Abortions cannot be reduced without overturning Roe v. Wade, bishops say

Abortions cannot be reduced without overturning Roe v. Wade, bishops say

Bishop William Murphy / Cardinal Justin Rigali
Bishop William Murphy / Cardinal Justin Rigali


In a response to groups claiming that pro-life organizations should find ways to reduce abortions through government programs rather than trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, two prominent U.S. bishops have released a statement saying that Catholics must find ways to support pregnant woman as well as strive to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision.


In a statement released on Monday, Cardinal Justin Rigali, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activites, and Bishop William Murphy, the chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, began by explaining the decision to legalize abortion and the bishop’s immediate opposition to it. 


The two Church leaders then addressed how "some have called on the Church to abandon most of this effort" saying that "we should accept Roe as a permanent fixture of constitutional law, stop trying to restore recognition for the unborn child’s human rights, and confine our public advocacy to efforts to ‘reduce abortions’ through improved economic and social support for women and families."


Organizations such as Catholics United have stated that pro-lifers need to care for women and families through health care, jobs and education.  The Catholics United website claims that even if the Supreme Court decision were overturned, only some states would vote for abortion to be illegal.  In that case, the group says, “women living in these states could still go elsewhere to get an abortion. Overturning Roe cannot be seen as a substitute for policies that can work RIGHT NOW to end abortion, namely supporting women and families."


In their letter, the bishops explained that the Catholic community has always advocated support for pregnant women.  "Catholic hospitals, charitable institutions, and thousands of pregnancy aid centers, provide life-saving care and compassionate alternatives to the violence of abortion."  Additionally, the Church supports “universal health care coverage, generous family leave policies, increases in the minimum wage, humane welfare policies for women who are pregnant or caring for young children, expanded funding for WIC and other nutrition programs, and a federal children’s health insurance program that includes coverage for unborn children and their mothers."


However, the prelates continued, these efforts “are not an adequate or complete response to the injustice of Roe v. Wade for several important reasons."


The first reason given by the bishops is that the 1973 decision denies "an entire class of innocent human beings the most fundamental human right, the right to life. In fact, the act of killing these fellow human beings was transformed from a crime into a ‘right,’ turning the structure of human rights on its head. Roe v. Wade is a clear case of an ‘intrinsically unjust law’ we are morally obliged to oppose.”


“Reversing it is not a mere political tactic, but a moral imperative for Catholics and others who respect human life,” Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy stated.


Another reason that the bishops gave was that many challenges to the decision have led "to significant modifications of Roe.  Most recently," they noted, in the ban on partial-birth abortion.


A third reason, they continued, is the enormous increase in the “annual number of abortions in our society” since the Roe decision.  “By the same token, even the limited pro-life laws allowed by the Court since Roe have been shown to reduce abortions substantially, leading to a steady decline in the abortion rate since 1980.”


This progress could be lost through the Freedom of Choice Act, "which supporters say would knock down hundreds of current pro-life laws and forbid any public program to ‘discriminate’ against abortion in providing services to women," the bishops explained.


Senator Barack Obama has promised that he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law as his first act as president.


The bishops concluded their letter noting that "providing support for pregnant women so they choose to have their babies is a necessary but not sufficient response to abortion." 


"By protecting the child’s life to the maximum degree possible, improving life-affirming support for pregnant women, and changing the attitudes and prejudices imposed on many women to make them see abortion as an acceptable or necessary solution, we will truly help build a culture of life," they stated.