How the Catholic Church influenced the pro-life movement before and after Roe – Catholic Review

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

While the nation’s legal landscape regarding abortion has changed after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in June 2022, the church’s pro-life advocacy has entered a new phase. But this is nothing new for the church and members of the faithful who have long been key players in efforts to oppose expanded abortion laws.

Early efforts to oppose broadening the practice of abortion in the United States were largely driven by Catholics.

Historian Daniel K. Williams, author of “Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-life Movement before Roe v. Wade,” told OSV News in an interview that when abortion liberalization laws were proposed in the mid-1960s, “the overwhelming majority of the people speaking out against those bills were Catholic.”

“Even in the early 1970s, the movement was probably more than 80 percent Catholic,” Williams said.

Young people, many born after the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, join an annual protest of that ruling at the Supreme Court Jan. 22 of this year. At their November meeting, the U.S. bishops will consider a statement assessing the impact of legalized abortion on the nation. (CNS file photo by Bob Roller) (Nov. 5, 1997)

Most of the pro-life organizations that formed in the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s were in northern states in traditionally Catholic areas, “which were also strongly Democratic constituencies,” he said.

“Many of the pro-life activists approached the subject of abortion from the standpoint of a broader Catholic social ethic that viewed prohibitions on abortion as one piece of a larger concern for the poor and marginalized, one piece of a larger campaign for a society that would ensure human flourishing,” he said.

Those activists were dismayed that, in their view, a right to life was being challenged by these proposals, he said. They campaigned against them with a message of a package of rights closely tied to the philosophies behind the New Deal and the Great Society. These same activists were also often staunch opponents of the Vietnam War.

As early as the late 1940s, Williams said, when the nation’s U.S. Catholic bishops created a model list of human rights, “they started with the right to life, but then they also included the right to an education, the right to protection of labor unions, the right to a living wage.”

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, abortion opponents included Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts “and even some liberals who were not Catholic, like Jesse Jackson, and many African Americans were strongly opposed to abortion in the 1970s,” Williams said.

At the same time, many prominent Republicans, such as first lady Betty Ford and the future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, were supportive of legalized abortion.


How the Catholic Church influenced the pro-life movement before and after Roe – Catholic Review

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