As Problems for Pregnant People Increase, Catholic Bishops Claim They’re Heroes For Ending Abortion Rights

USCCB President Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, affecting a celestially humble pose.

Now that Roe and Casey have been overturned, the roles of the institutional Roman Catholic Church and of most of the Catholic Supreme Court justices are transparent. Their ‘victory’ was the fruit of long, persistent work that many Catholics, myself included, have opposed and will continue to oppose vigorously. Politics and religion are dirty businesses; there are winners and losers. Pregnant people lost big this time around. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops crowed about their success with good reason. They are among the prime architects of the ideology, legal apparatus, and political maneuvering that brought it about. So-called moderates or Francis-leaning clerics like Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, and the Pope’s own tribe, the Society of Jesus—which is sometimes thought of as a reasonably enlightened group—wrote similar statements welcoming the decision and repeating their empty formulae for supporting human life. 

The galling part isn’t just their anti-abortion position, which was fully expected and with which a majority of Catholics disagree. It’s the nerve or cluelessness or both of the very people who’ve caused the myriad problems that accrue, now that abortion rights are upended, to tout their heroic efforts to support pregnant persons. While they can claim victory in Dobbs, they cannot also claim to be the saviors of the people they’ve harmed. It’s as if a driver deliberately ran over a pedestrian, then got out of the car to administer first aid, and expected kudos for saving a life. No one can have it both ways. 

The temerity, or perhaps naiveté (though I doubt it), of the bishops is breathtaking as they shamelessly call for “building a post-Roe America…healing wounds and repairing social divisions… [building] a society and economy that supports marriages and families, and where every woman has the support and resources she needs to bring her children into this world in love.” 

Oh really, the bishops who condemn same-sex marriage support marriage and family? LGBTQ people get pregnant too. The bishops who refuse divorced persons remarriage in the Church are hardly family promoters. The same ones who consign women to second class citizenship in ecclesial institutions are suddenly the great promoters of women? Doubtful. They promise to pick up the pieces of the society they’ve shattered. Who’s less prepared for such work, less credible, less trustworthy than the very bishops who called abortion their “preeminent priority” in the opening to their 2020 voting guide

The point of that designation was precisely to rank abortion above health care, housing, immigration, anti-racism, economic justice, eco-justice, and so many other urgent priorities that affect a pregnant person’s decision to carry a pregnancy to term. Their ‘priority’ was to lay claim to abortion; few people care what they think about the rest of the agenda. 

Now that they’ve accomplished their mission, I respectfully suggest that the bishops stay in their lane and celebrate their win. Reproductive justice in all of its complexity, starting with the needs of young, poor, Black and brown people who are most deeply affected, is well beyond the bishops’ capacity to understand, much less implement. Best they leave bad enough alone rather than gratuitously promise what they’re constitutionally unable to deliver. 

Their recent statement “Standing with Moms in Need” leaves no doubt about their views. The title alone is a giveaway. Just ‘standing with’ pregnant people is repugnant when the needs for action in a racist, sexist, elitist society are so great. This is doubly so when what’s needed is to undo the harm the bishops themselves have done. If they want to be helpful, let them sponsor solid sex education. Men are involved here too. Let clerics distribute condoms in their parishes and help men who don’t want to sire more children find the nearest vasectomy clinic. 

Assuming that a person who’s pregnant is a ‘mom’ is offensive to many. Just ask a woman who’s miscarried how she feels on Mother’s Day and listen, just listen, to get a clue about how she assesses her status. While some pregnant people who abort or miscarry think of themselves as mothers, no one is necessarily a mother just because they’re pregnant. Some don’t want to be unless they have a child. A fetus is not a child just because the bishops wish it were so. Just listen and learn about 21st century culture; bishops have said more than enough. 

Moreover, while the bishops were busy praying and maneuvering to end abortion, some people who do not identify as female were also getting pregnant. I guess the bishops do not stand with those persons. That’s public proof of just how ‘pro-life’ they are not, just how full of seams their garment really is. 

The bishops’ mansplaining laundry list of how Catholic institutions can be helpful makes it sound as if the solution to unwanted or dangerous pregnancies can be found at the corner church. The fact is that many parishes are closed, and the ones that remain are hardly welcoming. A church near me has a tombstone out in front for “the unborn.” That tells a pregnant person all they need to know about the welcome they won’t receive. What would motivate someone to darken that door for counseling, access to reproductive options, or material support to live out their choice? 

Who’s kidding whom to say that the bishops, who promote the Hyde Amendment and oppose the Affordable Care Act, are serious when they say “our society can and must protect and care for both women and their children”? In what universe would anyone believe them? Their words ring as hollow as ‘good’ Catholic Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s assurances to Senator Susan Collins that he respected legal precedent. It seems that he learned his ethics in Catholic schools

How hideous to read the bishops’ commitment to “support and advocate for public policies and programs directed toward building up the common good”; clearly, women’s needs and agency are not part of these men’s truncated notion of the “common good.” They can chant their mantras until the cows come home, but such empty rhetoric creates an illusion that simply is not true. The “common good” in a pluralistic society includes safe, accessible abortion with women as moral agents making decisions. No one is, or should be, compelled to abort, but no one should be prevented. The bishops can deny that, but they cannot expect anyone to take them seriously when they nod piously to a “common good” that’s not so common after all. 

I raise these contradictions not simply for Catholics but for the larger society. The same Catholic bishops who oppose abortion have also led opposition to marriage equality, contraception, and privacy rights, which Justice Clarence Thomas all but teed up as the Court’s next targets. A Catholic theocracy seems to take stronger and stronger hold through the Court and other parts of government as white Christian nationalism grows. 

Justice Sonya Sotomayor, in dissent on the recent Maine case that allows government funding for private schools, wrote, “This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build.” No wonder the Bishops are popping corks. Be forewarned.