Pro-Life Groups Redouble Efforts to Help Moms in Need

Anticipating the overturn of Roe v. Wade, diocesan, parish pro-life groups mobilize Catholics to further help women and families, including through the program Walking With Moms in Need.

Walking With Moms in Need, an initiative of the U.S. bishops, is gaining ground across the nation.
Walking With Moms in Need, an initiative of the U.S. bishops, is gaining ground across the nation. (photo: Shutterstock)

When members of a pro-life team at the Rochester Area Catholic Family of Parishes in Michigan received a request for childcare this past week for a mom with young twins, rather than giving her a list of referrals, they started considering how they could get training to do the childcare themselves. 

“These are the ways that we’re trying what we call redoubling our efforts,” said Dr. Catherine Stark, a member of the Walking With Moms in Need (WWMIN) team at the group of parishes that includes St. Andrew in Rochester and St. Irenaeus and St. Mary of the Hills in Rochester Hills. “We’re saying, ‘Okay, if that’s what you’re asking, we’re going to do our best to try to figure out how to do this within the way we can do it.’” 

Whether or not the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and returns decisions about the legality of abortion to the states, pro-life Catholics such as Stark, whose dioceses and parishes work in many ways to help pregnant and parenting women, say they are committed for the long term. 

Though their states will not be on the same legal ground regarding abortion in a post-Roe scenario, pro-life Church leaders are committed — as the Church long has been — to care for an increasing number of women and families in need while also remaining on alert for violence in the aftermath of the decision. In the process, they’re mobilizing Catholics to get involved. 

“I think people are recognizing that this is a historic moment, and when we look back on history people will ask us, ‘Where were you?’” said Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, which recently launched the California bishops’ awareness campaign “We Were Born Ready.” 

“God willing, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, where were you at that moment, and what were you doing?” 

In January, Stark’s family of parishes launched its WWMIN program, a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ initiative that helps parishes assess, expand and communicate resources to pregnant moms and families in need. More than 20 parishioners are involved, said Stark, a St. Andrew parishioner and OB-GYN physician who is medical director of a nearby pregnancy-care center.

Stark said she thinks Catholics’ involvement in pro-life work was growing long before the Supreme Court accepted the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. “It was fortuitous that they did because the need is potentially greater now than it was two years ago,” she said. “If we do get a positive decision in Dobbs, it’s not like it’s new to the Catholic Church working like this, but what they are doing is really redoubling efforts and reaching out in so many ways, trying to bring attention to it so people know what the Church is doing.“

The number of U.S. abortions increased 8% in 2020 over 2017, reversing a 30-year decline, according to the Guttmacher Institute that aims to advance “reproductive health policy.” The 930,160 abortions statistic in 2020 is up from 862,320 abortions in 2017, and the data reveals that, during 2020, one in five U.S. pregnancies ended in abortion. The institute, once associated with Planned Parenthood, collects data on abortions by contacting every known U.S. abortion provider every three years.


On-the-Ground Assistance

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, 18 states would immediately protect unborn children, either through laws in place before the 1973 case was decided, through “trigger” laws that would take effect following a reversal of the case — or both, according to the Alexandria, Virginia-based National Right to Life.  

At the same time, 23 states would allow abortion either through a legislatively enacted statute or court ruling interpreting the state constitution to convey the right to abortion, which could make them function as “safe havens” if surrounding states have abortion restrictions. 

Other states have some pro-life laws but don’t explicitly prohibit abortion, while several more are advancing ballot initiatives to either exclude abortion or enshrine it in their constitutions, according to National Right to Life. 

“In many states it will be necessary to raise awareness of existing resources, while in others it will be important to improve those resources, for greater need for pregnancy-care centers and maternity homes, as more women bring their pregnancies to term,” said Kat Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communications for the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. In all situations, the Church aims to accompany and support women, she said. 

California’s awareness campaign launched as the state’s politicians are promoting expansion of government abortion funding and an effort to make it a constitutional right. The bishops’ vision, however, is of accompanying women, protecting families and defending the lives the born and unborn, Domingo said. The campaign, developed with assistance from the Knights of Columbus, seeks to empower, equip and mobilize Catholics to serve women, children and families, especially women in difficult and unexpected pregnancies.

“I think the point in California is people really recognize we’re not in this moment going to overturn abortion through the legislature, but what we can do is we ourselves put extra effort and time into creating an opportunity for women to see something different,” Domingo said. 

Another initiative recently introduced by the Maryland Catholic Conference also helps parishes and individuals seeking to assist — or increase their assistance of — pregnant and parenting women. “Helping Hope Bloom” offers practical resources across Maryland and ways to give, act, pray and volunteer. 

Connie Brandt and the pro-life team she leads at St. John the Evangelist in Wahpeton, North Dakota, help women in need in many ways throughout the year, including through their WWMIN group that has been in full force since February.

St. John the Evangelist in Wahpeton, North Dakota
Clockwise from left: The Our Lady of Hope statue of St. John the Evangelist in Wahpeton, North Dakota, was dedicated on the Solemnity of the Annunciation this year. The parish also erects red crosses in the snow that represent each year of Roe: Members of the parish stand by the crosses in 2021; and in 2022, three young people from St. John's Life Team are shown supporting the cause. | Courtesy photos

If Roe is overturned, North Dakota legislation will go into effect that will make abortion illegal, and Brandt said she and her team, as well as her community, are ready to meet an increased need for assistance. Pro-lifers also won’t stop providing spiritual support through Wednesday mornings before the Blessed Sacrament. 


Always Ready to Help

This spring the Fargo Diocese’s Respect Life Office has been ramping up promotion of WWMIN at parishes in the diocese, getting them to consider what they’ll do locally if abortion law changes, said Tim Mosser, the office’s director. 

The diocese had already planned to promote the program, but Mosser said urgency is good. “I don’t want to see one woman in North Dakota if Dobbs is passed thinking, ‘Okay, what am I going to do now? I’m just going to go somewhere else to find an abortion,’” he said. “I want every woman to know she’s loved and there is the help she wants and needs.” 

Mosser is also encouraging Catholics to become aware of women and families in their network, instead of waiting for those needing help to come to them. 

In turn, he and other diocesan personnel interviewed said their parishes have a heightened sense of awareness for any vandalism or violence that may result after the high court releases its decision, but they did not want to give any other details about security plans. 

California Catholics are also being encouraged to accompany women and practice radical hospitality, Domingo said. “Whatever you’re already doing, this is another way to amplify those efforts, to gain additional people to be with you.” 

Catholics aren’t being asked to do anything extraordinarily heroic — just to answer the Christian call to stand up for the sanctity and dignity of all life, said Kathleen Wilson, coordinator of pro-life ministry and Project Rachel for the Detroit Archdiocese. 

The archdiocese has partnered with Catholic Charities to develop resources for parishes that have launched WWMIN programs, she said. “It’s not turning parishes into pregnancy-resource centers, but the goal is to let everyone in the pew know we are a church,” Wilson said. “We are a people of light that accompany women and families and children, and if someone came to us who is in need we know where to send them.”

All women contemplating abortion are fearful, including of not having resources, Wilson said, adding that the Body of Christ has all the resources needed.

“We may not feel like it, and that’s really the lie of the enemy,” she said. Michigan Catholics and other communities of faith are going to see that with the increased challenges come increased opportunities. The Great Lakes State has a dormant abortion ban on its books, but there are also efforts to enshrine abortion in its constitution.

Whenever the court decides, Wilson said the Holy Spirit will prepare the archdiocese to respond.

“It’s an ongoing work of mercy,” she said. “We have ongoing responsibility as Catholics to educate ourselves and to be inspired with how we live out this gospel of life. … Who is the Lord asking me to reach out to that has maybe fallen through the cracks due to whatever the outcome is in our state and in our nation?”