Life matters: Roe plus 40

Every January we remember the anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which has allowed the legal killing of some 55 million children since 1973. While participating in the 9 Days for Life Novena this year, I came across an article by the author and speaker Erika Bachiochi that I would like to share with you because of its important insights. All of us should be aware of the profound cultural consequences of legalized abortion that Bachiochi describes and work to end the killing of innocents. +Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Editor’s note: This article by Erika Bachiochi was first published by the U.S. bishops’ conference in 2013, ahead of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973). Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.

Life matters: Roe plus 40

With age comes wisdom, or so they say. Roe v. Wade has turned 40. So what have we learned?

Forty years later, the Roe decision’s references to “potential life” seem scientifically outdated at best. Even abortion rights activists now concede the basic biological fact that human life begins at conception.[i]  Unfortunately, because most have been reticent to publicly admit this, many Americans (including some vocally “pro-choice” Catholic politicians) still fail to understand that science informs Church teaching in this regard.[ii]  Forty years later, it is not only theologically obtuse but also scientifically misinformed to make statements like: “As a Catholic, I believe life begins at conception, but….” We human beings begin our existence when our father’s sperm meets our mother’s egg—whether we choose to believe it or not. A human being, in every other context in U.S. history save the era of slavery, has been understood to enjoy certain human rights simply because he or she is human. Today a child, in every context of American law save abortion, merits her parents’ care and protection—simply because she is their child.[iii]

Forty years later the United States continues to have one of the most extreme abortion regimes in the world. Yet we’re often led to believe that Roe v. Wade merely legalized abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. The trouble is that the Roe Court actually said abortion must be allowed for any reason in the next three months as well. It then said laws against abortion must have a broad health exception even in the final “trimester,” but only described its breadth in the little known companion case, Doe v. Bolton, decided the same day. In Doe, the Court announced that health, for the purposes of late-term abortion law, would be synonymous with the mother’s “physical, emotional, psychological, familial … wellbeing”—in other words, every reason a pregnant woman could give for seeking an abortion in the first place.

Together Roe and Doe display a dramatic instance of the exception swallowing the rule, making the U.S. one of only nine countries in the world permitting abortion after 14 weeks of pregnancy, and one of only four that allows abortion for any reason after viability,[iv] yet most Americans still falsely assume that abortion is strictly limited after the first trimester.

Forty years later, women’s health is still a central issue, but scientific data does not support abortion access as healthy for women. Beyond dispute, if little known, are the data that show an increased likelihood of preterm birth and placenta previa in subsequent pregnancies, both of which put mother and child at increased risk of health and life-threatening complications.[v] Women who have had abortions are also at increased risk of anxiety, depression and substance abuse. A 2011 “meta-analysis” (i.e., study of the studies) revealed that more than half of all women experienced mild to severe mental health problems following their abortions, including a 155% increased risk of suicidal behavior.[vi] Short-term complications including hemorrhaging, uterine perforation, and infection injure tens of thousands of women each year.[vii]

Forty years later, abortion is more often than not regarded as a necessary evil: evil, because it takes the innocent, dependent life of a uniquely precious unborn child; “necessary,” because it is claimed that women’s equality depends upon it. But isn’t it rather sexist to claim that for a woman to be equal to a man she must have the right to become more like a man (i.e., not pregnant)? Doesn’t such a claim tend to promote a devaluation and even rejection of women’s capacity to bear children, that very capacity that makes women different from men? Wouldn’t authentic equality instead require that men and society at large respect, protect, and support women’s childbearing capacity, alongside their many other talents and abilities? Not all women become mothers, but those who have children depend upon a cultural esteem for pregnancy and motherhood—the nurturing of an individual and unique human being—for their social and professional support. Indeed, women’s physical, emotional, and professional sacrifices endured during pregnancy and beyond would be far more honored and rewarded were we, as a culture, more honest and consistent about the dignity of the human beings entrusted to their care.

Forty years later, women from all backgrounds—affluent and highly educated to poor and disadvantaged—attest to the difficulty of meeting men worthy of, and willing to commit to, marriage.[viii] They may be interesting, talented, ready for fun, yes. Marriageable? Not so much. Herein lies a complex problem with many potential causes.[ix]  But over the last decade and a half, a number of economists have demonstrated that liberal abortion laws and widespread contraception, especially when acting together, have empowered men to expect or initiate sex without the need or desire for any sort of commitment.[x]  Once upon a time, women were in a position to make serious demands upon men prior to physical intimacy, due to the commitment necessary for taking care of a child who may possibly result. Increasingly available contraception and abortion have realigned this set of cultural expectations toward the male prerogative for low commitment sex. Increased confidence in contraception (alongside the continued reality of contraceptive failure) has translated, forty years later, into increased rates of unintended pregnancy, single motherhood, and abortion—all of which disproportionately affect women, especially poor women.[xi]

Forty years later, the pro-life community is as committed as ever to promoting the human dignity of both mother and child. Indeed, it is the vulnerability of all those involved in abortion that makes the issue one of deep and abiding concern. The evident vulnerability of the innocent human being, to be sure, but also the vulnerability of the single mother who feels she has no “choice” but to abort; the anxious father who has no legal say; the parents whose unborn child appears handicapped or may die shortly after birth; the victim of rape; and even the abortion provider who, we can only hope, will experience a conversion of heart and abandon this trade. Forty years later, the courage and grace shown by those women who choose life—in the face of fear, uncertainty, parental or partner intimidation, seemingly insurmountable odds—make them today’s heroes. They are joined by the many who counsel, support, and nurture them both before and after the birth of their child. Such self-giving love—especially in the face of forty years of “choice”—is powerfully transformative of mother, of child, of families, of cultures.

Erika Bachiochi, Esq.’s most recent publications include Women, Sex & the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching (2010) and “Women, Sexual Asymmetry & Catholic Teaching,” Christian Bioethics (Oxford University Press, 2013).


[i] For example, Frances Kissling, “How to Think About Abortion,” (Nov. 16, 2010), (noting that “there’s the reality that abortion does take life—human life”); Camille Paglia, “Fresh Blood for the Vampire,” (Sept. 10, 2008), (“I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful.”); Mary Elizabeth Williams, “So What if Abortion Ends a Life?” (Jan. 23, 2013), (“I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time—even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.”).

[ii] 2006 Zogby Poll, “Abortion Tough Issue for Hillary Clinton and ’06 Congressional Democrats”; at–06-congressional-democrats-70730252.html (accessed 4/24/13).

[iii] Helen M. Alvaré, “Gonzales v. Carhart: Bringing Abortion Law Back into the Family Law Fold,” 69 Montana Law Review 409 (2008) (noting the Court’s opinion in Gonzales rightly uses concepts from family law to describe the relationship between “mother” and “child” in the abortion context). See also, Erika Bachiochi, “Embodied Equality: Debunking Equal Protection Arguments for Abortion Rights,” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy (2011), at 932ff for discussion of parental duty generally.

[iv] The four countries are the U.S., Canada, China and North Korea.

[v] John M. Thorp et al., “Long Term Physical and Psychological Health Consequences of Induced Abortion: Review of the Evidence,” 58 Obstetrical & Gynecological Sur. 70, 75 (2003) (explaining that abortion increases the risk of placenta previa in later pregnancies by fifty percent and doubles the risk of preterm birth).

[vi] Priscilla K. Coleman, “Abortion and Mental Health: Quantitative synthesis and analysis of research published 1995-2009,” The British Journal of Psychiatry (2011) 199:180-186.

[vii] M. Paul et al., A Clinician’s Guide to Medical and Surgical Abortion (New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1999), 20-21.

[viii] See, e.g., Barbara Defoe Whitehead, Why There Are No Good Men Left (2003) and Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage (2005).

[ix] Kay Hymowitz, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys (2011); Hanna Rosin, The End of Men (2012).

[x] George A. Akerlof et al., “An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Births in the United States,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics (1996), 111:277-317; Timothy Reichert, “Bitter Pill,” First Things (May 2010); Joseph Anthony Burke and Catherine Pakaluk; “The Contraceptive Revolution and the Second Demographic Transition: An Economic Model of Sex, Fertility, and Marriage,” Working Paper No. 1003, Ave Maria University (2010); see also, sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker. Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (Oxford University Press, 2011).

[xi] See Erika Bachiochi, “Women, Sexual Asymmetry & Catholic Teaching,” forthcoming in Christian Bioethics (2013) for a survey of these findings.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”