For Life, Always
Hopes are that the US Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson will become the occasion for legislation protecting life, women's rights, and motherhood.
The Supreme Court ruling, after nearly half a century, struck down previous decisions that had effectively legalized abortion on demand throughout the United States. Friday’s ruling gives individual states the authority to legislate on the issue, and could provide an opportunity to reflect on life, the protection of the defenceless and the discarded, women's rights, and the protection of motherhood.
It is a topic on which, from the very beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has spoken out strongly and unequivocally.
In Evangelii gaudium, the document that outlined the “road map” of the current Bishop of Rome, we read: “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems.”
A serious and shared reflection on life and the protection of motherhood would require us to move away from the logic of opposing extremisms and the political polarization that often—unfortunately—accompanies discussion on this issue, preventing true dialogue.
Being for life, always, for example, means being concerned if the mortality rates of women due to motherhood increase. In the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the maternal mortality rate has gone from 20.1 deaths of women per 100,000 live births in 2019 to 23.8 per 100,000 in 2020. And, strikingly, the maternal mortality rate for black women in 2020 was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.9 times the rate for white women.
Being for life, always, means asking how to help women welcome new life. According to one statistic in the United States, about 75 per cent of women who have abortions live in poverty or have low wages. And only 16 per cent of employees in private industry have access to paid parental leave, according to a study published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry on 9 March 2020. Almost one in four new mothers who are not entitled to paid leave are forced to return to work within ten days of giving birth.
Being for life, always, also means defending it against the threat of firearms, which unfortunately have become a leading cause of death of children and adolescents in the US.
We can hope, therefore, that the debate on the US Supreme Court ruling will not be reduced to an ideological confrontation, but will prompt all of us—on both sides of the ocean—to reflect on what it means to welcome life, to defend it, and to promote it with appropriate legislation.