NEW YORK (AP) — Top leaders of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops are asking worshipers to pray and fast Friday, hoping the Supreme Court is on track to strike down the constitutional right to abortion. However, even among Catholics who oppose abortion, there is some concern about the consequences of such a decision.
A recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion suggests that a majority of the nine justices are prepared to reverse the Roe v. Wade Act of 1973, a measure that would allow individual states to ban abortion.
Some anti-abortion Catholics say such an outcome would be the answer to their prayers. Others warn that Catholic leaders must distance themselves from the politically partisan wing of the anti-abortion movement and broaden their concept of “pro-life” by supporting broad policies that establish safety nets for single mothers and low-income families.
Madison Chastain, a Catholic blogger and disability advocate, describes herself as anti-abortion but opposes unseating Roe and criminalizing abortions.
Factors causing abortion, she wrote in the National Catholic Reporter, include a lack of comprehensive sex education, inadequate health care and inequities in the workplace.
“Making abortion illegal before addressing these injustices is going to kill women, because women will continue to have abortions, secretly and unsafely,” she wrote.
Sam Sawyer, a journalist and Jesuit priest, says he is a “dedicated pro-life advocate” who favors reversing Roe. However, he responded to the leak with an essay listing the reasons abortion rights advocates are so alarmed at the prospect.
“The pro-life movement and its political alliances are perceived as a threat not only to abortion itself, but also to democratic norms, judicial commitments to civil rights, and women’s health and economic security,” Sawyer wrote in America, the Jesuit magazine. of which he is senior editor.
Republican politicians, backed by anti-abortion leaders, “have used the lives of the unborn as a moral cover to ignore other calls for justice,” Sawyer wrote. “The political allies of the pro-life movement have destroyed social safety net programs that would make it easier for women to carry pregnancies to term.”
The call for a day of fasting and prayer came from Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, president of the US Conference of Bishops, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
They asked for prayers for the overthrow of Roe and for “the conversion of the hearts and minds of those who advocate for abortion.”
The archbishops echoed calls from other Catholic leaders who, after the Supreme Court leak, suggested that a rollback of Roe should be accompanied by greater outreach and support for pregnant women and new mothers.
Lori highlighted a USCCB program called Walking With Moms in Need, saying the church should redouble its efforts “to accompany women and couples facing unexpected or difficult pregnancies, and during the early years of parenthood.”
The bishops’ conference has designated the “threat of abortion” as its pre-eminent priority, a view many lay Catholics do not share. According to Pew Research Center polling, 56% of American Catholics say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Professor O. Carter Snead, who teaches law and political science at the University of Notre Dame, said by email that most Catholics involved in anti-abortion activism “are not hard-core political partisans, but people who seek to care.” mothers and babies by any means. They’re available.”
As an example, Snead cited Notre Dame’s Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, which he directs, and one of its initiatives, called “Women and Children First: Envisioning a Post-Roe World.” Through teaching, research, and public engagement, the initiative seeks to strengthen support for “women, children (born and unborn), and families in need.”
However, achieving broad bipartisan collaboration on such initiatives may not come soon, Snead acknowledged.
“It is true, sadly, that the only political party that has been willing to team up to provide legal protection for the unborn is the Republicans,” he said.
Chad Pecknold, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, also doubted there would be a rise in bipartisanship on abortion after Roe.
“As long as Democrats insist on abortion for all nine months of a pregnancy, and as long as Republicans recognize that abortion is against the 14th Amendment, this will remain a partisan issue,” he said by email.
“But the goal of the pro-life movement has never been partisan,” Pecknold added. “The goal is justice for unborn people who have the right to live, to be loved, to be raised in a family.”
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, an outspoken critic of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, said opponents of abortion “must continue to provide support and care to mothers who find themselves in difficult situations.”
“I pray that we can move to a place where mother and child are considered sacred and society supports both lives in every way possible,” she said by email.
David Gibson, director of Fordham University’s Center for Religion and Culture, questioned the importance of recent promises by Catholic bishops and other anti-abortion leaders to boost support for single mothers.
“Can this movement that is so tied to the Republican Party and the conservative movement suddenly pivot to mobilize its people for socially liberal policies?” Gibson asked, referring to programs like subsidized child care and paid maternity leave.
Steven Millies, professor of public theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, says the bishops bear partial responsibility for entrenched polarization over abortion, which he expects will continue even if Roe is overturned.
“It is unrealistically hopeful to think that divisive habits will be abandoned,” Millies said, suggesting that the bishops could have done more to reduce abortions over the years by pushing hard for stronger and better-funded social programs.
Rebecca Bratten Weiss, a writer and digital editor for US Catholic magazine, said she no longer labels herself “pro-life” even though she was active in that movement for many years and believes all life deserves protection.
“The people who are working to unseat Roe have made it pretty clear that they have no interest in expanding safety nets,” he said. “Either they haven’t thought about the consequences, or they agree with the consequences: a higher infant mortality rate, more women seeking unsafe abortions, more families driven to desperate measures.”
Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest who writes for Religion News Service, suggested in a column that Roe’s reversal should be an occasion for the many bishops who have embraced the GOP for its anti-abortion stance to reconsider.
“The Catholic bishops will celebrate this victory they have worked for decades, but ironically it should lead to a divorce between the bishops and the Republicans,” Reese wrote. “The Republican Party has nothing more to offer them. In fact, except for abortion, their proposals are opposed to Catholic social teaching.”
Assuming Roe is overturned, Reese added, “the bishops can declare victory over abortion and turn their attention to social programs … that help women bear and raise children so they are not forced to abort. ”
However, Reese doubts this will happen.
“I assume they will continue to fight as long as there is no consensus in the United States on abortion,” he wrote. “This will mean sticking with the Republicans and sacrificing all your other priorities.”
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