The Catholic Church must be prepared to act if Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide, is overturned, says the incoming chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
“If Roe is overturned, the issue, as I understand it, goes back to the states and the response will be uneven,” Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said Nov. 17, speaking on the issue of abortion. “Regardless, the Church has to be there and it has to continue teaching serenely, firmly, consistently, and lovingly.”
Lori spoke to CNA during the USCCB’s annual fall meeting held in Baltimore. His comments came as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that involves Mississippi’s law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks. The case challenges two landmark cases: Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe in 1992.
If Roe were overturned, Lori envisions that some states would respond by doubling down on “protecting so-called abortion rights,” while others would prohibit abortion.
“Should there be an increase of moms bringing their child to term, the Church has to step up to the plate and be there,” he said. “Our health care institutions have to step up to the plate. Our Catholic charities, our parishes have to do this.”
Regardless of what happens, he said, “The duty to cherish and foster human life is always going to be part of who we are.”
Witnessing with actions
Asked about his plans as the pro-life chair, Lori told CNA that the first priority of any of the bishops’ committees has to be evangelization.
“In this case, it’s the gospel of life. Not that there is anything other than a gospel of life, but it's winning the minds and hearts of as many people as possible,” he said.
He stressed that, for Catholics, “the ways of supporting the culture of life are very, very accessible and many.”
“One important thing, vitally important thing, is prayer,” he said, noting the bishops’ discussion on the Eucharist and Eucharist revival during their assembly. “If we all got down on our knees and asked for the grace to create a culture of life and the civilization of love, as St. John Paul II taught us to do, what a difference that would make.”
He also encouraged Catholics to “look around and see what's in your community.”
“Is there a pro-life pregnancy center? Can you donate?” he asked. “Can you volunteer? Can you serve on your parish pro-life committee? Can you think about going either to the March for Life in Washington or a local march for life in your own locale?”
He added that even something as small as giving a phone call to someone confined at home because of illness or age helps foster a culture of life.
“The little way, as St. Therese has shown us, is really the big way,” he said, referring to St. Therese of Lisieux’s approach to performing small, everyday acts with great love.
Lori shared why he, personally, identifies as pro-life.
“Not only my Catholic upbringing — and I've been very blessed to have a wonderful Catholic upbringing — but there's a couple of reasons,” he said.
One is his brother with special needs.
“I watched my mom and dad take care of him into their 90s, until they died,” he said. “If ever I needed a living example of what it means to cherish vulnerable human life and to resist the throwaway culture, my mom and dad gave me that example in spades and for decades.”
He then pointed to the influence of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.
“Early in my priesthood I became connected with the Knights of Columbus,” said Lori, who is the supreme chaplain of the fraternal Catholic organization. “If ever there were a staunch pro-life organization, it's the Knights.”
He also encountered the influence of a mentor: the late Cardinal James Hickey.
“I was blessed to serve directly under Cardinal Hickey of Washington for almost 18 years and he taught me a lot about being pro-life and about being consistently pro-life,” he said.
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“The humanity of the unborn child, but also loving urban kids that don't have a chance for a good education, helping the poor, the homeless, helping people lacking employment and housing, and then caring for those in the latter stages, he just demonstrated that.”
“He just embraced the Church’s faith and lived it,” he said. “So I saw firsthand what it means to be a pro-life leader in the Church from His Eminence.”
Walking with moms
Lori applauded the Church’s pro-life work through initiative called Walking with Moms in Need. The project, run by the USCCB, encourages Catholics to support and “walk in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women in difficult situations. During the bishops’ meeting, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, also commended the initiative.
The program “helps parishes to identify and help provide the full range of needs for mothers and their unborn children, not only during pregnancy, but for years to come,” according to a statement by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., Lori's predecessor as the USCCB's pro-life committee chairman.
Naumann delivered a presentation on Walking with Moms in Need during the bishops’ meeting and recognized the importance of Dobbs’ challenge to Roe.
“We’re at a great moment in our culture’s efforts to restore protection to the unborn — a great moment of opportunity and promise with the Dobbs case being heard in just a few days,” he said of the case that will be heard on Dec. 1 and is expected to be decided next summer.
The bishops “need to expect increased calls for help and assistance and the Church needs to be prepared to respond,” Naumann said. “This will be coming to all of our dioceses this June with the Dobbs decision.”
He highlighted Walking with Moms as a solution that would help dioceses “be prepared for the day, God willing, when abortion is no longer the law of our land,” at another point.
But regardless of how courts or legislators treat abortion, Naumann stressed that “our pastoral response will always remain the same.”
“If the Dobbs decision does allow for states to be able to protect unborn children more by law, some of our states will benefit from that legal protection but it will increase the number of women that we need to be prepared to serve,” he said. “And in states where that won’t happen because the legislature will not take advantage of this opportunity, the only way we can save the lives of these children and protect their mothers from the aftereffects of abortion is not with the law, but with love.”
Lori heartily agreed. “Walking with Moms in Need is a wonderful expression of the Church’s love not only for the unborn baby, but for the mom who finds herself in difficult and often dire straits,” he said.
He stressed that the Church cares for both the unborn child and his or her mother.
“One of the great untruths is that we simply want children to be born and then we forget about them. We don’t,” he said. “Walking with Moms in Need says we're going to continue the walk. It's accompaniment. It’s a real expression of the Church’s love and the Lord's love.”
Katie Yoder is a correspondent in CNA's Washington, D.C. bureau. She covers pro-life issues, the U.S. Catholic bishops, public policy, and Congress. She previously worked for Townhall.com, National Review, and the Media Research Center.
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