Pro-life leaders in the Philadelphia Archdiocese say they’re thankful for today’s landmark Supreme Court decision on abortion — and ready to strengthen their efforts to aid pregnant women.
In a 6-3 ruling issued June 24, the court maintained “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.”
In the process, two precedent cases — Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) — were “overruled,” said the court, and “the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives” at the state level.
Archbishop Nelson Pérez welcomed the ruling, saying in a June 24 statement that it “affirms the deep value inherent in every human life.”
He also pointed to the Catholic Church’s “holistic” commitment to the preservation of human life through an array of social supports and ministries.
Steven Bozza, director of the archdiocesan Office for Life and Family, said he was “very grateful” for the decision.
“While the ruling does not universally outlaw abortion, it does allow for individual states to follow the will of those who live within their borders,” he said.
Bozza pointed out the case is not the final step in ending legal abortions in the U.S., which have totaled some 61 million (an average of 2,000 per day) since the 1973 Roe decision.
Globally, some 73.3 million abortions are performed each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which also reported that Black, Hispanic and other non-White patients accounted for 62% of all U.S. abortions in 2014.
Following the May 2 leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf vowed to preserve “abortion access and reproductive health care” in the commonwealth.
“Just because Roe has been overturned does not mean we can cease (our) outreaches,” Bozza said. “If anything, we need to redouble them.”
Tom Stevens, president and CEO of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, agreed.
“In many ways, the fight for Pennsylvania’s unborn children is just beginning,” he said. “Now we will work to ensure the legal protection of all our citizens from the moment of conception, and we will redouble our efforts in assisting every mother who needs help during and after her pregnancy.”
Outgoing PLU board chair Father Christopher Walsh, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Philadelphia, said “pro-lifers in Pennsylvania have a lot of work to do,” since “abortion remains legal and, sadly, a regular choice for far too many people.”
Reaching more women where they are
Archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) — which annually aids thousands of pregnant women and parents of newborns and young children – will “eye program expansion” for an expected “increase in request for services,” said James Amato, archdiocesan Secretary for Catholic Human Services.
Earlier this month, CSS was for the 10th consecutive year named Pennsylvania’s “Service Provider of the Year” by Real Alternatives, the nonprofit organization that administers the Commonwealth’s Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program.
During fiscal year 2021, CSS assisted 3,905 clients, of whom 1,877 were pregnant and 2,208 were parents of newborns, infants and toddlers.
Casa del Carmen Family Service Center, a CSS outreach located in Philadelphia’s Hunting Park section, was recognized as the Real Alternatives “Site of the Year” for serving 758 pregnant women.
CSS director of community-based services Amy Stoner was also honored by Real Alternatives for her 26 years of work in the field.
Amato said CSS pregnancy and parenting outreaches – listed on the agency’s “Beautiful Beginnings“ webpage – “are here to support women … particularly those in low-income communities.”
One such example is the Cenacle, which helps at-risk families with everything from diapers to detergent, and car seats to counseling.
Located at the Padre Pio Prayer Center in Philadelphia’s Frankford section, the Cenacle — with several bilingual staffers — provides pregnancy and parenting education, material aid, health information and workshops.
The outreach, launched in July 2021, is a collaboration among CSS, the Pro-Life Union and the Capuchin Friars of the Padre Pio Friary. In addition to CSS staff, the Sisters of Life and the Capuchin Friars are also regularly on hand.
The combination of material, social, educational and emotional support can make the difference between choosing to have an abortion or to give birth, Stoner said.
“There could be a lot of reasons why someone would think that abortion would be the way out of the situation,” she said. “But while abortion ends the pregnancy, it doesn’t end the pain or anything that’s behind that decision.”
The “key factor” in an unexpected pregnancy is “feeling a close connection to somebody who cares,” Stoner said. “That’s probably the tipping point.”
She’s also against “stigmatizing pregnancy” by describing the condition as a “crisis.”
“We’re not targeting women that are having a ‘crisis pregnancy,’ because many pregnant moms would not consider their pregnancy a crisis,” she said. “I don’t like that word. When you think about pregnancy, it’s a beautiful thing, right? So I wouldn’t want to label it with something negative.”
A more accurate approach, she said, is to “start with where women are,” recognizing that their pregnancies present them with a number of stressors and issues to be addressed.
CSS’s “mission-driven work with the poor and vulnerable” affirms the very rights the framers of the Constitution had in mind, said Camille Crane, administrator of the agency’s Delaware County Family Service Center in Chester.
“We uphold the rights of individuals who do not always believe they are worthy of the goodness of life, liberty or any happiness,” she said.
‘Hope for new generations’
That includes women and men who struggle to come to terms with a previous abortion, said Estela Reyes Bugg, director of the archdiocesan Project Rachel, a post-abortion healing ministry that provides counseling and sacramental reconciliation with the Catholic Church.
The Supreme Court decision is a moment of “hope for new generations to avoid the pain of losing a child through abortion,” said Bugg, a longtime social worker.
In addition to medical complications and infertility, abortion can result in a number of distressing emotional aftereffects. A 2013 study published in the journal Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences concluded that “fetal loss seems to expose women to a higher risk for mental disorders than childbirth” and advised that “more research is needed in this field.”
While the medical community continues to debate the existence of a “post-abortion syndrome,” many women have nonetheless found solace through a structured grieving process. In recent years, some abortion facilities themselves have begun to offer the services of “doulas,” nonmedical persons who provide support (generally on a volunteer basis) for clients.
Through her outreach, Bugg and her network of counselors and clergy seek to calm “the ongoing emotional chaos” resulting from “the painful decision” to have an abortion.
And that work will go on, even amid potential security concerns, said archdiocesan pro-life leaders.
With a number of pro-life pregnancy centers across the country vandalized in the run-up to the verdict, Bozza admitted he was “concerned about safety.”
Amato said Real Alternatives has offered CSS “additional resources to enhance security with cameras,” an option “that’s being explored now.”
Bugg said she doesn’t have “a personal security concern” thanks to her faith in God, but recommended “some conversations with staff at sites and churches in terms of avoiding conflict (since) there can be so much anger from the opposing groups.”
Ultimately, she said, “we are here to continue with our mission, which is to serve and respect life from womb to tomb.”
And that effort requires ongoing dialogue with those who advocate for abortion, said Father Walsh.
“We must continue to change hearts and minds so that we get to the day when each child is welcomed, appreciated and cared for properly,” he said. “Pro-lifers must continue to have conversations with those who promote and accept abortion, conversations that will bear good fruit.”
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