Part of a continuing series examining the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.Pro-life attorney: ‘No court should be able to usurp state laws that protect human life’ – Catholic World Report
On Dec. 1, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in the abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Many legal experts say the case presents the most momentous test yet of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. At issue is the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law banning most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.
As with any high-profile Supreme Court case, dozens of amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs have been filed both in support of and in opposition to the Mississippi law.
The following is a transcript of an interview with Dorinda Chiappetta Bordlee, a New Orleans-based attorney who strives to live out her Catholic faith by creating life-affirming options for pregnant women and their unborn children. She is one of 240 pro-life women to sign an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Mississippi law at the heart of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which will be decided in 2022. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Have you always considered yourself to be pro-life, or was there a moment or event that convinced you of the position?
I had gone through a period in college and law school where I took the position that I was personally pro-life, but believed a woman should have a right to choose. Then one of my closest friends — who was 30 years old at the time, I was maybe 27 — shared with me about an abortion that she had had when she was 18 years old.
They had punctured her uterus and they sent her home, not even realizing they had done that. She had almost bled to death at home. Her sister had brought her to the ER, and they repaired her uterus. But her pregnancies after that were very high risk, and she almost lost the two babies that she had. Eventually, she was forced to have a hysterectomy. Not only was that abortion physically destructive to her, but even more so psychologically. It was just so traumatic.
When I saw what abortion did to women — to my friend, my very close friend — the idea of being personally pro-life, but believing a woman should have a right to choose, that bubble popped because I could see that this is an industry preying on women. Abortions are kept a secret. And women are left to pay the price with our bodies, minds and spirits.
At the same time, I had just had my first child, my daughter. My heart had just burst open. I had no idea the incredible amount of life-changing love that comes from holding your child. I remember thinking if I had made a so-called ‘choice,’ that had taken the life of my daughter, then not only would this extraordinary child not be here but I, as a woman, would have been completely robbed of this extravagant yet unexpected joy.
How did you come to the place where you are professionally?
After I became aware of the exploitive role of the abortion industry, I started writing letters to national pro-life organizations, offering my services as a lawyer.
At night, it was almost like I was being antagonized by an unseen accuser who would make arguments for abortion, for the so-called “pro-choice” position. It was like I was being trained in my heart on how to answer those questions in a pro-woman, pro-child way.
At the time, in 1994, the tagline of the pro-life movement was “abortion stops a beating heart,” and the pro-abortion tagline was “a woman’s right to choose.” What I came to understand was that pitting the child against the mother is not the right way to look at this. When a woman is pregnant, there is a unity of bodies, minds and spirits. What is good for the baby is good for the woman, and what hurts the baby hurts the woman. We have to be able to love them both, and to advocate for them both. I don’t have to be pro-life or pro-woman, I can be both pro-woman and pro-life.
After three nights of this, I finally told the Lord that I would write this “authentic woman” position in a letter to the editor. So I got up at three in the morning and I wrote an op-ed to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The letter addressed people who were being arrested for praying and offering alternatives in front of abortion clinics.
What I pointed out was that these people were speaking on behalf of women and children. I wrote the op-ed and I faxed it in, because that’s what you did at the time, and I finally got some sleep. And I remember a little voice in my ear saying, “Your life is never going to be the same again.”
The next day, the editor called me to verify that I had sent the letter, and they published it. That day, I received an invitation to attend the board meeting of New Orleans Right to Life, and they asked me to work with them on the passage of a law, going to the Louisiana legislature, and lobbying for what’s called the Woman’s Right to Know Act.
That legislation requires abortion clinics to give women a booklet that is drawn up and created by the Department of Health. I ended up helping to write that booklet with doctors, and so forth. It shows the development of an unborn child in two-week increments. It also covers abortion’s medical risks, short-term and long-term, to a woman’s health, including the increased risk of breast cancer.
That pro-woman, pro-life act was passed and signed into law. To this day, when a woman goes into an abortion clinic in Louisiana, instead of just getting the sales pitch, she also gets the booklet with pictures of what her unborn baby looks like. She has to be told how far along she is in the pregnancy, so that she can look at the right pictures. Then she has to be given at least 24 hours before they do the procedure.
My work on that law is how I ended up being hired by a national organization, Americans United for Life, and that law is now enacted in about 27 different states.
It’s funny that the people who call themselves “pro-choice” — in industry that calls itself “pro-choice” — would not support a law that gives women information, so that they can make a choice. You can’t make a choice unless you have full information, and that’s what informed consent is.
I was so naive at that time that I asked Planned Parenthood if they would join me in supporting this law. Not only did they not support it, they fought it tooth and nail. We would have two- and three-hour legislative hearings, and they by no means wanted the woman to get any information about the child, about the medical risks to the woman, about alternatives. Why would they not want that? Because it would hurt their bottom line of selling abortions. That’s what this industry does. They sell death, they sell emotional destruction, they sell trauma, they sell despair.
How did it come about that you signed an amicus brief in this case? Have you signed amicus briefs in similar cases in the past?
Since 1994, I’ve been so humbled to have the opportunity to actively work in the Louisiana legislature and to consult with legislatures around the country to enact laws that empower women to have information to choose life. Another example of that is ultrasound requirements, because what we learned was women thought that they were in a place where they could make a choice. When they do the ultrasound to see how far along they are in the pregnancy, the women ask to see the ultrasound on the screen and they’re told no.
We’re talking about basic information to connect women back to the reality that this is a child — that this is their child — that they are putting themselves at risk with this procedure and that there are alternatives.
This brief laid out an argument about the fact that the abortion industry has disadvantaged women, and lured them into decisions that they then have to live with for the rest of their lives.
I signed this amicus brief as a client, and I filed a second amicus brief in this case as an attorney for Bioethics Defense Fund. Both briefs address how the abortion industry exploits women, but the separate brief goes into some procedural issues, like stare decisis, or whether the court should have to be bound by Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey, just because they ruled that way in the past. The brief argues that wrongly decided, gravely immoral decisions have to be reviewed by the court, if you believe that the legal system is based on justice to human beings.
Consider Dred Scott v. Sandford, in which the court said that people brought to the United States from Africa could be enslaved, and that they were not persons, for purposes of being able to have citizenship. That was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. If we would say, “Well, that’s what they said, so that’s the law” then, we would still have people enslaved.
And it’s the same issue at stake in Dobbs. We’re dealing with two classes of human beings here, the unborn children and their mothers, who are in vulnerable situations and can be exploited by a multimillion dollar industry. The amicus brief argues that the Supreme Court should reverse Roe because no court should be able to usurp state laws that protect human life.
Many people are talking about what a “post-Roe” country could look like. What could the legal landscape of the United States look like, in terms of abortion law, if Roe is overturned?
If this court were to reverse Roe, it would basically mean that the court is saying abortion is an issue that should be regulated by state legislatures, just like any other crime or any other medical procedure. It should not have been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, where you had nine individuals setting abortion policy for the whole entire country.
So if it is returned to the states, then we have about 12 or 13 states, including my state of Louisiana, that have passed state constitutional amendments saying that there would be no constitutional protection for abortion, and abortion would become unlawful. It would become criminal for a doctor to perform an abortion. The woman would never be criminalized, because the law would view the woman as the second victim of abortion. That’s because it’s such a risk to her, and often she is coerced by others into the abortion clinic. Those constitutional amendments would go into effect immediately.
All of the hard-core blue states, however many of them there are, would likely have liberal abortion laws. Sadly, it would be abortion on demand, if that’s the will of the people in those states.
The other states in the middle would debate abortion law in their state legislatures. Women who were hurt by abortion would tell their stories. Doctors and nurses that were coerced by medical boards to participate in abortion against their will, against their conscience, against their faith, would tell their stories. So you would see a lot of debate, and a lot of people coming out with their stories.
There’s just a host of ways that this could turn out. But it’s going to be a chance for all of us, especially as Catholics, to step up and be there for one another through our churches, through our health services, through pregnancy resource centers, through being there at the kitchen table talking to our own sons and daughters.
Do you believe Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has the potential of being a major turning point for women in the U.S., and the pro-life movement in the U.S.?
Oh, absolutely yes. If this court puts abortion back into the proper stance of being in the democratic process, it will take away that false mask that abortion is just something that the court has to deal with. When it’s back in your home court, then legislators and citizens have to step up and say, “OK, what am I willing to do so that I can be of service to my family or to my community?” That’s how it should be. It’s not easy, but this is what democracy looks like.
This will put us back into that position that Catholics are so good at, which is providing health services, social services. We have food banks, we have Catholic hospitals, we have pro-life ministries for pregnant women. This will be our time to shine, and to tell women that they do have a choice, and they can choose life with all the support that they are entitled to as beloved daughters made in the image and likeness of God.
We hear a lot about the pro-life position being “anti-science” or “anti-intellectual.” Do you face this accusation often? If so, how do you respond?
What we have always done with all of the pro-life groups that I’ve consulted with is that when we have an initiative and we take it to the legislature or the courts, we lead with the science. We always make sure that we have medical doctors talking about the reality of abortion, or the impact on women’s physical and psychological health.
When doctors and scientists discuss abortion outside of the realm of politics, there’s no question. This is, of course, a human being. That evidence is just unassailable.
And so, the reality is that because the science is so clear that this is a human being, and because it’s becoming more clear that abortion hurts women’s health, being anti-science doesn’t really become part of the debate. The debate is more about whether an industry can be regulated or not. This has gone from asking whether this is a child or not, to whether we should have an industry that gets to do what it wants to do, with no regulation and no protections for women.
What do you hope for the future of the pro-life movement? How can other faithful women support your efforts?
My hope for the future of the pro-life movement is that it continues to be a movement of love in action. That’s what I have seen all along. My vision of the future is a robust, young, innovative movement of people providing the services that are needed on the ground, at the local level.
The Catholic Church talks about the principle of subsidiarity. For example, we hold to the principle that local school boards should be making the decisions for the schools because they know their unique needs. The same should happen in the pro-life movement. It needs to be local and tailor-made to the needs that are in each particular community.
Any other thoughts you would like to share?
I would just encourage your readers to pray for the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and to pray for our nation as this next phase comes into being. Pray that we can debate these important life-and-death issues with civility and respect, by speaking the truth in love. I realize that’s a big ask in today’s political climate.
We in the pro-life movement have to model that. The women who are being deceived by this industry are not the enemy. The women who even advocate for this industry are often post-abortive and wounded. And so I always encourage audiences to have compassion for those advocating for the pro-abortion position, because most of them honestly think that they’re helping women by getting them out of a bad situation. They’re just not aware of how harmful that escape of abortion is. They know not what they do, and our nation will be blessed if we can learn to forgive and to have compassion.
A post-Roe world is going to require a lot of prayer, and a lot of work. The pro-life movement is made up of extraordinary people who are beacons of God’s light and love. A post-Roe world is an opportunity for us to be love in action.