Abortion After Roe: Evangelizing Culture Begins Now
EDITORIAL: The pro-life movement’s legislative successes remain fragile and reversible without bringing about the profound cultural conversion necessary to sustain them.
The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision may be ending, but not yet abortion in America. In fact, the pro-life movement is headed toward a new — and far more challenging — stage of the battle for the rights of the unborn child. Without Roe, some states will move toward banning abortion outright, while others will maximize and even subsidize abortion access. The same legislative dynamic will inevitably appear in Congress.
But the pro-life movement’s legislative successes remain fragile and reversible without bringing about the profound cultural conversion necessary to sustain them. Many people today think good laws are enough to turn people from vice to virtue. St. Thomas Aquinas in fact taught differently in the Summa Theologiae: “Human law aims at leading men on to virtue, not suddenly, but step by step.” Imposing virtuous laws that the people have not yet been prepared morally to accept, the Angelic Doctor warns, can actually lead to worse evils in society — in this case, for example, to a political backlash that results in state and federal laws that are even more permissive than what Roe has allowed.
Only by forming Americans “step by step” to embrace a society where abortion is “unthinkable” for a pregnant woman in crisis will Americans actually embrace a law banning abortion.
Unfortunately, we are not there. Far from being “unthinkable,” a majority of Americans regard abortion as a pragmatic option for women. While Americans remain evenly split in identifying as pro-life or “pro-choice,” six out of 10 support first-trimester abortion. In other words, while Americans are uncomfortable with the extreme abortion position of the Democratic Party, which would have the U.S. remain one of only seven countries in the world that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the average citizen still holds that ending an unborn child’s life is a viable option in some circumstances.
We have a lot of work to do.
Before a call to action, we need a call to conversion. What is Jesus Christ demanding of us to make abortion “unthinkable?” We must ask ourselves: What are we prepared to do, as disciples of Jesus Christ, through our own prayer, toil and sacrifice, to build that culture of life that is prerequisite to a national abortion ban?
We already know the main crises driving vulnerable mothers to seek abortion. The Guttmacher Institute, which carries out research for abortion providers, found 75% of women seeking abortion were poor or low-income, and about six in 10 abortion-minded women already had a child. Economic fears — the inability to afford an additional child, the loss of work or ability to continue in school, or the need to fulfill existing family responsibilities or care for dependents — dominated the top reasons for seeking abortion.
We cannot emphasize this enough: These are crises that can be resolved. The question is how, and Catholics need to pray and discern how to do that effectively and ultimately act.
What we know now, from the example of states like California, is that many governments, corporations and universities will not advance policies that would undermine the financial bottom line of the abortion industry. No matter how “progressive” they style themselves, these entities benefit from a system where abortion allows them to go about with business as usual, instead of investing funds into making social, work or educational environments favorable to women who are pregnant or parenting.
What can be done? The Church must call on Catholic philanthropy to empower new models of pro-life health centers to scale up nationwide so they can provide an effective alternative to Planned Parenthood facilities and offer comprehensive support for families to choose life and flourish. The abortion giant recorded $510 million in private contributions alone in 2020; we need Catholics blessed with material wealth to match that commitment if we are to provide legitimate alternatives.
Catholics in the public square will also need to advance serious pro-life policy alternatives to help women resolve the crises driving their decision to abort. Spain has shown that providing a parental subsidy for children can increase birth and reduce abortion. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has proposed a similar program that would begin in the third trimester — a powerful tool in the hands of pro-life counselors to make the case for life. This is just one example.
Most fundamentally, we need parishes to be intentional about creating community relationships that accompany, nourish and sustain life. Here, the Catholic Church must admit to failure, when 24% of those who seek abortion are Catholic. We need pastors to initiate these conversations with the laity about how we can create parishes where Catholic women in crisis know they can securely turn to their parish for help and wraparound support. In fact, the U.S. bishops have already provided specific guidance about how to accomplish this via the “Walking With Moms in Need” program that they initiated in 2020.
The Roe era might end, and the urgency of putting our discipleship into action for the gospel of life has never been greater at all these levels. But with our efforts and God’s grace, we can make abortion unthinkable by advancing a society that supports life and family and enshrining a pro-life culture in law for generations to come.