Local Catholics respond to abortion cases on Supreme Court's docket
The Texas Heartbeat Act, which bans most abortions after the fetal heartbeat is detected at six weeks, received a flurry of media attention when it was signed into law May 19, but it’s another piece of legislation that could upend the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
On Dec. 1, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Under review is a Mississippi law prohibiting all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy except in the case of a health emergency or fetal abnormalities. The legislation was enacted in 2018 but never went into effect after an immediate legal challenge led to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocking its enforcement.
After Mississippi’s only licensed abortion provider challenged the law’s constitutionality in court, the state asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether all bans on pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional.
“For the first time in three decades, the Supreme Court could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to protect unborn babies throughout pregnancy,” suggested Joe Pojman, founder and executive director of Texas Alliance for Life. “That could mean a ban on abortion up to the moment of conception. So, the Dobbs case is way bigger than the Texas Heartbeat Act.”
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in the historic right to life Dobbs case, Catholic parishes are taking part in a nationwide Eucharistic adoration campaign. Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Arlington will pray the Rosary and have benediction Tuesday, Nov. 30 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth will host Eucharistic Adoration with the specific intention of praying for Dobbs from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 1. St. Mary Parish in Windthorst and St. Boniface Parish in Scotland also held holy hours of Adoration.
Catholics also have joined Orthodox and Protestant faith communities in a “Pray for Dobbs” event that asks participants to pray and fast from now until June when the Supreme Court could render a decision affirming life as a human right.
The Supreme Court has addressed abortion issues several times since 1973, most notably in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In that 5–4 decision, Roe was reaffirmed but states were given the power to regulate the industry as long as they did not impose an “undue burden” on the right to abortion. States cannot restrict abortion before the 24-week mark when a fetus can survive outside the womb.
Ultrasound reframes the issue
But advances in technology could reframe the abortion debate, according to Christina Bennett, a spokesperson for Live Action, a human rights, pro-life nonprofit with more than 2.7 million digital followers around the world.
“When Roe v. Wade was decided, we didn’t have the technology we do now,” she said, explaining three and four-dimensional ultrasound imaging now allows patients and doctors to see a child developing in utero. “Lives are being saved by technology in the neonatal intensive care wards every day. The courts will recognize it’s time to relook at this issue.”
Regardless of gestational age, the child in the womb deserves to be protected, Bennett said. In prior generations, it was the norm.
“If you believe in science, if you are pro science, you’ll admit that a baby is alive, growing, and human. It’s not just a clump of cells,” stressed the Connecticut native, who grew up in a family that voted for pro-choice candidates. Abortion was never discussed at home or in her non-denominational church.
Bennett joined the pro-life movement after learning in college that she was almost aborted. Her mother, a single Black woman in an abusive relationship, was crying in a hospital hallway when a janitor offered the comforting words, “God will give you the strength to have this baby.” Pressured to terminate the pregnancy, she changed her mind.
“That caused me to realize that everything I heard about abortion — that it was a woman’s right and was empowering for women — was a lie,” said Bennett, who is now a 40-year-old youth minister. “I’m alive, married, and have children all because my mom ran into someone who encouraged her to walk out of that appointment.”
Dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, her mother faced obstacles, “but none of that made me worthy of a death sentence,” she reasoned. “There are resources, nonprofits, and federal programs. I want women to know they are not alone, and we are here to help them.”
Heartbeat Act is saving lives
Mother and Unborn Baby Care has assisted women in crisis pregnancies since it was founded by Chuck and Pat Pelletier 37 years ago. The nonprofit provides counseling, agency referrals, and enough financial assistance to afford the costs related to pregnancy, delivery, and newborn care. Offering hope and spiritual guidance as well as practical resources, the only Catholic pro-life pregnancy center in Fort Worth has saved over 8,000 babies from abortion.
“We help women understand the baby is not the crisis,” explained Pat Pelletier, the organization’s president. “We let them know there is so much assistance available in this area.”
Mother and Unborn Baby Care is currently building a $1 million center adjacent to an abortion clinic on Lackland Road where 500 abortions are performed each month.
“It’s going to give us an opportunity to walk a girl from one place [the clinic] right next door where we can explain all the programs that exist to help her,” Pelletier said. “We just have to interrupt that walk into the front door of the abortion clinic.”
The Texas Heartbeat Act, which went into effect Sept. 1, has already had an impact on the abortion industry. Fifty percent fewer abortions were performed at Texas facilities during September 2021 compared to a year earlier, according to a study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at UT-Austin.
Local abortion clinics also are servicing fewer clients.
“The law has saved hundreds of babies,” observed Pelletier, who continues to do sidewalk counseling. “One clinic is sometimes closed three days a week. They’ve cut back on their hours so the Heartbeat Act has done a lot of good.”
Conservative leaning court is key
On Nov. 1 the Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases brought by abortion providers and the federal government regarding the Texas Heartbeat Act’s enforcement mechanism. The bill can be enforced only by private civil actions and not public officials.
“It’s a very clever mechanism that’s never been tried before to this extent and that’s why the Supreme Court took the case,” Pojman said. “They may want to create new precedent for this type of law.”
Pojman and other pro-life advocates, including representatives from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, are traveling to Washington, D.C., to voice their support for Mississippi’s bill and other pro-life legislation. The proceedings are not open to the public, but the court will allow an audio broadcast of the oral arguments.
“We can’t get in the courtroom but there will be pro-life rallies outside,” he assured.
Pojman admits his hopes of seeing Roe v. Wade overturned were dashed in the past, “but we have not had five votes on the court who we think are reasonably open to revisiting the Roe v. Wade precedent,” he said.
Today the court has a 6–3 conservative majority. When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a staunch abortion rights supporter, died in 2020, she was replaced on the court by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whose pro-life views were challenged during her confirmation hearing. Only one justice, Clarence Thomas, has publicly called for Roe to be overruled.
Prior to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the Supreme Court had never agreed to hear a case over a pre-viability abortion ban.