For far too long Roe has caused us to treat a class of humanity as disposable and unworthy of the most basic human right: the right to life. But the fact remains that every human person is conceived with inherent sanctity and dignity and deserves to be legally protected and safeguarded. For 50 years now, we in the Catholic Medical Association and the pro-life community have prayed, peacefully protested, educated, and held onto hope that this dreadful decision would be overturned.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case brings not only hope for the advancement of human rights, but just as importantly, brings into sharper focus the moral responsibility to care for and assist pregnant mothers and preborn children.
Now, the question of the legal protection for the unborn child returns to state and local governments. In an ideal world, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution recognizing that every human life in the womb should be valued and protected by law is the only just and lasting solution, but this decision by the highest court in the land is a significant and hopeful improvement from the status quo.
The first thing we need to accept, both individually and as a society, is the fact that the question of when life begins is not a religious question. It is a matter of science. And the science is now clearer than it ever has been that human life begins at the moment of conception. If it doesn’t begin at conception, then when does life begin — first heartbeat, brainwaves, fingernails? Ultrasound technology, our window into the womb, confirms, beyond any reasonable shadow of doubt, that life begins at conception.
Our response to this fact is both a matter of natural law and religion. On the natural level, the right to life should be protected in law and that life should benefit from all the resources our society recognizes as serving the common good.
On a religious level, our faith places a responsibility on each of us to assist women in difficult situations and build a culture of life and a civilization of love, now more than ever. This is our only response — period. This is what our faith teaches us: to love our neighbor as ourselves, to reach out to those who are in need, to accompany those who are in difficulty and in crisis.
Our response, of course, can take on many different forms as seen in the work of CMA.
In my Diocese of Lincoln, the Women’s Care Center opened across the street from the Planned Parenthood abortion facility. This was the 33rd such center to open in the United States. Since its opening 18 months ago, the Women’s Care Center has been hugely successful. Women in unplanned pregnancies are given resources to choose life. Lives have been saved and women have been loved. The average time these centers assist moms is a full five years after they have given birth to their child!
This is the sort of thing that the faith community is so good at…loving both the child and the mother through a difficult situation. Now that Roe has been overturned, it is incumbent on us, the Catholic community, to redouble our efforts to increase this sort of support for women and children. One way to do this is to increase the number of pregnancy care centers that offer long-term, full-care facilities that assist women and families beyond the birth of their child.
The national initiative led by the U.S. Bishops conference, “Walking with Moms in Need,” was launched in 2020, as a preparation for a post-Roe country. Pregnant and parenting moms in need are in our parishes, at our places of work and in our neighborhoods. As Pope Francis reminds us, our parishes need to be “islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference.” This initiative is designed to bring resources to and through the parish to women who might otherwise not have the necessary resources to choose life.
Both of these initiatives, as well as those of CMA, are much more than “programs.” They incarnate the love our heavenly Father has for each one of us, but especially the most vulnerable, pregnant women and unborn children. We as a faith community will need to increase our support for women in crisis pregnancies because we are not just anti-abortion, we are pro-life.
Most Rev. James D. Conley is the bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln and the episcopal advisor of the Catholic Medical Association.