Between cursing the darkness and lighting a candle, we all know which is the right choice.
Yet every year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, one hears grumbling about the lack of progress in overturning that decision in its entirety.
True, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey did change much of Roe. That includes Roe’s trimester framework, its characterization of abortion as a “fundamental” right, and its rigorous strict scrutiny test — all of those are now gone as a result of Casey, making it easier now to regulate abortion. Yet, disappointingly, Casey left intact Roe’s rule forbidding an abortion ban before viability, or after viability when done for health reasons.
And so, people ask: Why, after 35 years of effort, is this part of Roe still the law?
Frustration and impatience over the high court stalemate is understandable. There’s no room for complacency while the abortion death toll grows every hour of every day. Imagine that a plague took the lives of every U.S. teen now in grades 10 through 12. That’s how many unborn children have died from abortion since 1973. And no one familiar with the grief and pain of mothers and fathers after abortion could bear for even one parent more to experience such a tragic loss.
Instead of grumbling, would it not make more sense to make a Lenten commitment to light one (or hundreds) of the thousands of candles waiting to be lit? Support or undertake one of the many proven ways we can help save children’s lives now which also will help create conditions that will move the Court to topple the already decaying framework of Roe.
The U.S. Catholic bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities provides a blueprint for pro-life activities at every level of the Church. The campaign to end abortion and promote the dignity of life at every stage involves four vital approaches: prayer, education, pastoral care and public advocacy.
Through personal and organized prayer (e.g., Rosaries for life, novenas, holy hours for life with adoration and Benediction), through fasting and daily sacrifices “offered up,” as Pope Benedict suggests in his 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi (On Christian hope), we can expect miraculous changes of heart in abortion-minded women and men. Prayer in front of abortion businesses is a powerful witness to life. Last fall, more than 80 communities in 33 states joined in the “40 Days for Life” campaign, and organizers report that the lives of more than 350 children have been spared to date as a result of this campaign.
Education focused particularly on the humanity of the child from conception through birth, on the extreme nature of the abortion license, and on its physical and mental health risks for women have been shown to be particularly effective in moving public attitudes toward life.
Pastoral care, available through more than 3,500 pregnancy resource centers nationwide and parish-based programs like the Gabriel Project, are making adoption and parenting possible for thousands of women every year.
Public advocacy: It is well known that elected representatives are influenced by the views of their constituents. So let your state and federal representatives know how you feel about abortion-related legislation. If you’re uncertain how to do this, the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment can help. Simple, effective ways to contact elected representatives are described at nchla.org.
Public debate and passage of reasonable, popular state laws restricting abortion to the maximum extent permitted under Roe, in light of Casey and Gonzales v. Carhart (the 2007 decision upholding the federal ban on partial-birth abortion), can accomplish three important objectives: 1) Move more undecided and pro-choice people into the pro-life camp. 2) Create a clear state trend that may influence the Supreme Court’s future deliberations. 3) Save lives now, while we prepare for the reversal of what remains of Roe.
Listed below are just some of the state laws that can help change the legal and jurisprudential landscape. Many of these measures have already been shown to save the lives of unborn children:
• a law requiring that abortion providers offer women the opportunity to view an ultrasound of her unborn child,
• a strong parental notice or parental consent law. Studies have shown that the abortion rate of minor girls decreases up to 42% after state enforcement of a parental involvement law,
• a strong informed consent law (with a waiting period that allows for reflection). The typical 24-hour waiting period in the U.S. contrasts with waiting periods in European countries, often ranging from 5 to 7 days. What should be included in informed consent? Specific information on the child’s stage of development, how the abortion procedure will be done, whether the child can feel pain, abortion alternatives and proven risks to the mother — physical complications (17% in one large study), miscarriages and preterm births in subsequent pregnancies, placenta previa, breast cancer, increased risks of anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide attempts and suicides. The woman should be asked to initial each listed item to better ensure that she has read them.
• restrictions on the following: government funding of abortion, on allowing abortions in public hospitals, and on allowing abortion clinics to participate in publicly-funded health care programs,
• clinic regulations, with funding for clinic inspectors, to protect the health of patients. Abortions decreased 60% in Mississippi in the 1990s, following enactment of informed consent legislation and the revocation of one abortionist’s license for falsifying the records of patients he had harmed.
• strengthened reporting and recordkeeping requirements on the part of abortion providers,
• laws funding pregnancy resource centers offering abortion alternatives,
• a state law similar to the federal “Pregnant Women Support Act” bill providing supportive services for pregnant and parenting women (college students and low-income women) and their children so none will feel that abortion is her only choice,
• a state law against coercing or pressuring a girl or woman to have an abortion,
• fetal homicide laws modeled after the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes the violent killing of an unborn child in a non-abortion context as a homicide. (The federal law applies only where the violent act against a pregnant woman is a federal crime.),
• laws forbidding health insurers in the state to incorporate abortion into their “basic benefit” packages, so they could provide such coverage only if the individual or family requests it and pays a separate premium for it,
• state legislation or regulations to implement the “unborn child coverage” option under the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), to provide health care for both mother and child while recognizing the unborn child as a patient deserving prenatal care. Fourteen states now have this option in effect, and
• publicly-funded campaigns to promote adoption and to discourage abortion.
Where there is popular support, states can also enact two bolder measures to ensure that abortion is prohibited to the extent permitted under federal law:
1. States could amend their constitution to provide that nothing in the state constitution creates a right to abortion and that unborn human life shall be protected to the maximum degree permitted under the U.S. Constitution.
2. States can amend their constitution or statutes, as appropriate, to provide that abortion is prohibited and that this state ban will take effect immediately, and to the extent permitted, upon the occurrence of any of the following: any decision of the U.S. Supreme Court which reverses, in whole or part, Roe v. Wade, or the adoption of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which, in whole or part, restores to the states the authority to prohibit abortion.
No one step listed above is a magic bullet that will end the regime of Roe overnight, and some will have a greater impact than others. But every step we take will help pave the way toward complete protection of human life from conception to natural death.
Susan Wills is associate director for education for the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
- February 24-March 1, 2008