The announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement has prompted elation from pro-life groups, who are hopeful that the addition of a pro-life justice to the nation’s high court will be enough to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.
But if Roe is overturned, and individual states then outlaw abortion, as pro-life advocates hope, then what?
Making abortion illegal is an important goal, and a critical first step for building a culture of life. But it’s a first step. We must also address a culture that accepts a lie about the connection between human sexuality and pregnancy, and then fails to support women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. For the millions of women who have been offered the false promise of contraception their whole lives, more is needed.
For a half-century, the false promise of contraception has been embraced by American women. It is unfathomable to them that they would not be in total control over their reproductive lives.
Even many advocates against abortion have embraced the idea that contraception gives women control over conception.
The problem is, it’s not true. Contraception does not guarantee sex without the possibility of conception. The reality is, sex always brings with it the possibility of new life.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, half of all U.S. abortions are performed on women who were using contraception during the month that they became pregnant. Many of these women believed that they were acting responsibly. Many were even married. They had been told all their lives that faithfully popping a pill or inserting a device would “protect” them from an unintended pregnancy.
But they were wrong, and when they became pregnant — something that had not even been a possibility in their minds — they were left alone, panicked and vulnerable. Abortion is not the solution for these women. What is?
What is the solution for a woman whose health insurance doesn’t cover prenatal care, labor and delivery — as was the case for more than 80 percent of individual health care plans just a few years ago?
What is the solution for a woman trying to finish school, unsure whether her academic schedule will be able to accommodate a baby, and whether her budget will allow for babysitting, formula, and diapers?
What is the solution for a financially struggling woman whose employer does not offer a single day of maternity leave? U.S. employers are not required to offer paid parental leave. And in 2012, the majority of American workers did not qualify even for the unpaid leave offered under the Family Medical Leave Act.
These questions point to a serious cultural problem that the pro-life movement needs to remember: A worldview which assumes that women have total control over reproduction does not realize the necessity of supporting unplanned pregnancies.
Women say they choose abortion because they lack support. One recent study found that “the vast majority of women who have chosen abortion would not have done so if just one person would have supported them.”
How do we support an entire generation of women who have been told that they have a right to total control over their reproductive lives, and nothing should stand in the way of their reproductive choices?
They need to be told the truth about human sexuality. And they need to know that if they ever face an unplanned pregnancy, they will not be alone.
The potential reversal of Roe v. Wade presents opportunities — and obligations — to address these cultural deficits. The Church should make a renewed effort to promote its teaching on human sexuality in Humanae Vitae — the prophetic Church document on contraception that marks its 50th anniversary this year — and Theology of the Body.
Serious efforts should also be made to provide practical support for women in need. Groups like Students for Life already work to accompany women who find themselves scared and vulnerable in unexpected pregnancies — arranging babysitting, offering diapers and other necessities, and helping talk with professors about scheduling options. This work would be even more critical in a post-Roe era.
Adoption awareness and funding would also be key in offering women real alternatives to abortion. Pro-life groups should be on guard against initiatives that would create barriers to adoption — such as last year’s GOP tax proposal, which would have removed the adoption tax credit, making adoption impossible for many families.
Presenting a renewed understanding of human sexuality, and supporting pregnant women in need: This is the big picture that the pro-life movement must keep in mind. Overturning Roe v. Wade is not the end — it’s just the beginning.