We now live in a post-Roe America. Thanks to the June 24 Dobbs v. Jackson decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, abortion-on-demand is no longer the law of the land.
The date of the decision was not lost on Catholic observers. Most years, June 24 is the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, when the Church ponders the one who, even in St. Elizabeth’s womb, was already pointing out and leaping for joy at the presence of God-in-the-womb. On that day, Catholics listen to prophetic words about how the Lord knits us together and knows us by name in our mother’s womb. We also hear the question made at John’s birth, “What, then, will this child be?,” a wondrous query pointing back to John’s conception by God’s grace and for a divine mission. Every year on the anniversary of Dobbs, Catholics will therefore be able to deepen their understanding of God’s role in the conception of every child, His care for the child’s growth, His knowing each by name, and the future for which He has given each child life.
This year, however, by a rare coincidence that happened for the first time since 1960 and will happen only twice more this century, June 24 was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which, as a feast of the Lord Jesus, takes precedence over the celebration over the birth of His precursor. The Sacred Heart is a celebration of how the Son of God took on our humanity and had a human heart that began beating early in pregnancy in Mary’s immaculate womb, a heart full of mercy for the human race, and a heart that is wounded by ingratitude, indifference, irreverence, coldness, sacrilege, and scorn.
In His earthly life, Jesus emphasized that He identified with the “least” of His brothers and sisters, saying that whatever we do to the littlest ones made in His image, we do to Him (Mt. 25:31-46), and that whoever receives a little child in His name receives Him (Mk 9:37). Abortion, therefore, is always at a deep spiritual level an Herodian attack on Holy Innocents in the place of Jesus Himself and with which He identifies personally.
Therefore, there was special fittingness to the fact that, on the Solemnity of Jesus’ Sacred Heart, the legal warrant for the desecration of the least of Jesus’ brethren — more than 63 million baby boys and girls in the United States alone since Roe — would not only be overturned but exposed as a judicial disgrace on the magnitude of Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson.
Justice Samuel Alito’s seismic opinion for the Supreme Court majority demolished a half-century’s worth of pseudo-scientific inventions, half-truths, embarrassing legal arguments and illogic that have been used to justify abortion, defend Roe and destroy human life since 1973.
In its place, Alito not only returned abortion decisions to the states, to state legislators and to the citizens who elect them. Many scholars argue he also laid the legal foundations for a later determination that — based on the now obvious scientific fact of the humanity of the child in the womb and Constitutional principles that rights, like the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as described in the Declaration of Independence, cannot be taken away without due process — can be used to overturn all laws permitting abortion.
In the interim, however, the battleground for the defense of human life has been returned to the democratic process, which will have mixed results. Abortion will be legally or practically impossible in many states while in others it will be permitted, celebrated, and even publicly paid for during all nine months of pregnancy.
Those who have been active in the fight over abortion on either side will remain active as they seek to persuade their fellow citizens and elected representatives of the wisdom of their respective cause. The vast majority of U.S. citizens, however, who perhaps have had opinions on abortion but who for the most part remained spectators while unlimited access abortion was the legal law of the land, will now have far greater responsibility.
Polls show that this majority is conflicted on abortion, desiring abortion to remain legal in extreme circumstances while supporting abortion restrictions in many ordinary ones. While the legislative compromises flowing from that present state of voter conflict will take different forms in different states, there will be an opportunity for supporters and opponents of abortion to make the cases on the respective principles of their causes.
While such public debate will involve lots of patient work, Pro-Lifers should be hopeful that conscientious citizens, once they admit the humanity of the human being growing in the womb, will recognize that those who are bigger, older and more politically connected should not have the ability to take the life of those who are smaller, younger, and totally vulnerable.
In most states, there will hopefully be joint efforts to address the pressure points that lead women to choose abortion, like dramatically-expanded care for pregnant women, improved access to ultrasounds (which dramatically decrease abortion rates), long-term public support for families as a common good, help for women who would opt to give their children up for adoption as well as reform of the costs and procedures for those couples desiring to adopt.
In blue states, where despite sizable percentages of Catholics there are radically permissive abortion policies already on the books, there will be a patient uphill climb. Pro-Life Catholic leaders, parishioners and citizens will now necessarily have to be clearer about how it’s not possible to be a good disciple of Jesus Christ and vote to support the legal destruction of those made in His image. There is a need for conversion and the Church must preach that message lovingly, patiently, prayerfully, humbly, courageously, clearly and perseveringly, since having, supporting or facilitating abortions is a moral decision on which we will be judged, on which millions of lives are at stake and on which the future of humanity depends. Even if the struggle is long, the Dobbs decision after 49 years of prayer, work, advocacy and care is a clearly a reason for hope.
For her Pro-Life witness, the Church will suffer. Groups like Jane’s Revenge, Ruth Sent Us and others have vandalized churches and pregnancy help centers and threatened to unleash continued rage. It shouldn’t surprise us that those enveloped in the darkness of the culture of death will try to damage and destroy. But we can pray that such infernal opposition will be a cause of awakening and conversion for those who call themselves pro-choice Catholics. If kids don’t necessarily agree with the decision of their father or mother, but others who disagree with the parents try to burn their house down, normally that should lead to rallying around the family and re-examining the character and aims of the arsonists.
The Church’s Pro-Life witness and leadership may be costly, but saving lives, lives whom God has knit and for whom Jesus died, is worth it. And in the end, life wins.