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How the Catholic Church helped shape the anti-abortion movement in America

Anti-abortion demonstrators rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Washington. (G3 Box News Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon/G3 Box News

How the Catholic Church helped shape the anti-abortion movement in America

Jeremiah Poff

January 22, 05:00 AM January 22, 05:00 AM

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From its inception in 1974, the annual March for Life has been a surefire place to encounter a host of Catholic clergy, laypersons, nuns, and monks.

As the largest Christian denomination in the United States, the Catholic Church has situated itself at the forefront of the nation’s anti-abortion movement for decades, from policy advocacy at the state and national levels to praying and protesting outside abortion clinics to maintaining a wide network of services for pregnant women and infants in towns and cities across the country.

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With the downfall of Roe v. Wade and the issue of abortion now a state legislative issue, the anti-abortion movement and the Catholic Church’s involvement are entering a new phase.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Michael Burbidge, the bishop of the Diocese of Arlington and the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’s Committee for Pro-Life Activities, reflected on the church’s role in the fight against abortion.

“The church has been steadfast. We have been tireless [and] relentless in proclaiming the Gospel of Life that all life is sacred [and] is from God,” Burbidge said. “We never wavered, and we never will, because it’s the truth, it’s the joy of the Gospel, and so what we have done, we will continue to do.”

Amid the new legal landscape, Burbidge noted that the movement has entered “a new moment in time,” that their work “is really just beginning.”

“We have to continue our work on the federal level, but we also have to devote more now than ever, our resources, our energy, our strategies, to the local level,” the bishop said. “And I think it does give us a moment to say, ‘What are the new strategies? What are the new plans? How are we going to open doors to elected officials who disagree with us?’ because we have to get plugged in, and we have to try to be compelling, inspiring, and try, God willing, to transform hearts.”

Brian Burch, the president of Catholic Vote, a conservative Catholic political advocacy group, told the Washington Examiner that the church’s intellectual foundation to its moral teachings helped shape a generation of legal minds that ultimately led to the overturn of Roe last year.

“I think it’s unmistakable that the church’s social teaching is grounded in a coherent intellectual idea about law itself,” Burch said. “That idea one might call a natural law understanding of … civil law has undergirded the judicial philosophy that shaped judicial confirmations and ultimately, Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.”

Burbidge, who offered the opening prayer at the 50th annual March for Life on Friday, said the church’s disregard for public opinion and focus on “the truth” provides “a great witness” despite the fact that a substantial portion of Catholics support some form of legal abortion.

A recent Marist poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, found that 51% of U.S. Catholics supported abortion through at least the first three months of pregnancy, although that percentage dropped to 33% among self-professed practicing Catholics.

“We have a lot of work to do in evangelizing our own people who profess the Catholic faith,” the bishop acknowledged. “We are committed to using every resource we have to try to win and to transform hearts and minds. … We need to be in pointing out how we say yes to life.”

Burbidge pointed to the host of resources the Catholic Church provides to women who have had or are considering abortion as evidence of the church’s commitment to life beyond policy advocacy.

“We have to continue our advocacy — we have to continue speaking with our elected officials and legislators — but also at the heart of it is our service,” he said. “Our service has to be made very clear of how we say yes to life. … We won’t stop supporting [women] financially, psychologically, emotionally. We’re going to be with you. We’re going to walk with you. … That’s going to continue to be at the heart of our work.”

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Patrick Kelly, the supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, told the Washington Examiner that his organization was already taking steps to provide assistance to pregnant women in need. For years, the organization has purchased ultrasound machines for crisis pregnancy centers.

“In a post-Roe world, so much of the work that needs to happen is going to happen on the state level,” Kelly said. “It’s going to happen in a pregnancy resource center or in a maternity home … so that’s part of what the Knights of Columbus has done.”

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