My track record as a predictor of Supreme Court abortion decisions took a hit years ago when I wrote an editorial predicting that Planned Parenthood v. Casey would overturn Roe v. Wade. Thanks to Justice Anthony Kennedy, I was quite obviously wrong.
So I’ll be cautious about predicting the result of the Mississippi abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, whose arguments were just heard by the Supreme Court. It sure looks like change is coming, however. Just what kind of change is something else entirely.
Despite the efforts of pro-lifers who have been resisting the legalization of abortion nationwide for more than 50 years, the forthcoming court decision will not mean the end of abortion, but a new chapter in the struggle.
Anything short of the court’s complete rejection of the Mississippi abortion law banning abortions in virtually all cases after 15 weeks will mean that the battle returns to the states.
There will be 50 battlefields, and the abortion divide will continue in our nation for the foreseeable future, trench warfare in virtually every state house in virtually every state.
While abortion’s more vocal supporters and opponents will continue to yell at each other as they did outside the Supreme Court while the jurists weighed the merits of the Mississippi case, there is much more going on in pro-life circles that is worthy of attention.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, who recently stepped down as head of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, has been working for three years on a program known as Walking with Moms in Need. In a speech to his brother bishops in November, he described the program as “a parish-based, yet nationwide, initiative to better serve pregnant and parenting mothers facing difficulties.”
The program’s vision, he said, “is that a pregnant or parenting mother in need can turn to any local Catholic parish and be connected with the life-affirming assistance and accompaniment that she needs.”
It is an ambitious vision, one that would reflect Pope Francis’ idea of accompaniment, walking with mothers in need of assistance and support. The genius of the program is that it could bring together the pro-life and social justice wings of the church, which surely should be united in helping any struggling mother and mother-to-be.
The archbishop cited statistics showing that women seeking abortions are primarily “poor, young and unmarried.” Too often, abortion is not a desired outcome, but one forced on women by circumstances and a lack of options.
In Texas, a pro-life mom named Tere Haring sees this reality every day. She runs a pro-life outreach called the Allied Women’s Center, and she is helping one mom at time with diapers and rental assistance. “Diapers save a lot more babies than ultrasounds,” Haring told The Washington Post.
“I always said abortion is the lack of an option,” Haring said. “They feel like they have nowhere to go, that there’s nobody for them. It’s about the help. It’s about being there for them.”
Archbishop Naumann’s vision is that Catholics — you and me in our parishes — will be there for the moms in need. The parish would connect them with resources, with mentors, with helping agencies.
This kind of assistance, the archbishop said, “directly confronts the false, yet popular, narrative that the Catholic Church merely condemns abortion,” but doesn’t help the women.
Whatever the court decides next spring, the needs of the poor, the pregnant and the abandoned will remain. Walking with Moms in Need is the kind of grassroots program that could change lives: both those of the moms and of the parishioners who help them.
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Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at email@example.com.