Commentary

U.S. Supreme Court’s decision by six Catholics breaches wall between church and state

The decision raises the question of whether the women and children they will be forced to have will be safe

June 30, 2022 5:30 am

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 24, reversed Roe v. Wade in a long-anticipated decision. (Les Zaitz/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to gut Roe, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt declared, “The womb is now … the safest place for a child to be.” 

My question is, where is the safest place for women and the babies they will now be forced to bear?

The court’s decision to overturn Roe made it clear that the “wall of separation between church and state” that founding father Thomas Jefferson described as integral to the Constitution, has been breached.

The majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson came from five men and one woman, all of them Catholic and all of them self-described conservatives. The author of the Dobbs opinion, 72-year-old Justice Samuel Alito, has spoken publicly about how “religious liberty” is threatened by court decisions such as Roe and those extending rights to LGBTQ and trans populations. Some of the six have even begun to talk about overruling Griswold, which gave couples the right to buy contraception. All six justices were strongly backed by anti-choice religious leaders who considered them as having the necessary chops to overturn Roe. 

The 6-3 ruling was hailed by Christian organizations throughout the country. “People are dancing in the diocese,” said Father Francis “Rocky” Hoffman, Founder and CEO of Relevant Radio, a 24/7 Catholic broadcast heard on close to 200 stations nationwide. “God’s grace has prevailed over Satan’s culture of death. All our prayers, our fasting, our protests, and lawsuits, all our giving and voting have worked. We finally have a court that honors life.”

The justices, of course, didn’t include any mention of Satan or the grace of God in their opinions. Instead, they based their ruling on the “original intent” of the 225-year-old Constitution. Because the founding fathers were silent on the subject of abortion, they reasoned, the document can not be interpreted as giving safe harbor to the procedure. Never mind that the men who wrote the Constitution hadn’t bothered to give women the right to vote, or that abortion was actually a fairly common practice before, during and after the 39 founders scratched their signatures on that piece of parchment.

Interestingly, that is not how the Kansas Supreme Court considered the issue. In 2019, the conservative state’s highest court ruled that Article 1 of its Bill of Rights recognizing the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness “protects all Kansans’ natural right of personal autonomy,” which “includes the right to control one’s own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination,” and allows each individual to make their own decision regarding “whether to continue a pregnancy.” The Kansas court got it right in concluding that liberty equals the unqualified recognition that a person has bodily autonomy. 

In my time as a reporter, I have interviewed many women impacted by the pre-Roe world. I think of women like Mary, who in 1970 traveled from her parent’s farm to obtain a back alley abortion in New York City. She was dropped off in some seedy neighborhood, climbed a decrepit staircase,  was led into a filthy room, had a sock stuffed in her mouth and some kinda device “slammed up inside of me.” 

I think of Shelby, a 16- year- old who in 1972 was found dead after trying to self abort with a hanger, or 17- year- old Laura, herself a daughter of a teen mom. She, like her mom, had been raped. She, like her mom, had no legal way to get an abortion. She, like her mom, felt overwhelmed by motherhood. But unlike her mom, she ended up in prison for murder of her child. 

And then there are the other children, those who in some states will be forced to carry a baby to term even if the  father is their own father, or uncle or brother. And then there are the women who have no resources to care for another child, or the addicted women who will give birth to an addicted baby. I think of the over 2 million runaways in the U.S., and the close to half-million foster children, the kids born to parents that either could not or should not parent. 

And then I think of the bishops and the deacons, and all other pro-birth advocates celebrating the abolition of Roe. All of them thrilled the court just saved millions of “unborn,” while all the time doing little if anything to bolster the programs and revenue needed to ensure that each of those children, once born, have the resources and support they need to live healthy, vital lives.

 With the overturning of Roe by our religious right court, the womb may be safer, but not the women nor the children they will be forced to bear.

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Naseem Rakha

Naseem Rakha is a former public radio reporter, news show host and commentator. She is an author of the novel "The Crying Tree," which was inspired by her time covering two executions in Oregon. Naseem spends her time hiking, climbing, rafting and photographing areas throughout the American West.

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