Preparing for a ‘Post-Roe’ America, US Bishops Discuss What Pro-Life Outreach Would Look Like

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco told the Register that ‘our goal is not to make abortion illegal; our goal is to make abortion unthinkable.’

A pro-life demonstrator protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 1 in Washington, D.C.
A pro-life demonstrator protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 1 in Washington, D.C. (photo: Drew Angerer / AFP/Getty)

BALTIMORE — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Dec. 1 considering whether all pre-viability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case that some argue could significantly alter U.S. abortion law and even result in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision being overturned entirely. Gathered in Baltimore for their fall meeting, several bishops spoke with the Register about what the Church’s pro-life outreach would look like if Roe were overruled.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, the outgoing chairman of the USCCB’s pro-life committee, told the Register last week that Roe being overruled “would be an answer to a lot of prayers and a lot of hard work over decades.”  

However, he also added a word of caution about the work still left to do. “We have to be aware that it doesn’t mean that abortion will be prevented or protected by law in the United States,” he said. “It would mean that states would have a greater opportunity if they choose to protect the unborn.” 

 

Surrounding Mothers With Love

The U.S. bishop’s pro-life committee chair highlighted his initiative Walking With Moms in Need and said that effort to empower parishes to connect expectant mothers with resources at the local level is “what the Church should be doing, in terms of surrounding women with the love and support that every woman deserves.” 

Archbishop Naumann noted that a repeal of Roe would leave a mix of abortion laws on the state level. In states where abortion is restricted, initiatives like Walking With Moms in Need, the archbishop pointed out, is “going to become more important; if we’re able to protect [the unborn] with the law, there will be hopefully more women that will be coming to us for assistance.”

“That’s why we were hoping to really ramp up what we’re doing there, and for states where the legislature won’t act on this, we have to save with love those that we can’t protect with the law,” he said. 

In his Nov. 17 presentation on the initiative at the bishops’ fall assembly, Archbishop Naumann encouraged his brother bishops to be prepared for the Dobbs decision in June and to “expect increased calls for help and assistance.”

“If Roe is overturned, the issue, as I understand it, goes back to the states, and the response will be uneven,” Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who is succeeding Archbishop Naumann as the chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, told Catholic News Agency on Nov. 17 regarding the abortion issue. “Regardless, the Church has to be there, and it has to continue teaching serenely, firmly, consistently and lovingly.” 

No matter what happens in Dobbs, he said, “the duty to cherish and foster human life is always going to be part of who we are.”

Katherine Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Register that “while we’re so encouraged by the way that many states have increased pro-life protection, and while we’re excited about the opportunity with Dobbs to see more states doing that effectively, there will also be a corresponding increase in need.” 

Talalas called Archbishop Naumann’s initiative “one significant way” the Church responds to that need. She said the initiative promotes “a parish-based response, where a parish seeks to truly walk in the shoes of pregnant and parenting women in their communities and reach out in support and friendship to help better serve women in their communities.” It involves an “intensive inventory process, where the parish takes a good look around and says what’s out there,” assessing if there are pregnancy-care centers and programs available in their area. 

“There are all kinds of different services that we know are out there, but the inventory process helps parishes distill what is available for pregnant and parenting women in their area,” she said, adding that the parish can then look at gaps in resources and assess how to fill them so that “no woman comes to our church in need without getting a full, wholehearted response from us about what she can do to safely welcome her child into the world.” 

Archbishop Naumann’s initiative was praised by apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre in his address to the bishops Nov. 16. He said that parishes, “by listening to what some of the spiritual, social and emotional needs of the people are, can accompany women — even with small acts of kindness. Concrete gestures, not mere ideas, show forth the maternal, tender face of the Church that is truly pro-life.”

 

A Shift to State Advocacy

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco told the Register that “our goal is not to make abortion illegal; our goal is to make abortion unthinkable. Making it illegal will be a great help toward that end only if we’re truly pro-life and provide women real options.” 

He said that women need “love and support to make the choice for life; bring that baby in the world and raise that baby in the world — and that’s why I’m so proud of our Catholics and other people of faith who run these pro-life crisis-pregnancy clinics. They give the woman that possibility. If all we did was make abortion illegal and did nothing else, it could make the situation worse, because there would be a lot of back-alley abortions, and it's highly unregulated as it is now.” 

Archbishop Cordileone added that while he was happy for the possibility that Roe could be overturned, “it would go back to the states, the political fight and advocacy would be at the state level, but it doesn’t change our mission of being pro-life and providing women love and support so they can make a choice for life and be happy.” 

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, agreed that the issue would be far from solved if abortion went back to the state level. He told the Register, “Unfortunately, you get a state like mine, Illinois, that a couple of years ago voted that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, that abortion would still be legal in Illinois, so all that would do would be to shift our focus from Roe v. Wade back to our state — and how do we protect the lives of the unborn in the state of Illinois?” 

“Every state would have to face that,” he said. “There are some states that have banned abortion at certain stages of pregnancy, and then there are others that I'm sure would follow that; but there would be others, like Illinois, where it would be a very uphill battle to get that law changed.” 

 

Fighting the ‘Disposable Culture’

Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, told the Register that even if Roe were overruled, there would always be a pro-life battle for the Church, given the “disposable culture” that disregards human dignity. 

“The dignity from conception to natural death and everything in between — that will always be part of the mission of the Church,” he said, “because we live in a time where, as Pope Francis is talking about, [there is] this disposable culture; so though the laws may change, the reality is we live with original sin, and I think we will never have people who will completely accept or understand why the Church teaches the dignity of life.” 

“Look at how many of these areas where they’re changing regarding euthanasia,” he added. “I think if, on the abortion issue, there’s change in that way, I believe with this aggressive approach that lacks total respect for the dignity and the sanctity of life, the emphasis will shift towards probably a push for euthanasia — anything that cheapens the dignity of life; and so, in other words: Our work will always be there because it’s just ‘throwaway culture,’ and we are called to proclaim the truth and the dignity of the human person.”

“There will always be work for us,” Bishop Daly concluded. “If, God willing, the laws will be more pro-life regarding the abortion issue, then we’ll deal with the dignity of the human person, the sick, the dying, the unborn, the trafficking — all those life issues.”

Police use metal barricades to keep protesters, demonstrators and activists apart in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building as the justices hear hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, a case about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, on Dec. 1 in Washington, DC.

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