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Just as a thunderstorm soaked participants in the Midwest March for Life in Jefferson City this April, a light rain helped cool those who were gathered outside the Missouri Supreme Court Building for a rally the afternoon of June 24.
“Tears from heaven, once again,” stated state Rep. Sara Walsh of Ashland. “But this time, tears of joy.”
It was the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It was also the day the U.S. Supreme Court, in handing down its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, reversed the 1973 and 1992 rulings that legalized and solidified abortion-on-demand throughout the United States.
The Court’s concurrent 6-3 and 5-4 decisions in Dobbs returned regulation of abortion to the states.
Missouri had already passed a law in 2019 that would immediately outlaw elective abortions if the Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision were ever overturned.
Missouri Gov. Michael Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmidt on June 24 instructed the state’s reviser of statutes to act upon the “trigger ban,” making Missouri the first abortion-free state in the country.
The quick turn of events brought occasion to pause, remember, give thanks and celebrate before looking to the future and diving back into the work of creating a culture where abortion is not only illegal but unthinkable.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight issued a statement applauding the Court’s decision “to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years of our federal government defending the killing of the unborn.”
“As I wrote recently, whenever we disregard the dignity of any class of human beings, we impoverish our own dignity, and the bonds that hold our nation together suffer,” Bishop McKnight stated.
“Let us redouble our efforts in the important work of accompanying women with unexpected pregnancies and eliminating the societal causes for abortion,” he said.
The Church stands ready
The Dobbs case challenged a Mississippi law that restricts abortions after 15 weeks.
The Supreme Court voted 6-3 to uphold the Mississippi law and also voted 5-4 to overturn the Court’s longstanding Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions that declared a constitutional right to abortion.
The Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), public-policy agency for the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses, welcomed the decision.
“The MCC has worked and prayed with other pro-life organizations for this day since the Court issued the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973,” the conference noted in a June 24 statement.
The MCC also emphasized that the work is far from completed.
“The Catholic Church stands ready to continue providing spiritual and material support to expectant mothers and their families through our parishes and ministries, and to advocate on their behalf and on behalf of their unborn children at the state and federal level,” the MCC stated.
“We look forward to the day when every child, born and unborn, has the love and support needed to thrive and reach his or her full potential,” the conference stated.
About 100 people gathered in humble gratitude outside the stately Missouri Supreme Court Building, across the street from the Capitol, for a Decision Day Rally on June 24.
There, several young participants referred to themselves as the “Post-Roe Generation.”
Some of their elders recalled the day Roe was handed down, and the nearly half-century of struggles that followed.
“I want to remember all of those who have gone before us,” said Deacon Sam Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri, who has been involved in pro-life advocacy for over 40 years.
“... The many who worked hard for this day, who passed on while waiting for this day,” he continued. “And not just the legislators and the judges and those who have fought for life, but all the pro-lifers of this state.”
He reminded participants that Missouri enacted its first anti-abortion law in 1825.
“We were the second state after Connecticut to pass a pro-life law in the United States,” Deacon Lee noted.
Versions of that law remained in effect, despite court challenges, until Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973.
Deacon Lee asserted that like the good stewards in Jesus’s Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25), Missourians did not squander their pro-life patrimony but wisely invested it.
He predicted more hard-fought legislative and judicial challenges.
“But today we celebrate and give thanks,” he said. “And to all the lawmakers, past and present, living and deceased, who have worked to protect the unborn, and all the workers and volunteers at Missouri’s pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes who have saved countless lives of moms and babies, and to all in the pro-life movement who have gone before us through the decades, I say: ‘Well done, good and faithful servants. Now, share in your Master’s joy.’”
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson City, called the Dobbs decision an answer to prayer.
“The Supreme Court rendered the decision, but it’s the people from across the country who have been praying for this decision, who made this happen,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Kehoe recalled the day his mother, now deceased, bought bracelets engraved with “Jan. 22, 1973” — the date the Roe decision was handed down — for herself and her six children.
“I very clearly remember her giving one to me, and I said, ‘How long do I have to wear this?’ and she said, ‘Long enough for it to be overturned,’” he said.
“It’s the Good Lord Above, Who gave us the fortitude to keep going forward, which brought us to this day,” he said.
“Pray every day”
Bridget VanMeans, president and CEO of St. Louis-based ThriVe Nation outreach to pregnant mothers, began her talk at the rally by praying for abortion to become unimaginable.
“Father, we thank You so much for what You’ve done today,” she prayed, “and yet the work is just beginning. We’re asking You to change the hearts of the nation.”
She said it’s more important now than ever before for women who are pregnant and in crisis to understand that they’re loved and cared for.
They must also be told about the numerous resources that are available through the state and private agencies.
“It’s going to be important for you to stick with people who give a strong love message,” she said, adding: “I want you to pray every day for mercy for those who oppose us.”
“Because we care”
Deacon Thomas Whalen, a retired permanent deacon recalled the first statewide meeting of Team P.L.A.Y., an organization that has set about ending abortion in Missouri through prayer, legislation, action, and “you” — ordinary citizens.
The plans from that day required patience and vigilance, but then “it was like a bunch of dominos — they started falling and falling,” said Deacon Whalen.
Abortions ceased at Planned Parenthood in Columbia in 2018, but out-of-state abortion referrals continue.
He also recalled wondering how much of a difference the 40 Days for Life prayer vigils outside the Columbia abortion clinic could actually make.
“Well, now we’re seeing the results of it,” he said.
Leticia Wong, vice president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation of Missouri, recounted how her immigrant mother’s doctor advised her to abort her in 1975.
“Roe v. Wade opened the door for our society to say that women are not enough,” Ms. Wong asserted, “that you have to have all the right ingredients in your life in order to have a child — you have to be smart enough, you have to be strong enough, you have to have the right finances, you have to have the right man, you have to have the right everything.
“The Supreme Court has closed that door on a federal level,” she said, “but it remains wide open in many states, so the fight will continue.”
Bonnie Lee is part of the legislative team for Team P.L.A.Y. and is a registered nurse and a sidewalk counselor for Columbia 40 Days for Life.
She talked about the importance of continuing the prayer vigils among the trained sidewalk counselors who help women are seeking abortions change their mind.
“Because we care about mothers and fathers and families and babies after they’re born!” she said. “That’s what this is about, and we will continue to be there on the sidewalks, offering help and assistance.”
Levi Harts, senior gifts and investments officer for ThriVe Nation, said that when women who are considering abortion find out how many resources are available to help them, “almost 90 percent of women choose to parent.”
“We empower them with resources and information,” he stated. “That’s what authentic choice looks like.”
“Finish the mission”
Kathy Forck, co-coordinator for the Columbia 40 Days for Life campaign and servant leader for Team P.L.A.Y., was attending the Pro-Life Women’s Conference in Indiana when the Dobbs decision was announced.
“It has happened, and we must be ready to be even more ready to help moms who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy,” Mrs. Forck, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Holts Summit, stated in a June 24 email.
“Through prayer, legislation, action and you, the people of Missouri, and most of all the grace of God, we are seeing the day we envisioned so long ago,” she said.
However, the work will “never be finished until every woman knows that there is real help for her and that babies are recognized as the blessing from God that they are,” she said.
“We are here to finish this mission that God has given us,” she stated.
“A higher goal”
Numerous other organizations and individuals issued statements and guidance:
•“Our work is not over, we need to prove more than ever that we are here to support women during their unplanned pregnancy and beyond,” Reagan Barklage, national field director for Students for Life of America, said in a statement read aloud at the Decision Day Rally.
•The Pregnancy Help Center of Central Missouri predicted that its staff is about to become busier, in part due to an anticipated increase in at-home chemical abortions with substances that can be ordered online.
Increased needs will include targeted marketing for pregnant women seeking help through online searches; post-abortion assessments; and Abortion Pill Reversal, for women who change their mind between the first and second pill.
•Father William Peckman, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Macon, St. Mary Parish in Shelbina, St. Patrick Parish in Clarence and the Mission of the Sacred Heart in Bevier, cautioned in a June 24 Facebook post against “spiking the football when we’re nowhere near the end zone.”
“If all of our goal is making abortion illegal, we are missing the mark,” he stated. “Ours should be a higher goal: making abortion irrelevant.
“Our compassion for women who find themselves in crisis because of a pregnancy should exhibit itself in our care before and after birth ... both them and their children,” he said.
“Our response should be so full of charity and mercy that no woman would feel trapped, isolated or scared.”