Cardinal reflects on Roe reversal, calls for support of women

BRAINTREE -- In a public statement and his weekly blog post released just hours after the Supreme Court handed down its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley reflected on how far the pro-life movement has come, and how much work remains to be done in serving women and engaging society in discourse about abortion.

Cardinal O'Malley has been a longtime advocate for the unborn and their mothers. But in recent years, he did not think he would live to see the reversal of Roe v. Wade, he said in his June 24 blog post. In an entry entitled "A day many thought would never come," he compared the Roe decision to the Berlin Wall. Both were seen as national tragedies and sources of division, and many people doubted that they would ever be abolished. But the wall fell, and after almost 50 years of pro-life activism, Roe was overturned.

Cardinal O'Malley expressed confidence that many children will be saved by this decision, but he also maintained that the pro-life movement's work is not done.

"It is not enough to change the laws; we need to change people's hearts, try to heal divisions, and work for a more just society," he said in his blog.

He said he does not think the attitude of pro-lifers at this time should be "triumphalist" but rather "one of prayer and commitment to continue working for the protection of all human life at every stage."

In a statement released earlier that day, Cardinal O'Malley went into more detail about the significance of Roe's reversal and the work that remains.

"This decision will create the possibility of protecting human life from conception; it calls us to recognize the unique burden faced by women in pregnancy; and it challenges us as a nation to work together to build up more communities of support -- and available access to them -- for all women experiencing unplanned pregnancies," he said in his statement.

He addressed the common accusation against the Catholic Church of attempting to impose a religious belief on America's pluralistic society. He acknowledged that the Church has used religious and moral arguments when addressing the Catholic community. However, he said, the Church has framed its defense of human life as a matter of human rights when engaging with civil society, elected officials, and the legal system. He said that this is consistent with the Church's advocacy for other issues involving human dignity, "at all stages and in all circumstances of life."

"The Church employs this principle of consistency in addressing issues of race, poverty, and human rights generally. It is a position that presents a moral argument as a foundation for law and policy to protect human life," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He also spoke about the necessity of supporting women who are vulnerable to abortion or who have had abortions. He said that while the Church has always opposed the moral and legal dimensions of Roe v. Wade, "we also adamantly reject stigmatizing, criminalizing, judging, or shaming women who have had abortions or are considering them." He insisted that these women "need and deserve spiritual, emotional, and material support from the Church and from society."

He pointed to the Archdiocese of Boston's efforts to do this through Project Rachel, which ministers to women who have had abortions, and Pregnancy Help, which assists women facing crisis pregnancies.

Cardinal O'Malley said that the public debates about abortion will not end, and expressed the hope that the Supreme Court decision "begins a new chapter in our legislative and legal forums."

"The public arguments will now shift to the states, the Congress, and the courts. It is my hope that this new chapter may be a time of a different tone and focus in our civic life," he said.

He called on the Church to adopt and reflect "a wider vision" of threats to human life.

"All human life deserves moral and legal protection at all times. Protection of life should be comprehensive, not selective," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He said that both opponents and supporters of Roe recognize that poverty and injustice are contributing factors for women seeking abortions. He said that both sides should "find common ground for a renewed commitment to social and economic justice in our country."

Finally, the cardinal urged a return to civility "in discourse, in protest, and in policy advocacy."

"In recent years, the idea of civility and respectful discourse has suffered from neglect, as has the respect for human life. The renewal of both is possible and urgently necessary," he said.

As a bishop and a citizen, he said, "I hope and pray we can create a culture that protects the most vulnerable at the beginning of life and at any time life is threatened in any way."