The Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade presents an opportunity for America to reconsider what a culture of life really means, said the pro-life point man for the U.S. Catholic bishops.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-life Activities, said in an interview Friday that the high court’s Dobbs v. Jackson ruling presents a “new opportunity, not just for the Church but for the culture, to step back and re-envision what it might look like to create a society where a mother doesn’t have to choose between her child and her future.”
The archbishop, speaking to Aleteia on the afternoon of the Dobbs ruling, which effectively returns the decision on abortion’s legality to the individual states, said that although there will be fierce argumentation over the ruling for some time to come, Americans will have an opportunity to reconsider “what it might look like when, instead of ridding ourselves of children being problematic, we address those factors that make women feel that abortion is their only option.”
Those factors, he said, would involve things such as education and employment, housing and child tax credits.
“I think that these are things that the whole society should be working on and the Church is working on and should advocate for,” he said.
The Baltimore archbishop, who formerly served as chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said he was “gratified” by the 5-4 vote to overturn the 1973 Roe decision and the 1982 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling that upheld it. “I think it is good that [the power to legislate on abortion] goes back to the states and gets out of the courts and then becomes a matter of something that we can reengage in a good and healthy way,” he said.
Archbishop Lori said that as the focus shifts to the states, there will be a variety of legislative contests to regulate abortion. In states where abortion has now become, or will soon be, much more restricted, there might be battles to maintain those restrictions. There also will be debates over whether and what public programs should be funded in order to help pregnant women bring their unborn children to term.
“In states that are solidly committed to abortion, like Maryland, the state I live in, part of the effort is to resist laws that expand abortion even further,” Lori added. “We saw that this past legislative session here in Maryland.”
A new law in Maryland, which goes into effect July 1, allows any “qualified provider,” not just a physician, to perform abortions. It also requires most insurance plans to cover the procedure.
“It’s efforts like that that we’ll see all over the country,” Lori said.
Elizabeth Kirk, Director of the Center for Law and the Human Person and a research associate at the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, predicts that one of the next big battles is going to be in Kansas.
“A few years ago, the Kansas Supreme Court found a natural right to abortion in its state constitution, so despite Roe being overturned it changes nothing in the state of Kansas because they have a state constitutional right to abortion,” Kirk said. “On August 2 the voters in Kansas will be considering a ballot initiative which is a constitutional amendment to overturn that state supreme court decision. A lot of folks are watching that as a sort of bellwether for what pro-life prospects might be going forward.”
In Iowa, legislators are looking into the status of a “heartbeat” law that had been struck down in light of Roe and in light of an Iowa Supreme Court decision four years ago finding an abortion right in the Iowa Constitution. But a week before Dobbs, the state’s supreme court reversed that earlier ruling on abortion’s constitutionality.
“Now that both of those decisions are gone, there’s this previous heartbeat bill that is on the books today,” said Michael McHale, a lawyer with the Chicago-based Thomas More Society. “It was subject to a court injunction, but the decisions that invalidated it are now gone.”
McHale said that proponents of the heartbeat law are “likely to return to court and seek a rescinding of that injunction” and bring it into effect.
The Thomas More Society, which filed three amicus briefs for the Dobbs decision, has been assisting lawmakers in various states in crafting pro-life legislation and will continue to do so, McHale said.
“It’s really important that states get their language right, that they not remain under a Roe v. Wade-minded abortion framework,” he said in an interview. “Like for a life exception: a mother should be able to get a medical procedure if it’s necessary to save her life, and that might require her to prematurely end her pregnancy [as an unavoidable side effect]. But it’s never okay to intentionally and directly kill an unborn child.”
Another flashpoint is the possibility that some women might be able to bypass their state’s abortion restrictions because of the availability of medication abortion, often referred to as the “abortion pill.” Some states allow women to be prescribed two medications — one which stops development of the pregnancy and the other which causes contractions to expel the deceased fetus — after an online consultation, not an in-person examination, with a physician.
Dr. Kathleen Raviele, an OB-GYN and former president of the Catholic Medical Association, said that a woman who lives in a state where abortion is allowed after 10 weeks gestation can “go online and talk to a doctor who is in another state, and get abortion pills that are mailed to you. Unless the state passes a law that bans telemedicine chemical abortion, that could still go on.
“So it’s very important that states look at their laws and make sure that telemedicine abortions are banned,” she said. “People don’t realize that FDA policy has changed as far a chemical abortion is concerned. Women can get a telemedicine chemical abortion supposedly up to 10 weeks of pregnancy without a physical exam, without a pregnancy test, without an ultrasound, without tests for sexually transmitted diseases, and without a test to see whether they are RH-negative. This is not good healthcare at all for women, and women with ectopic pregnancies or women who are being trafficked, women who are further along in pregnancy are going to be the victims of this poorer healthcare.”
Julie Dumalet, director of the Office of Pro-Life Activities in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, concurred. Although Texas alrady has a ban on telemedicine abortion, she said, “There is concern especially for young girls who want to bypass the restrictions that will be implemented in Texas, that they may try to go to unscrupulous providers in other states and that they may be able to find a pill that way.”
Law as teacher
A possible secondary effect of the Dobbs decision, however, is its long term effect on the culture, an effect Archbishop Lori said he hopes will be a “liberating” one.
Under Roe, “many people just assumed that [abortion] is the law and therefore it is okay,” he explained.
“As we all know the law is a teacher,” added Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “You can look at polls about abortion in 1973 and see how Americans viewed abortion before and after Roe.” Acceptance of abortion grew after it was legalized nationwide. “I think that once Americans get over the initial shock and see that life goes on in America, you’ll see a lot more leveling off in the polls.”
“Human hearts definitely follow what the law says,” said Camille Pauley, co-founder and president of Healing the Culture, a pro-life educational organization. “When something becomes legal, it becomes normative, and when it becomes normative it becomes moral in the hearts of human beings. So the Supreme Court, having struck down the terrible decision of Roe v. Wade, will lead hearts to [become] pro-life, and it will make a difference. It will save many lives. I think the culture will be better off for it.”