For almost three generations of Americans, abortion has been not only a constitutional right but a fact of life.
On June 24, 2022, the facts of life changed.
In voting 6-3 to uphold the Mississippi law at the heart of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that the states, and not the federal government, held the proper legislative authority to regulate abortion. And in voting 5-4 to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the court acknowledged that earlier justices had erred in removing the regulation of abortion from the states.
What the court did not do in Dobbs is end abortion. Abortion will remain legal in many, if not most, states — in some, right up to the moment of birth, in others, only in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. By removing abortion from the status of a constitutional right, however, the court has made it possible once again for public discourse to focus on what really happens in an abortion, and why women seek to end the lives of their unborn children.
Post-Dobbs, those two realities remain. In those states where abortion remains legal, more unborn children will die. In all states, the pressures of life — economic, social, the disapproval of family and friends, the unwillingness of a father to care for the woman with whom he conceived a child, let alone the child — will continue to weigh heavily on the mothers of unborn children. Without the proper support, many will still seek to end the lives of those children, even if they have to travel to another state to do so — or purchase abortion-inducing drugs over the internet.
The court’s decision in Dobbs spelled the end of Roe and of Casey, but it is just the beginning of the next frontier for those committed to the cause of life.
Many of us doubted that we would ever see this day, particularly after the Casey decision in 1992. And so, it is natural for us to breathe a sigh of relief, to give thanks to God that the status quo prior to Roe has been restored, to mourn the loss of over 60 million children between 1973 and 2022.
But having done so, now is the time to redouble our efforts. Donations that we may have given in the past to national pro-life organizations will be better directed, in the coming months and years, to those front-line workers in the cause of life: pregnancy care centers. Those same centers will need more volunteers than ever before.
Every parish should find one to support with time, talent and treasure, and if there isn’t a pregnancy care center nearby, consider starting one. As political battles ramp up in the states, we need to make our voices heard — not just in support of legislation to end abortion in our particular state, but in commitment to reducing or removing the pressures that lead women to consider ending the life of their children.
Above all, we need to recognize that the greatest efforts to save the lives of the unborn have always come at the local level. The fact that the Supreme Court giveth, and 49 years later taketh away, makes it all too easy to think that the problem of abortion, and the answer to it, rests with nine justices and the presidents who appoint them.
Make no mistake: Everyone who has worked and prayed for the cause of life over the past 50 years should give credit to former President Donald Trump for keeping his campaign promise to appoint justices who would vote to overturn Roe. Without Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, Dobbs would have been decided very differently. If Hillary Clinton had been elected president in 2016, Roe and Casey would remain the law of the land.
But Dobbs did not come from nowhere. The Mississippi law at the heart of the case was the result of decades of effort by thousands of people who laid the cultural, social and, ultimately, political basis for the law.
Those people include all of the workers and donors to pregnancy care centers; all the families who provided the support that their daughters needed to remove the thought of abortion from their minds; all those who cared for strangers who had nowhere else to go but wanted more than anything else to bring their children into the world; and all those who, not being able to do anything else, spent decades praying for this day.
We all know some of those unsung heroes (and perhaps we have been among them as well). As we thank Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas as well as Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett for their courage in undoing the great wrongs wrought in Roe and Casey, we need to thank those unsung heroes, too.
And above all, we need to thank God, who gives us life, who knew us not only in the womb but even before we were conceived, and who, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, has “a plan of sheer goodness” for each of us to “share in his own blessed life.”
That is the true fact of life.