LOS ANGELES — For years, it seemed like Jim Hanink and other local Catholic pro-life advocates were rebels for a cause going nowhere.
Since the 1970s, they’ve spent hours reaching out to pregnant women, inviting them to reconsider the decision to abort. They’ve handed out flyers, wrangled with elected officials, and rallied the faithful in local parishes to join them in supporting women and families.
Hanink and his wife, Elizabeth, a nurse, even helped rent apartments located near inner-city abortion clinics with the hope of saving preborn lives.
But living in the aggressively progressive state of California, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, always seemed like a remote objective.
“I remember my oldest son asking me not so long ago, ‘You think it’ll ever change?'” remarked Hanink, a parishioner at St. John Chrysostom Church in Inglewood. He retired in 2015 after four decades as a philosophy professor at Loyola Marymount University.
His answer: “Not while I’m alive.”
The June 24 Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization proved Hanink wrong. And while the moment is one for rejoicing, the court’s returning of abortion law to the states also portends a fight that just got much more serious in California and elsewhere.
He expects “there will be the sharpest, strongest backlash” to the Dobbs’ ruling in states like California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised to establish an abortion “haven” for women seeking abortions but are from other states where the procedure is now banned.
“The Constitution,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion, “makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”
The staff at Los Angeles Pregnancy Services have been waiting a long time to hear those words.
“I’m glad to see the Supreme Court in its majority embrace truth, decency and humanity,” said executive director Astrid Bennett, whose nonprofit provides testing, counseling and baby supplies to expectant mothers.
“For the unborn, it means recognition that their lives are sacred,” she told Angelus, the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “They are a part of the human family and they are Americans with rights.”
Msgr. John Moretta, pastor at Resurrection Church in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood, said he was “grateful to God” for the Dobbs ruling.
“It’s long overdue,” said the priest, who has worked for decades to fight abortion in the city’s Latino community. “I have personally cried to heaven to stop this onslaught of the innocent. I believe we as a society are going to be better.”
Mary Huber, who in July will receive the “People of Life Award” from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the ruling a good first step.
Huber, now semi-retired, served as director of the Office of Respect Life and Pastoral Care Programs of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, for six years and worked in the department nearly two decades before that.
“This is not a final victory but certainly a very important milestone,” she said. “Americans in general think if it’s legal, it’s moral and yet as Catholics we know abortion isn’t moral. This ruling could affect the overall thinking of generations.”
More than a dozen states have now moved to ban or limit access to most abortions. But in California, Newsom and state lawmakers have pledged to spend $40 million in taxpayer monies to make California an abortion “haven.”
Newsom also has joined his counterparts in Oregon and Washington in promising to form a “West Coast offense” of increased abortion access common to all three states.
“It’s really a shame that we’ll become a mecca for abortions,” Msgr. Moretta said. He called it “unconscionable” for Newsom to offer money to transport women from other states to have abortions in California.
Ordained in 1968, just a few years before Roe, Msgr. Moretta has since served on the Right to Life League’s board of directors and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Pro-Life Commission, groups that established local pregnancy centers and women’s shelters.
“We (Catholics) are on the forefront of the defense of life. We believe life is sacred from the very beginning to the very end. We should be proud of that,” he told Angelus.
Father Edward Molumby, a retired priest in residence at Sacred Heart Church in Rancho Cucamonga, California, served for 12 years as chaplain at Rachel’s Vineyard retreats helping women and men heal after abortion. He said he has seen firsthand how the scars of abortion can linger for decades.
“Sometimes there are women who had abortions 60 years ago and it still bothers them,” explained Molumby. “They cannot forget the pain and a lot of them think they cannot be forgiven.”
While pleased with the court’s ruling, Father Molumby is concerned about the months ahead.
“In terms of God’s plan, yes, this is good, but the price we’ll pay is unrest,” he said. “I’m worried. I think there’s going to be a lot of violence.”
At Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Chino, California, pastor Father Edmund Gomez said he will be stepping up his ministry to women and families. Already, he visits abortion clinics in hopes of changing women’s minds, but he stressed that such work must be done with sensitivity and care. He fears women seeking abortion could still face harassment.
“We still have to do that one-on-one work,” said Gomez. “We put women in really hard situations in our society. They get dumped on a lot.”
Huber believes men and women share equal responsibility for the creation of life, and this ruling brings the law closer to acknowledging that.
“Behaviors are ultimately going to have to change to some degree. If I can’t just go to the store and get an abortion pill, maybe I have to think this through a little better,” said Huber. “Abortion also affects how some men treat women. It strips away his responsibility because it’s her responsibility to have the abortion.”
The state’s Catholic bishops, through the California Catholic Conference, recently launched “We Were Born Ready,” an informational campaign to mobilize assistance for those with “difficult and unexpected pregnancies” and help women obtain housing, health care and other needed services.
Bennett wants expectant mothers to know that the “help arm” of the pro-life movement is ready with more than 3,000 facilities across the nation. She is the founder of the VIDA Initiative, an organization dedicated to training leaders in the Hispanic community.
“Latinos are instinctively pro-life,” said Bennett, herself the daughter of immigrants. “Our culture is a culture that embraces children, loves children, welcomes children. I think Hispanics bring hope because of their strong faith and their love of family.”
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Romano writes for Angelus, the online news site of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Kay is editor-in-chief of Angelus.