Local pro-life leaders react to SCOTUS decision, reflect on entering 'post-Roe era'

BRAINTREE -- On June 24, Kathy Hill woke up in her hotel room in California, where she was visiting family members. When she checked her phone, she saw that she had a barrage of messages from women she had worked with through her post-abortion ministries. They shared with her the news they had been waiting for: the Supreme Court had handed down its decision for Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, upholding Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban and overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion throughout the U.S.

Knowing she was in a state that, like Massachusetts, has liberal abortion laws, Hill reacted to the news by going to Planned Parenthood, an hour away from her hotel, to pray the rosary.

A draft of the Dobbs decision had been leaked to the public a month earlier, indicating that the court was poised to overturn Roe. But there was still time for the court to make changes before the official announcement.

Marianne Luthin, the director of the archdiocese's Pro-Life Office, learned the news from friends who emailed her, "The decision is out." She immediately went to the Supreme Court's website to see for herself.

She later told The Pilot that she was "stunned" because "one sentence said it all." On the very first page of the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito had written, "Held: The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives."

"One sentence undid 50 years of Roe v. Wade. It took some time to sink in," Luthin said in a June 27 interview.

She thought back to the people who had started the pro-life movement in the early 1970s. Just prior to the passage of Roe, a network of people in Massachusetts organized themselves into the group that would later become Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

"You could see, early on, there was a need for a truly ecumenical group to come together. And so many of those folks got involved and stayed involved, and many since have passed on. They were on my mind, to say the least," Luthin said.

Hill spoke similarly and said she felt "blessed" to be alive to witness this event.

"I think of all the women who are not here, that passed away and didn't get to see this day. We're standing on their shoulders, and we get to see it," she said.

Post-abortive women react

Hill spoke to The Pilot on behalf of the women she has worked with who have had abortions. She works as a counselor at Attleboro Women's Health Center, runs a Bible study for post-abortive women called "Surrendering the Secret," and is the Massachusetts regional coordinator of Silent No More, a campaign to raise awareness of the pain caused by abortion.

She said the women she has spoken with feel "incredibly thankful" about the Dobbs decision, seeing it as an answer to their prayers. While many people have prayed for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, Hill said, "they pray harder because they know what they've lost."

"They're so happy that it got overturned because it validates the precious lives that they know they lost," she said.

At the same time, though, they also feel renewed pain and grief.

"A lot of them are looking at this thinking about how old their babies are, or would have been," Hill said.

Luthin said that after the decision's announcement, she found it "disturbing" that so much news was about how it would impact elections instead of dealing with the tragedy of abortion.

"There's a lack of recognition of the deep emotional and spiritual pain that abortion has caused and that many women and men live with every day," she said.

Citing the statistic that 65 million children have been aborted since Roe v. Wade, she pointed to the fact that conflict in public opinion has not stopped during those 50 years of legal abortion.

"If abortion was a good, important right for women, something that was essential for their autonomy and their wellbeing, if there were 65 million of them, there would be no ambiguity about public opinion in the United States because this would have been the solution to their problem. As a result, they're able to succeed in their careers, (or) whatever the other reasons for having the abortion. But public opinion continues to be conflicted, very much," Luthin said.

Hill said many women over the years have told her that if it had not been legal, they would never have had their abortion. She said many post-abortive women feel angry that no one told them about the intensity of the feelings they would have afterward. With so much "noise" coming from pro-choice advocates, they feel afraid to speak out about their negative experiences, because no one wants to hear them.

In the weeks since the draft decision was leaked, pro-abortion extremism has manifested across the country. Several churches and pro-life organizations, including pregnancy centers, have been vandalized in incidents ranging from graffiti to firebombs.

Luthin's office runs Pregnancy Help locations in Brighton, Brockton, and Natick. She said the nurses and case workers who work there have "a very difficult job, even in the best of times." Now, she is concerned that women may not feel safe going to these centers in light of the recent violence targeting them.

Hill said the pregnancy centers in Attleboro, where she works as a counselor, have stepped up their security and communicated with local police, who she said have been supportive. As for her and the staff, she said they feel "at peace" and not afraid or intimidated as they continue their work.

"We know we're working for God, we're doing what he asks us to do, and being obedient to him, reaching out to help as many women as we can," she said.

Next Steps

Luthin said she had to make "a quick transition" to the post-Roe era, as her office held a Project Rachel retreat the day after the decision was announced. Project Rachel is a confidential ministry of healing for people hurt by abortion. Luthin said the pain that abortion causes could be heard and seen in the retreat participants.

"It's going to take generations to undo that pain. And the Church is in a critical position, I believe, of providing that kind of support, that kind of healing, as well as helping women who are experiencing truly difficult cases with extraordinarily difficult pregnancies. That's where we need to be, all the more. It's not just saying, 'Roe v. Wade is over. We're done.' It's almost the opposite," she said.

Myrna Maloney Flynn, the current president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life (MCFL), said the news prompted them to "reassess our strengths and accomplishments" over the decades since their organization was incorporated.

"We recognize that significant challenges remain, even without Roe v. Wade, and we are eager and energized to surmount each one. Our mission to protect the right to life has not changed, and much work remains in order to accomplish that mission here in the Commonwealth," Flynn said in a statement.

She said MCFL is setting up both short-term and long-term plans for their post-Roe strategy. These include educational initiatives to teach children about prenatal development, and public awareness campaigns to reach abortion supporters.

"As we have always done, we begin this new chapter in MCFL's history with the story's end in mind: the day when abortion is not merely illegal but unthinkable," Flynn said.

She said that in the coming weeks, MCFL will design a new set of online resources for pregnant women facing crises.

"MCFL aims to point the way to life-affirming options, offering real choices that women can feel good about -- now and throughout their life," she said.