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US Bishops React to Overturning Roe V. Wade: ‘The Work Has Just Begun’

Father Tim Wezner, left, prays the rosary near the Supreme Court in Washington June 24, 2022, after a majority of the justices overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion in the country. Father Wezner said he was there to pray in thanksgiving but also for peace during a tense time for the country. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS – In response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore stated his appreciation but kept an eye towards the future and the need to redouble Church efforts supporting women and couples who face unexpected pregnancies, as well as opening the hearts and minds of those with a different perspective.

“My first reaction was to give thanks to the Lord for bringing about this day,” Archbishop Lori, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Pro-Life Committee chair told The Tablet.

“It’s a day that many people have worked and prayed very hard for, and it is a day in which I think we can engage in the debate anew in our country, but hopefully also a day in which we will redouble our efforts to create a just and compassionate society where no mother has to choose between her child and her future,” he said.

The sentiment was shared by prelates nationwide. Most of their reactions were along the same lines of appreciation for the long awaited decision, combined with an emphasis on the long road and important work ahead in terms of support, advocacy, and dialogue with abortion supporters.

As Cardinal-designate Robert McElroy of San Diego put it: “In many ways, our work has just begun.”

Archbishop Lori, in a statement with USCCB president Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, proclaimed that it is a “time for healing wounds and repairing social divisions; it is time for reasoned reflection and civil dialogue and for coming together to build a society and economy that supports marriages and families, and where every woman has the support and resources she needs to bring her child into this world in love.”

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston outlined what needs to happen next. He said that the decision “calls [Catholics] to recognize the unique burden faced by women in pregnancy; and it challenges us as a nation to work together to build up more communities of support — and available access to them — for all women experiencing unplanned pregnancies.”

Cardinal O’Malley also noted that “those who have opposed and supported Roe can and should find common ground for a renewed commitment to social and economic justice in our country,” adding that he hopes “this new chapter may be a time of a different tone and focus in our civic life.”

The Supreme Court’s June 24 decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood — the 1992 decision that affirmed Roe — puts abortion law in the hands of state lawmakers, and as such means that state abortion laws will range from outright bans to abortion being available throughout the entire pregnancy.

Thirteen states — Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington — have already codified the right to an abortion into state law at varying stages of pregnancy. For them, the Dobbs ruling has little impact. Four of those states — New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Colorado plus Washington D.C. —  have codified the right to an abortion throughout the entire pregnancy into state law.

Thirteen other states — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming — have “trigger” laws that, with Roe overturned, immediately or almost immediately go into effect and ban abortion.

Five other states — Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin — have pre-Roe abortion bans still on the books that will also go into effect. However, lawmakers in Wisconsin have signaled there will be a contentious battle over enforcing the law, and a Michigan claims court granted a motion that blocks the state’s attorney general from enforcing the law.

In a joint statement through the New York State Catholic Conference, the state’s 20 prelates noted that the varying state laws highlight the amount of work that is still left in promoting a culture of life.

“The culture remains deeply divided on the issue, which will be evidenced by the patchwork of state statutes pertaining to abortion across the country,” reads the NYSCC statement. “To change the culture and build a culture of life, we need to enact family-friendly policies that welcome children, support mothers, cherish families and empower them to thrive.”

Some prelates in the states that have codified the right to an abortion reacted with that in mind, though for the most part messages to the faithful were kept national in their scope.

“While precious lives will no doubt be saved because of this decision, in states like ours, the abortion industry and many lawmakers are increasing their efforts to promote Colorado as an ‘abortion destination,’” Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver said in a statement.

“Therefore, we must continue to lovingly speak the truth about the God-given dignity of every unique human life from conception until natural death, and we must increase our support for archdiocesan and parish ministries that offer authentically compassionate care for women, their babies, and their families,” he said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago acknowledged that the ruling “regrettably” will have little impact on abortion in Illinois, and therefore emphasized the need to redouble efforts “to build a culture that values the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.” He added that the journey is “not the end of a journey, but rather a fresh start” that underscores the need to understand abortion advocates, and enter into a dialogue.

Other points U.S. bishops emphasized in response to the ruling were the need to make sure the full range of life issues are adequately addressed, showing mercy to anyone who has received or participated in an abortion, and make sure other life needs – healthcare, affordable housing, good jobs and decent housing among them – are taken care of for all people.

Gloria Purvis, host of “The Gloria Purvis Podcast” emphasized the latter, especially for black women, saying that “they don’t want abortion as a solution to a crisis pregnancy, they want help with the things that made it a crisis.”

“I know what black women want and need isn’t abortion,” Purvis told The Tablet. “They want actual support, they want safe housing, they want access to healthy food, they want a good education for their kids, they want job training – all of these things that most people also want.”

Purvis also noted that she wants to see the abortion conversation also focus on young men, and the responsibility they have towards the women they impregnate and the children that result from that.

In response to the Supreme Court decision President Joe Biden, a Catholic, said “it’s a sad day for our country;” pledging to use his administration’s authority to protect abortion access, and urging Americans to elect more pro-choice lawmakers in the House and Senate in this fall’s midterm elections.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, also a Catholic politician, who has had battles with the Church over her pro-abortion stance, also looked ahead to the midterm elections, saying “[Republicans] cannot be allowed to have a majority in Congress … A women’s right to choose, reproductive freedom, is on the ballot in November.”

Archbishop Lori noted that even though abortion law has gone to the states, the bishops conference is still an important national voice because Biden, Pelosi and other pro-abortion politicians will continue exploring ways to ensure the right to an abortion at the federal level.

“We cannot rule out the possibility of renewed attempts at federal legislation and executive orders and other things like that, which we could be facing in the short term,” Archbishop Lori said.

On changing hearts and minds, Archbishop Lori said that happens in neighbor to neighbor conversations, and when the “Church is reaching out lovingly, reaching out truthfully, reaching out with practical services. He acknowledged that there are those who might not want to dialogue, but expressed confidence that there are a lot of people “troubled by this deep down,” that leave a lot of room for dialogue.

The strong opposition to this Supreme Court decision has been evident since a May 2 leaked Supreme Court draft opinion warned that this ruling would be made, sparking protests and dozens of attacks on pregnancy centers nationwide. These attacks sparked a heightened police presence at churches as well.

After the ruling was published on June 24 large protests erupted nationwide, lasting the day and continuing into the evening, with police on high alert in many places.

Archbishop Lori said the potential for violence on Catholic churches and pro-life centers “is a big concern.”

“I think that it’s important for us to recognize that the anger, the rhetoric, is very heated right now and we will pass through a difficult period, but I think that we have to be steady, consistent, true to ourselves, true to these women and their babies, and continue to hold up the banner of love even when we recognize that love isn’t going to be returned at least in the short term,” Archbishop Lori said.