Following a string of pro-life losses at the polls post-Dobbs, U.S. bishops in the states that faced 2023 ballot tests and those looking ahead to abortion-related measures at the polls in 2024 remain determined to stand for life.
Earlier this month, Ohio voters moved to add a right to “reproductive freedom,” including abortion to the state Constitution in a decisive vote of 56%-43%. In Virginia, Democrats took the General Assembly, defeating Republican messaging supporting a 15-week abortion limit….
As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops held their fall plenary assembly Nov. 13-16 in Baltimore, bishops from states that had faced pro-life losses this year and those facing abortion measures on their 2024 ballots spoke with the Register about how to stand for life amid election challenges and disappointments.
Bishop Earl Fernandes of Columbus, Ohio, told the Register that while the results in his state were demoralizing, the bishops spoke with a “united voice” on the ballot initiative and made good efforts to get the word out about the dangers of the measure. He said the pro-life side was outspent and faced a hostile media.
He said that it’s important to remember, regardless of the Nov. 7 ballot measure’s disappointing outcome, there are still “women contemplating abortion and we as a Church have a moral duty to make abortion morally unthinkable for them, which means we have to provide these networks of support for them that continue to accompany them, continue to help them to see that having a child is actually a great blessing.”
Bishop Fernandes added that “the battle isn’t just a legal battle, it’s a battle for hearts, and that’s where we now have to take the fight to eliminate abortion and save as many lives as possible.” He also saw a need in Catholic education to form consciences with a pro-life ethos, incorporating “how faith and reason are compatible and how human life actually develops” and discussing “the human person and his dignity.”
He called the result of the measure a “wake-up call” to give the issue a higher profile and “coordinate with our crisis-pregnancy centers” like Heartbeat International, which is headquartered in his diocese, and state groups like the organization Bottoms Up, which provides diapers to those in need.
Bishop Fernandes noted that it might take time to reach people on the issue, given how long it took for Roe to be overturned.
“I was born in September of 1972, just before Roe v. Wade, so we worked two generations to see a decision overturned, only now to have a setback, but we keep persevering,” he said. “We can’t give up.”
He quoted Pope Francis, who wrote in his 2023 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Gospel of Joy) that a “defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right,” as “it involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.”
Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, told the Register that in Virginia the bishops “did so much to inform and to inspire our parishioners and citizens and members of our community,” but, unfortunately, “abortion became the topic on the campaign trail and those who supported life were not victorious.”
He called the outcome “disappointing.” But, he added, “We can’t despair because we have the truth; so we know we’re going to win because the truth always wins, but it’s also a wake-up call of: We have more work to do.”
“We celebrated when Roe v. Wade was overturned,” he said, “but maybe we didn’t realize how hard the work going forward is going to be because, in a sense, it really sparked a lot of reaction from those who do not agree with our position, and they are being very aggressive in forcing their position as they run for office.”
“We have to promote laws, for sure, that will enshrine the protection of the pre-born and all the vulnerable,” he said of the pro-life movement’s continued work. “We also have to transform hearts and minds, and I think that one of the ways that we do that is we have to point to the extreme positions of those who are embracing abortion without limits, with no limits until the ninth month.”
Bishop Burbidge said that it is important to contrast those positions with the pro-life perspective that’s anchored in truth and say “here is the extreme position, and here is a position that is consistent with the gospel of life.”
Another element of reaching people on the pro-life issue, he said, is reassuring people via a positive and encompassing message.
“We are pro-mother. We are pro-woman. We are pro-father,” Bishop Burbidge said. “We walk with moms in need. We provide help with women in crisis pregnancy. We provide counseling, finance resources, housing,” thereby demonstrating that “abortion does not have to be a choice….”
From the National Catholic Register