• Sun. Sep 24th, 2023


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The End of Roe v. Wade Was a Spiritual Victory for Conservative Christians

For nearly 50 years, conservative Christians marched, strategized and prayed. And then, on an ordinary Friday morning in June, the day they had dreamed of finally came.

Ending the constitutional right to abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade took a decades-long campaign, the culmination of potlucks in church gymnasiums and prayers in the Oval Office. It was the moment they long imagined, an outcome many refused to believe was impossible, the sign of a new America.

For many conservative believers and anti-abortion groups grounded in Catholic or evangelical principles, the Supreme Court’s decision was not just a political victory but a spiritual one.

“It is more than celebration,” said Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “It is a moment of gratitude to the Lord, and gratitude to so many people, in the church and beyond the church, who have worked and prayed so hard for this day to come.”

Even the timing of the decision had a spiritual overtone, coming on the day Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, honoring the love of Jesus for the world. It gave people “the opportunity to expand our hearts in love” for people at all stages of life, from before birth through death, Archbishop Lori said.

At midday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, there was a buzz of excitement as parishioners and priests expressed joy at the ruling that came one hour earlier.

“In case you haven’t heard the news, the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade,” said the Rev. Enrique Salvo, the rector of the cathedral, which is the seat of the powerful Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. One man seated in the pews pumped his fist in the air.

The sense of jubilation playing out in sanctuaries and homes cut a striking contrast to the mass protests from the many supporters of abortion rights outraged by the ruling. Waving signs and using megaphones, they said that conservatives were imposing their religious beliefs on the country and women’s bodies.

Many Protestants and Catholics do support abortion rights, but the Catholic Church itself has spent decades at the forefront of the anti-abortion movement.

“When you choose the opposite of life, you choose the opposite of love,” Father Salvo said during his homily. “And we must always choose love.”

The turning point for America was “just a phenomenal work of the Lord,” said Margaret H. Hartshorn, the chairman of the board of Heartbeat International, a network of anti-abortion pregnancy centers. She reflected on how far the movement has come since Jan. 22, 1973, the day the court legalized abortion nationwide, and how far it could still go.

“I believe God will use this to help us to build a greater culture of life, that in 50 years no woman will ever consider abortion,” she said.

For many, the importance of the moment was deeply personal. Bart Barber, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, thought of his two adopted children, now ages 16 and 19.

“Because of the joy I have in watching them grow into adulthood and make a difference, I cannot help but feel joy for all of the other babies who will have that opportunity now,” he said.

But for him it was also a moment of mourning, and of resolve.

“At this moment we realize the enormous toll of babies’ lives lost,” he said. “Abortion is still legal in many states, and we have work before us to bring about justice and protection for pre-born babies in those jurisdictions.”

Everything on Friday felt surreal, said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, who was in front of the Supreme Court, where women from her organization and others, like Students for Life, had gathered to pray regularly since a draft opinion signaling the decision was leaked last month.

“A grievous wrong was righted,” she said. “I feel such incredible and deep gratitude, first to God, that I got to live to see this moment.”

David Bereit, who co-founded 40 Days for Life, a grass-roots faith-based effort with prayer and fasting campaigns to end abortion, could not stop crying. For years he and his family had traveled across the world for the cause.

“When you invest a good chunk of your life into something, when you have been disappointed, let down, discouraged so many times,” he said, “it seems like an answer to prayer.”

Time after time, the movement had seemed close to overturning Roe, recalled John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, which advanced the state law that bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. So until he actually saw the decision, he did not dare believe it was truly real.

Now his group would focus on making sure that abortion bans were followed, he said, especially as some district attorneys were already refusing to enforce it. “This is a phenomenal moment for the pro-life movement that has been working toward this ruling for 50 years,” he said.

Early Friday evening, staff members of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America gathered for a champagne toast at their headquarters in northern Virginia. One by one, they shared stories of celebratory text messages and answered prayers that seemed like miracles. For many, this achievement marked their life’s work. For others, it felt like a new beginning.

“This moment is about redeeming the past and moving into the future,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, said. But the significance of the day was overwhelming.

“It’s really hard to get your mind around the idea that eventually millions of lives, branches of family trees will occur that would not have occurred,” she said. “The only way I can do it is to think of one. It is worth a whole life to save the life of another person.”

Liam Stack contributed reporting.