By Dave Jolivet

FALL RIVER — The Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion in this country in January of 1973. Since that time, women and men of every nationality, ethnicity and religion, including many in the Diocese of Fall River, have worked diligently to save the lives children and care for their mothers in need.

On June 24, Pro-Life advocates saw the fruits of their labor achieved when SCOTUS reversed the nearly 50-year-old decision. Predictably, reaction from Pro-Life advocates across the diocese has been one of relief, thanks and a strengthened belief in the power of prayer, all while knowing the battle is far from won.

Prayer vigils like this outside Four Women, Inc. in Attleboro, have occurred often in the diocese over the last half century as a result of the United States Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973 legalizing abortion in this country. On June 24, SCOTUS overturned that decision.

Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., said shortly after the decision was announced, the “Supreme Court decision will save the lives of millions of children who otherwise would never see the light of day or experience the warmth of a loving family.

“As Catholics, we stand with the teaching of the Catholic Church that has always upheld the dignity of life and spoken out against abortion at all stages of pregnancy. The Church’s opposition comes not only from its teaching on the sanctity of life from the moment of conception, but also from a moral imperative that transcends any religious doctrine: Developing life is human life and as such deserves the protection of the law.”

Irina DeLucca, the director of the diocesan office of Family and Life, part of the Secretariat for the New Evangelization, and who works with Project Rachel, told The Anchor, “The most awaited news has finally arrived. Roe v. Wade is definitively overturned. Praise God! 

“Our ongoing efforts to build a culture of life cannot stop. We still have a lot do! We must continue to reach out to women that are considering having an abortion, and it is our mission to walk with them as they experience feelings of fear, doubts, and despair during their unplanned pregnancy. 

“Our Catholic Church offers an integrated outreach to women and men hurting from past abortions, called Project Rachel,” with which DeLucca has worked. “Project Rachel is a ministry of the Catholic Church in United States to those who have been involved in abortion. Is a diocesan-based network of specially trained priests (for sacramental reconciliation), religious, counselors, and laypersons who provide a team response of care for those suffering in the aftermath of abortion (USCCB).”  

Through the years, Father Jay Mello, pastor of St. Michael and St. Joseph parishes in Fall River, has attended many of the March For Life events in Washington, D.C. each year, bringing with him dozens of young people who shared the Pro-Life commitment. 

“The recent SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade was a moment that many of us have been praying for and working towards for many years,” he told The Anchor. “It is a great victory for the Pro-Life movement and those who have worked tirelessly to proclaim the dignity of each person, especially the most vulnerable, the unborn. 

“It is also, however, a moment in which we have the opportunity and responsibility to double down in building the culture of life and helping those who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy. It is not a moment for merely celebrating a legal victory, for this decision, as we have all seen, continues to divide our nation. It is a moment for us to re-commit ourselves humbly and passionately to building a more loving and caring society. It is a moment in which we must recognize that our work is not just about changing laws, but about changing hearts. Perhaps more than ever, we must now truly show the world that we are Pro-Life, pro-child, pro-woman, and pro-father.”

Marian Desrosiers, the Director of Catholic Mission and Identity for  the Diocese of Fall River, was director of the diocesan Pro-Life Apostolate for nearly 30 years. She spent countless hours and days bringing the message of a culture life to young people and adults across the diocese. “The overturning of Roe vs. Wade after 50 years of Federal protected abortion was miraculous news,” she told The Anchor. “I was never really sure it would be overturned in my lifetime, so what a blessing and gift from God to witness this historic, correct and heroic Supreme Court decision. It occurred on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose heart expresses love for all mankind! The Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the following day, was the first full day of no Federal legalized abortion in the United States.

“Also, Friday June 24, was Nellie Grey’s birthday, the founder and leader of the National March for Life. Nellie passed away in August of 2012. She orchestrated and led the March for Life in D.C. for 42 years. No coincidences with God, what a birthday gift for Nellie! Our diocesan adults and youth joined the March for 26 years and will join again this year. They are witnesses for all of us in the public square, our heartfelt thanks.”

Ron Larose, director of the Attleboro 40 Days for Life, has been involved with the Pro-Life fight for decades in the diocese. He has coordinated and taken part in many prayer vigils in Angell Park in Attleboro, across from the only remaining active abortion facility in the diocese, Four Women, Inc. He told The Anchor, “The Dobbs decision is a great victory for our Constitution and removes the legal barriers to enact Pro-Life legislation at the state level. Grassroots organizations like 40 Days for Life are very well prepared to take advantage of this momentous event. Our foundational principles of prayer and fasting has resulted in a great victory for the Pro-Life movement. This ruling allows the  voices of the majority of Americans to be heard.” 

Despite the reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, it doesn’t mean the end of abortion in this country. Each state will enact its own laws regarding the issue.

“I recognize, sadly, that in Massachusetts where abortion is already codified into state law, the Dobbs decision will have little impact,” the bishop said in his statement. “We must continue our efforts to defend the right to life for unborn children through advocacy and prayer. 

“At the same time, we must also redouble our commitment to providing material and emotional support to expectant mothers who face a difficult or unintended pregnancy and those who find it difficult to care for their children after they are born. The Diocese of Fall River has a Pro-Life Apostolate whose mission is to provide support, assistance, and accompaniment to expectant mothers.

“As a society rooted in Christian and family values, we must also advocate for both federal and state laws that ensure that no mother or family lacks the basic resources needed to care for their children.”

Father Mello told The Anchor, “As a society rooted in Christian and family values, we must also advocate for both federal and state laws that ensure that no mother or family lacks the basic resources needed to care for their children.

“My hope and my prayer is that all men and women of good will, regardless of their faith tradition — or even if they have no faith — will work together to create a society where human life is respected in all stages and in every condition, especially the most defenseless and vulnerable among us.”

Desrosiers, too, shared tempered optimism. “Our work is just beginning. Here in Massachusetts we have some of the most liberal abortion laws in the country; immediately including the following executive: immediately after the Supreme Court ruling was announced, Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order to protect access for all women — regardless of state of residence — to reproductive health care services in Massachusetts.

“We need to double our prayers, assistance and our mission to women, men and the unborn here in Massachusetts.”

DeLucca added, “As we transition to the new post Roe time, we are called to a new season regarding how to continue building a culture of life. I am referring to the wounds that Roe v. Wade had created throughout these years; one in every three women has had an abortion, and a similar number of men and family members have been involved. Now is the time for all of us to come together making sure that everyone that has been involved on abortion to have a profound encounter with the mercy of Christ.

“Grief in the aftermath of abortion is normal. It is a grief of a mother who has lost a child in a traumatic and unnatural fashion. Every woman exhibits her own unique cluster of grief symptoms. Our Diocesan Family and Respect Office with Project Rachel offers an integrated approach to healing after an abortion. We have a confidential phone line available in English, Spanish and Portuguese for everyone that has been impacted by abortion: Project Rachel diocesan confidential phone line: 508-997-3300.”