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The Gospel of Life after Roe vs. Wade
Dr. Steven J. Meyer
Assistant Professor of Theology
University of St. Thomas School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary
Houston, TX | 30 March 2023
Each year we revisit the mystery of the Annunciation on March 25th. This mystery can be found in the Gospel of Luke 1:26-38. Here an angel announces the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to Mary. Over the centuries this has often been represented in art. For example, see this wonderful painting by Fra Angelico for a Dominican House in Florence, Italy.[i]
The Annunciation is about the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God and source of life, now taking on a human nature. The date marks nine months until Christmas. This is our lens to reflect on the publication Evangelium vitae, or the Gospel of Life, by St. John Paul II. In it, he writes that the Gospel is the source of hope for every period of history. The Gospel is about God’s love for every human person. It is about how God united himself with all of us. It shows that every person has incomparable dignity. “…the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel.”[ii]
At this time last year, to be honest, I had not anticipated the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. After learning of the leaked draft opinion on Dobbs vs. Jackson last May, my thinking changed. The overturning of Roe seemed, in some way, to be the supreme goal of the pro-life movement’s prayers, legislative work, and symbolized in the iconic marches to the U.S. Capital (and other state capitals) every year in January. In an incredible decision, the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional “right” to an abortion.[iii] Not made strictly illegal, states immediately enacted ‘trigger laws’ to either restrict or grant the continuation of abortion access. About the overturning of Roe, and concerning the seemingly miraculous work of pro-life groups, Law Professor Helen Alvaré wrote: “Despite opposition from billionaire pro-choice funders, the leading media, academia, the entertainment industry, and popular culture—they never gave up. May other human rights movements take heart from this day and persist unto their own victories.”[iv]
Yet law is a teacher. For about fifty years the law, as expressed by Roe, taught American consciences that a woman has a right to an abortion. The culture will not quickly change. With prophetic insight, Evangelium vitae speaks of a war of the powerful against the weak. It is a war where the forces of the culture of death employ more resources and thus have a certain advantage.[v] This culture of death creates structures that make evil seem good.[vi] For example, a quick internet search of ‘abortion after Roe vs Wade yields a matrix of hits from the culture of death through ‘mainstream’ sources. I will briefly summarize three articles that appear at or near the top of the search. Vox decries (it shows crying women) that now women are denied care affecting their mental and physical health. That women need more contraception. That women should now be concerned about IVF and the future of their embryos.[vii] PBS news writes that donations to abortion rights groups have increased. That opposition to Roe, usually on religious grounds, denies basic healthcare as a right for women. This thinly hides the science as good vs. religion as bad argument.[viii] For CNBC many girls after Roe no longer want to go to college in a state with restrictive abortion laws.[ix] I am not sure why this one implies girls associate college with provisions for pregnancy and not with getting a degree.
Again, with prophetic insight, John Paul II, while not specifying the United States, speaks of the legal justification claims that the State can confer rights to which “…the life of an unborn child or a seriously disabled person is only a relative good…this good should be compared with and balanced against other goods….only someone present and personally involved in a concrete situation can correctly judge the goods at stake…to decide on the morality of his choice. The State, therefore, in the interest of civil coexistence and social harmony, should respect this choice, even to the point of permitting abortion and euthanasia.”[x] Mainstream sources argue from relativism, often in the form of proportionalism, on the morality of abortion. Since the overturning of Roe, it is obvious that cultural forces continue to be hard at work convincing the hearts and minds of our society that abortion is a basic human right now taken away. A culture of life is still out matched in funding and communications.
The Gospel is about life for it is life. It is about giving witness to the goodness that God has done in our lives and proclaiming His work in the world. Meditating on 1 Peter 2:9, “You are God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” John Paul reminds us that we are a people of life and for life. There is a law that transcends the civil law, a law of love. This includes showing compassion and mercy. In resisting a culture of death, a culture that pervades the very air we breathe, we can have a certain confidence that with God nothing is impossible.[xi] John Paul II reminds us that prayer and fasting can be efficacious ways for God to “…break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life.”[xii]
The Annunciation of the gospel of life both represents and realizes the victory in the ongoing struggle in human history since the murder of Abel by Cain. Mary’s personal consent “…at the Annunciation and her motherhood stand at the very beginning of the mystery of life which Christ came to bestow on humanity (cf. Jn 10:10). Through her acceptance and loving care for the life of the Incarnate Word, human life has been rescued from condemnation to final and eternal death.”[xiii] A culture of life can only be formed by shaping hearts and minds in love. In this, we have much work to do. And yet, “The angel’s Annunciation to Mary is framed by these reassuring words: “Do not be afraid, Mary” and “with God nothing will be impossible” (Lk 1:30, 37).”[xiv]
[i] Picture credit: ANGELICO,_Fra_Annunciation,_1437-46_(2236990916).jpg (1008×700) (wikimedia.org)
[ii] Evangelium vitae, 2.4. Henceforth, EV.
[iii] Supreme Court overturns constitutional right to abortion - SCOTUSblog
[iv] The Human Life Review Summer 2022, Vol. XLVIII, No. 3; p. 88
[v] (see EV 87.1)
[vi] (see EV 12)
[vii] On Roe v. Wade’s 50th anniversary, women reflect on the new meaning of “choice” - Vox;
[viii] In a post-Roe U.S., what’s next for the anti-abortion movement? | PBS NewsHour
[ix] Gen Z on new college and career plans in post-Roe America (cnbc.com)
[x] (EV 68.1; 68.2)
[xi] (cf Mt 19:26; EV 100.1)
[xii] (EV 100.2)
[xiii] (EV 102.2)
[xiv] (EV 105.1)