In the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 27 ruling that struck down some abortion clinic regulations in Texas, Catholic pro-life advocates said the work of supporting women and their unborn children will continue and that effort involves not only changing laws, but changing hearts.
“Our stance as Catholic pro-lifers is disappointment, but not discouragement. This is one setback in a larger fight,” said Deirdre McQuade, the assistant director for pro-life communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.
In an interview with Crux, McQuade noted that for decades the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pro-life pastoral plan has had a four-pronged approach to opposing abortion and building a culture of life, through public policy advocacy, education and awareness raising, pastoral care and prayer.
“We need to work at the highest level of litigation and legislation,” she said. “We also need to work at the most local level of our own homes, parishes, schools, workplaces, and on social media, to witness to the beautiful value of life and work for its protection.”
After the Supreme Court’s 5-3 ruling in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case, McQuade in a statement charged that, “The Court has rejected a common-sense law protecting women from abortion facilities that put profits above patient safety.”
She noted that the Texas law struck down by the Court “simply required abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety standards as other ambulatory surgical centers,” including having basic sanitary conditions, requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and that hallways be wide enough to accommodate stretchers should a life-threatening emergency arise.
Jennifer Carr Allmon, the executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, told Crux, “We’re deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling. In our view, it puts women at grave risk.” The Court’s majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer said that the Texas law posed an “undue burden” on what he said was a woman’s constitutional right to seek an abortion.
“Apparently, a clean and safe facility with a qualified and credentialed doctor is an ‘undue burden,’ and that’s a sad day for Texas women,” Allmon said.
McQuade echoed that criticism, saying, “This law should be the kind of law that self-described pro-life and pro-choice people should agree on… We’re concerned about women’s lives, too. You would think this would be a no-brainer, a matter of common ground.”
Kimberly Speirs, the executive director of the St. John Paul II Life Center in Austin, Texas – a Catholic non-profit institution that provides a full-service OB-GYN practice and a crisis pregnancy center, told Crux, “I’m frustrated that this ruling implies that access to abortion is more important than women’s safety.
“When abortion was made legal, proponents said it would provide women access to safe medical care,” she said. “Yesterday’s ruling indicates that it is not about safety; it is about access to abortion.”
She said that their clients tell them that “the contrast between the way we treat them at our clinic and the way they are treated at abortion facilities is consistently stark.”
“The Supreme Court ruling seems more interested in supporting the industry of abortion than the lives of women,” Speirs said.
The Texas Catholic Conference’s Allmon contends that after H.B. 2 – the Texas law requiring those abortion clinic regulations – passed in 2013, some abortion providers in the state spent money on litigation rather than on upgrading their facilities, and then those providers claimed that the new law had caused several clinics to close.
Allmon believes that a 2011 Texas law that required women seeking an abortion to see a sonogram of their unborn child before the procedure has been the main factor in reducing the number of abortions in the state. The number of abortions in the state had dramatically declined prior to H.B. 2’s implementation in 2014, she noted.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, in 2010, 77,592 pregnancies were terminated in the state. That state agency reported that in 2013, 63,849 abortions were performed in Texas.
“That’s why clinics are closing, because the women recognized the humanity of their unborn child after the sonogram,” she said.
The head of the Texas Catholic Conference also saw the Supreme Court’s decision as a setback, but added, “It’s not the end. We will continue our advocacy efforts to protect the unborn as well as women seeking abortions. Their lives are just as precious as the unborn.
“Our advocacy efforts aren’t going to be daunted by this decision,” Allmon said.
Allmon said the state’s Catholic conference would continue to advocate for more accurate reporting of abortion complications, which she said abortion clinics avoid, instead referring patients to hospitals which are not required to provide that information.
“Then we’ll have data to show what our sidewalk counselors see every day,” she said.
The Texas Catholic Conference will continue to advocate for human life and dignity at all its stages, she said, pointing to a bill that the Texas legislature approved in 2015 that ensures that nutrition and hydration will continue to be provided to a terminally ill patient – honoring the patient or family’s wishes – as long as it is not harmful to the patient.
McQuade said the Supreme Court’s ruling might make “it harder for reasonable laws to be passed” restricting abortion or tightening regulations on abortion clinics. “It seems to be a radical reinterpretation of what ‘undue burden’ means,” she said.
“It remains to be seen how this will be precedent setting for other states – whether their clinic regulation laws can withstand the Supreme Court’s strict scrutiny standard,” she said.
Following the court’s ruling, abortion rights groups have vowed to challenge abortion restrictions and clinic regulations in other states. The Washington Post reported that on the day after the Whole Woman’s Health ruling, the Supreme Court announced that it had declined to review lower court decisions that blocked abortion restrictions in Wisconsin and Mississippi.
Reflecting on what lies ahead for the pro-life movement, McQuade said the work to change hearts and to help those in need is critical to building what St. John Paul II called a “civilization of life and love” in the face of a growing “culture of death” in the world.
“We need to trust in God. We have all the resources we need to protect and defend life in our families and in the highest levels of public policy… It’s all the more important now for our families and communities to know we are there for them in difficult times,” she said.
“This is a sobering reminder of the reason to continue building communities of support for those in need,” she said.
At the St. John Paul II Life Center in Austin, that work continues every day, and the center’s director said the clients helped there offer a witness to the dignity of human life, even when society and the courts sometimes seem to diminish its value.
“Our patron, St. John Paul II, consistently reminded us what the Bible says hundreds of times: ‘Be Not Afraid,’” Speirs said. “I have hope that Americans will continue to grow more supportive of life through the joy, hope, and love we provide mothers facing unexpected pregnancies.”
“Our clients are our greatest witnesses to the beauty of life and the heroism of motherhood,” she said.