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Building a Culture of Life in a Post-Roe World

Statement by Archbishop William Lori,

Chairman, USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities

[Editor’s Note:   In October, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates Respect Life Month.  Articles in this section of our bulletin will be taken from materials provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities to help us understand and value the gift of  human life and help build a culture that cherishes and protects it.]

The Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade is, without question, an answer to prayer.  In its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Justices ended the Court’s nearly fifty-year nationwide regime of abortion on demand; a regime that was based on the indefensible view that the U.S. Constitution implicitly forbids government from protecting the preborn child in the womb from the violence of abortion.   The Supreme Court in Dobbs concluded that there is nothing in the Constitution’s text, history, American legal tradition, or the Court’s precedents that justified the extreme holding of Roe.  Therefore, it returned the issue of abortion to be decided by the people’s elected representatives, who had exercised such authority  from our natin’s founding until the Roe decision of 1973. In so doing, the Supreme Court in  Dobbs cleared the way for a  paradigm shift in American law, allowing it to enlarge its boundaries to again welcome a segment of the human family that had been outside of its protections for close to half a century.

Dobbs, then, is a victory for justice, the rule of law, and self-governance.   But for those of us who have prayed for this moment to arrive, it is the time for a renewal and rededication  of our efforts to build a culture of life and civilization of love.   Justice is, of course, essential to this end.   But it is not sufficient.  To build a world in which all are welcome requires not only  justice, but compassion, healing, and above all, unconditional love.

In a post-Roe world, Catholics must now work together for another, even deeper paradigm shift.  We must move beyond a paradigm shift in the law in order to help the people of our nation better see who we can be as a nation by  truly understanding what we owe to one another as members of the same human family.   To build a world in which all are welcome, we must heed the words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta and remember “that we belong to one another.”

Abortion is a gruesome sign of how we have forgotten our mutual belonging.   The logic of Roe v Wade has framed our national discourse on the issue of abortion as a zero-sum conflict among individual strangers.   But the truth of the matter is that mother and child are not strangers; they are already bound together by flesh and kinship.  The new life that is developing under the heart of the mother is already situated in a network of relations including family, neighbors, and fellow citizens.   The logic of Roe, in the name of autonomy, offers the woman only to right to see lethal force used against her child, but it otherwise abandons her.

To the contrary, the logic of the culture of life recognizes that the pregnant woman and her child are not alone – they are fellow members of our larger human family whose interwoven vulnerability is a summons to all of us, but especially to Catholics because of the teaching of Jesus and his proclamation of the Gospel of Life.   Indeed, Catholics see in the life of the Holy Family, a lesson for all society: Mary, who not only said “yes” to life but who accompanied and cared for her child throughout his life; Joseph, who met the unexpected challenges and threats to the child with fortitude and compassion; and Jesus himself, who came into the world not with power and majesty, but with the vulnerability, dependence, and humility of a child.

In a post-Roe world, then, we must shift the paradigm to what Saint Pope John Paul II described as “radical solidarity,” making the good of others our own good, including especially mothers, babies (born and preborn), and families throughout the entire human lifespan.   It is a call to friendship and compassion rooted in the truth that we are made to love our neighbor as ourselves.

What does this mean concretely   How do we practice radical solidarity and unconditional love in a post-Roe world?   

First, by speaking  the truth that abortion not only unjustly kills a preborn child, but also gravely wounds women, men, families, and the nation as a whole.   It degrades the practice of medicine and corrupts the law.   We must speak these truths with compassion.  We must extend the hand of compassion to all who suffer or are in need in the aftermath of abortion, including those who do not yet see the truth in its fullness.  Moreover, the call to love compels us to practice civility and charity when we speak to and about those with whom we disagree.

Words alone are not nearly enough to bring about the revolution of love necessary to create a world where all mothers, children, and families are welcomed and protected.   For this we must have the courage to love – to act and bear witness by caring for the least among us, without condition or expectation of recompense. It is only through such radical witness that hearts will be softened such that they can receive the truth of the Gospel of Life.

Concretely, as Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in his letter to the Fourth World Conference on Women of the United Nations, “a radical solidarity with women requires that the underlying causes which make a child unwanted be addressed.”   Twenty-five years after, Pope Francis echoed the same sentiment in this 2020 address to the United Nations.  Abortion is a brutal result of our failure to care for one another.   Building a world in which women are esteemed, children are loved and protected, and men are called to their responsibilities as fathers, requires us to understand and address the complex and tragic tangle of affliction and strife that culminates in the violence of abortion.   This is a massive and daunting undertaking.

[Conclusion next week]