating it. 

The court’s reversal of its long-standing abortion ruling brings abortion policy decisions to the state level. At least half of states plan to ban or restrict abortions with this decision in place.

Tennessee is one of 13 states with a so-called “trigger law” already on the books. In Tennessee, nearly all abortions will be illegal within 30 days of the court’s decision. The law includes an exception to protect the life of the mother.

What’s going to happen in Tennessee is probably set, but that doesn’t take the pressure off the pregnancy centers,” said Dr. Rachel Kaiser, Tennessee state director of the Catholic Medical Association. “There’s still going to be women in troubled pregnancies.”

Pro-life demonstrators in Washington celebrate outside the Supreme Court June 24, 2022, as the court overruled the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision in its ruling in the Dobbs case on a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. CNS photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters

“The CMA has a very close relationship with pro-life crisis pregnancy centers and that’s going to continue going forward,” she added. “Our job is to walk with the mother as she experiences a crisis pregnancy and show her support and love.”

The court’s decision was “long overdue,” said Courtney Hayden, who has led several 40 Days for Life prayer vigils in Nashville. “We’re all thrilled about it.”

But the work of the pro-life movement is not over yet, she said. “Our job is actually just now beginning.”

The 40 Days for Life prayer vigils have been outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Nashville. Planned Parenthood’s website says it will “no longer provide medication or surgical abortion services at our health centers. We can, however, help you access abortion care in other states as well as financial assistance.”

The 40 Days for Life prayer vigils will continue as long as the Planned Parenthood clinic remains open, Hayden said. “We still have an opportunity to witness to these women in crisis,” she said.

The people who pray outside abortion clinics want to accompany and support women through their pregnancy and beyond, Hayden said.

“We’re going to help you thrive, so you feel happy about keeping your baby,” she said.

The organization works closely with Mulier Care, which offers a wide range of services to women facing a crisis pregnancy, both during the pregnancy and after the baby is born, including through its mobile unit, the Pregnancy Help Center, that travels to locations around Middle Tennessee offering pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and education about women’s options.  

‘A long time coming’

“I was delighted,” by the court’s decision, said Dr. Rachel Kaiser, the Tennessee state director of the Catholic Medical Association. “I felt like it was a decision that was  a long time coming. I really had doubts at one point that it was ever going to be overturned.”

For the Catholic Medical Association, which has chapters in Nashville and Knoxville, its pro-woman, pro-life position opposing abortion is based on scientific fact.

“Biology 101 tells us that human life begins at conception,” Dr. Kaiser said. “When the egg and sperm unite … that is a unique individual. From a scientific point of view, it’s fairly standard to think that life begins at conception.”

“The fetus is a distinct entity separate from the mother with a unique set of chromosomes which have never been seen before and will never be seen again,” according to the Catholic Medical Association. “Therefore, we agree that a woman has the right to choose the medical procedures she undergoes but does not have the right to terminate the life of another distinct human being.”

Andy Telli of the Tennessee Register and Catholic News Service contributed to this report.

Rally to give thanks

A rally to pray in thanksgiving for the end of the precedent set in Roe v. Wade is being planned for noon Saturday, July 16, at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville. “Come pray in thanksgiving for an end to Roe, giving glory to God, and celebrate those who worked so hard since Roe was instituted,” said organizers.

For more information, contact Jeff Coleman at 615-636-5558 or jeff.coleman30@gmail.com.

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