As this issue of The Northern Cross goes to press, news is breaking of a leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court decision indicating that the court is poised to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. While this is not a certainty, it is another hopeful sign that the court may reverse a historic injustice, something that Catholics and others of good will — including people of other faiths and no faith at all — have been working to overcome for nearly 50 years.
We should have a clear head about what such a decision would mean, since most Americans (including Americans in opinion polls about Roe) don’t. Overturning Roe would (unfortunately) not result in a nationwide ban on abortion, it would simply free states to regulate and pass their own laws on abortion. Some states are already taking steps to limit abortion, while others are going in the opposite direction, actually expanding abortion even beyond what Roe demanded, which was already one of the most permissive abortion licenses in the world. (Minnesota’s state Supreme Court has had in place a decision even more extreme than Roe since 1995.)
The likely outcome is different states taking very different approaches and having real, consequential debates in the democratic process over what those approaches should be, in a way we haven’t seen in decades. Pro-life Americans should welcome those debates and join them eagerly. The pro-life position simply recognizes what basic biology settled long ago — and what ubiquitous ultrasounds make personal — that human life begins at conception, combined with the principle that no innocent human being should be killed. This is not “imposing our religion” on anyone, it’s simple human decency based on sound science. We have nothing to fear from that debate.
At the same time, as Catholics we should be eager to expand the debate. Many millions of our fellow Americans and fellow Minnesotans vehemently disagree with us, and their central concern — women who become pregnant and for a variety of reasons feel they can’t keep the child conceived in their womb — is a legitimate one, and one we share. Preventing the injustice of abortion does not, by itself, alleviate that concern.
We must have meaningful answers for it, and those answers, in turn, can form the basis for common ground even with those who disagree with us about abortion and will lend credibility to our efforts to promote just laws protecting life. It’s a common misconception that the pro-life movement “only cares about babies before they’re born,” but that’s false. The pro-life community already works on the front lines of helping pregnant mothers facing economic and social hardships through things like crisis pregnancy outreach and maternity homes. Here in Minnesota, it’s the pro-life community that has historically advocated for and defended governmental efforts like the Positive Alternatives program that provides state funding to initiatives that help mothers to choose life. As Catholics, we bring our “preferential option for the poor” — seeking to protect the “least of these” — in public policy at all levels. And of course we uphold the corporal works of mercy of supporting those in need through charitable giving.
All of these efforts — and more — need to be expanded and to occupy an important place in these debates. We are against killing because we are for life and for human dignity at all stages. Overcoming our culture of death necessarily means passing just laws, but it also means building, as St. John Paul II called it, a civilization of love, one where the family, as the cradle of life, is supported and strengthened and where those in need are met with compassion and care.