European Pro-Lifers Hail Possible Overturn of Roe v. Wade
Many national newspapers across Europe carried the story of the leaked draft opinion as front-page news, indicating the influence of U.S. policy on abortion laws on the continent.
VATICAN CITY — Pro-life campaigners in Europe are hailing the possible overturning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade landmark decision as an immense pro-life victory that promises to transform the battle against legalized abortion on the continent.
Responding to the news of a recently leaked draft opinion that would reverse the decision that legalized abortion nationwide, pro-life leaders in Italy and the U.K. told the Register that they realized such a Supreme Court decision would not end abortion in the United States, but that it would nevertheless inject new life into fighting legalized abortion on a continent where the issue is often seen as settled.
They also viewed the draft decision as partly the result of 50 years of campaigning to overturn such laws, especially through marches for life across the United States, and a fruit of the late Pope St. John Paul II’s untiring defense of life in the public square.
On May 2, news outlet Politico obtained a leaked initial draft majority opinion, penned by Justice Samuel Alito on Feb. 10, indicating that the Supreme Court is prepared to overturn Roe. The draft majority opinion relates to Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which centers on whether all pre-viability restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court later confirmed the draft was genuine; Chief Justice John Roberts said that the court’s work would “not be affected in any way,” but an investigation into the source of the leak was underway.
If the court, which is expected to rule on the case by the end of June, does strike down Roe, each state will be able to set its own laws regarding the legality of abortion services. Currently, 19 states have inactive laws banning abortion, and these laws are expected to quickly come into effect if Roe is overturned.
Many national newspapers across Europe carried the story as front-page news, indicating the influence of U.S. policy on abortion laws on the continent.
Jacopo Coghe, vice president of Pro Vita & Famiglia, an Italian pro-life charity, welcomed news of the draft as a “historic decision” and a “fundamental step” toward both the “universal abolition of a practice that kills innocent human lives” and to “truly defending the lives and rights of both women and the unborn.”
“If it is confirmed, it will represent a breath of fresh air and hope also for Italian pro-lifers because it will be proof that fighting to defend life always pays off in the end,” Coghe said. He observed “a wind of hope blowing in from the U.S.A.,” and predicted it would give “new lifeblood” not only to pro-life movements but “above all to politicians who until now have been too timid on these issues.”
Marches for Life
Virginia Coda Nunziante, the founder of Italy’s March for Life, said she was “personally overjoyed” at the news and is convinced that all the Marches for Life that have taken place in the U.S. since 1974, and which inspired her to found a similar one in Italy, have played a “very important role in keeping the attention of public opinion and politicians high on the issue of defending innocent life.”
She believes that the decision, if confirmed, will further prompt public debate and discussion, forcing societies to confront the “drama of abortion” and therefore have a significant impact in “all the countries where abortion is legal.” She explained that, after Russia, the U.S. was one of the first countries to legalize abortion, which then “led the way for all European countries.” Similarly, she believes, the U.S. could lead the way in a reversal of legalized abortion.
“America is always seen by Italians as being in the vanguard in many ways,” Coda Nunziante said, and so this decision “marks a turnaround.” If the U.S. succeeds in overturning Roe, “Italy will also succeed in repealing the law, hopefully in a shorter time,” predicted Coda Nunziante, who serves as president of the Famiglia Domani Association, an Italian pro-life group. “It will be very much up to us, civil society and politicians not to let this particularly auspicious moment pass to get the right message across to the public: Abortion is a crime.”
Liam Gibson, policy and legal officer for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) in Northern Ireland, said that anyone familiar with the history of Roe knows that the ruling was based on “a false premise, wrongly decided and purely political.” The reversal of that decision was therefore “always inevitable” and finally “seems to be happening.”
“Of course, the ruling won’t end abortion in America and won’t have an immediate impact outside the U.S.,” he said. “Even so, it would be impossible to overstate just how important this victory would be for the pro-life movement internationally, especially in the English-speaking world. The overturning of Roe will cause a cultural earthquake that will send shockwaves across the globe.”
Gibson pointed out that more than 100,000 babies were reckoned to have been saved from abortion from when Ireland amended its constitution in 1983 to guarantee legal protection for children before birth to when it was removed in 2018.
“The fact that the tide is now turning in America will encourage pro-life people in Ireland to redouble their efforts,” he said. “It may also lead others to reconsider the whole issue of abortion. No other country, except Britain of course, carries as much influence in Ireland as the U.S.”
Abortion laws countries across Eastern Europe could all be repealed, he said, “but that would hold nowhere near the significance of the reversal of Roe v. Wade in the U.S.”
John Smeaton, co-director of Voice of the Family, an association of pro-life groups worldwide, said the Supreme Court decision would mark “a colossal victory” for the anti-abortion movement in the U.S., which will “deserve the world’s warm congratulations and deep gratitude.” Such a major step, he said, would be impossible to explain in “purely human terms,” and he drew attention to how soon it followed Pope Francis’ “Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in union with the bishops of the world.”
Powerful Episcopal Leadership Needed
As with other pro-life campaigners, Smeaton, who worked for SPUC for 45 years and was its chief executive until last September, believes the decision will “transform the battle against abortion worldwide” — but only if Catholic bishops “exploit this God-given opportunity to condemn unequivocally the slaughter of the innocents taking place here and around the world, the greatest slaughter of human beings in the history of mankind.” For real momentum to be created, Smeaton said, “powerful Catholic episcopal leadership is absolutely essential.”
He noted that pro-life victories in the U.K. have been partly due to faithful Catholic clergy, but that their work has been “increasingly undermined” by the bishops of England and Wales, who he said in 2019 backed the government’s sex-education strategy that involves giving children access to abortion and contraception without parental knowledge.
“Until the bishops’ position is completely transformed, the well-organized pro-life movement in the U.K. will not have the backing from the community, which would be essential in getting restrictive abortion legislation passed,” Smeaton said.
He also drew attention to the deficiencies of the U.K.’s Supreme Court justices who, unlike their American counterparts who require Senate approval, are appointed by an unelected commission over which U.K. voters have no influence. For this reason, he said the U.K.’s Supreme Court has had a “profoundly negative impact on abortion in the U.K., interpreting the British [parliamentary] Abortion Act [of 1967] in accordance with pro-abortion ideology rather than the letter of the law.”
Benjamin Harnwell, who for many years defended pro-life issues in the European Parliament with former British member of the European Parliament Nirj Deva, also welcomed the news, thanking God that “the Shining City on a Hill still casts its light widely” and that “hopefully we in the rest of the world may have the humility to be illumined.”
Harnwell credited Pope St. John Paul II and his defense of life in the public square for the draft court decision, as well as the “historic strength and vitality of American religiosity generally, and U.S. evangelicalism specifically, both of which have had the consequences of encouraging Catholics to ‘play their best’ for many decades.”
But the possible impending decision may also set off a firestorm of pro-abortion reaction that will try to push back the pro-life movement’s momentum.
Gibson foresaw abortion advocates in England possibly using the “current hysteria surrounding the leak to push for complete decriminalization in Britain” and noted that a ban on abortion in Alabama was used by the abortion lobby to decriminalize abortion in Northern Ireland in 2019. The pro-abortion lobby “denounced the adoption of anti-abortion legislation in the U.S. and at the same time they pointed out that the law in Northern Ireland was even stricter than the new law in Alabama,” he recalled.
Northern Ireland now has “some of the worst” laws in Europe, Gibson said, allowing for termination up to birth if the baby is substantially impaired or if the risk to the mother is considered greater than termination. “This is what the abortion lobby would like to see across the whole of the U.K.,” Gibson said.
Shifting Public Opinion
“The idea of Roe v. Wade being overturned will strike fear into the hearts of abortion advocates and cause them to speed up their plans for decriminalization, so the situation is likely to get worse in Britain before it gets better,” he added. “Legally, the situation in Northern Ireland can’t get any worse since we are powerless to oppose London’s agenda.”
This was witnessed on May 16 when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made it clear that his government would intervene to ensure the decriminalized abortion law was followed after the Northern Ireland Executive failed to enforce it.
Despite these possible negative reactions, Gibson said the prospect of Roe being overturned “will be celebrated by everyone who recognizes the evil of abortion for what it is.”
Unlike in the U.S., where Roe v. Wade has long been viewed as an injustice imposed on the American people through a judicial act, in Italy, the U.K. and other European countries, decriminalization of abortion was achieved through legislation.
Pro-life advocates such as Coda Nunziante say this has made it harder to overturn, as any change “has to go back to parliament.” But through public debate and campaigns, including the March for Life, she said public sentiment is shifting, and she noted that 70% of gynecologists in Italy now conscientiously object to abortion.
“This is therefore a good starting point for our country,” she observed. “If the majority of doctors refuse to perform abortions, it means that there is a serious problem of which they are aware: the killing of a human being.” She also observed that consciences are being awakened as the truth “is slowly dawning because no one, least of all science, can deny that the being conceived is a child.”
“Those who become aware of this are also ready to fight for this cause, and the numbers of people determined to react are increasing,” Coda Nunziante said.
On the other hand, Coghe noted pressure continues in Italy to relax abortion laws still further, influenced by those U.S. states and other nations that allow abortion up to birth.
“The examples of some U.S. states or the dramatic words of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has proposed including abortion in the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights, remind us that we must never lower our guard, because everywhere, and even in Italy, the progressive pro-choice galaxy would like to make certain practices into ‘rights’ without any limits,” Coghe said.
The Register asked the Holy See Press Office and the Pontifical Academy for Life if they wished to comment on the draft Supreme Court opinion. The press office did not respond.
Fabrizio Mastrofini, spokesman for the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the academy “will issue a communiqué, but only when the Supreme Court's ruling is made known."