Even pro-life advocates who have long called for overturning Roe v. Wade are unsure what comes next as a Supreme Court decision that could reverse the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the United States is expected this month.
Anticipating that decision, some states have passed laws that affirm access to abortion or even expand it, eliminating previously accepted limits. Other states have made plans for an opposite response. Twenty-six states have passed legislation that would immediately outlaw or create additional limits to abortion should Roe be overturned. And a handful of states essentially already inhabit something close to a Post-Roe reality.
“Whenever we get a mom who comes to us who is in need—regardless if she’s abortion-minded or not, if she’s pregnant and she needs help—we are there.”
Legislators in Texas passed Senate Bill 8, the so-called Heartbeat Act, in September 2021, at that time the nation’s strictest limitation on abortion. The law ended access to abortion when fetal cardiac activity can be detected, at about six weeks gestation. Critics of S.B. 8 say that limit effectively outlawed abortion altogether in Texas since most women would not be aware they were pregnant that early in the first trimester.
Ingrid Meyer is the director of ministries for the Catholic Pro-Life Community, the Respect Life Ministry of the Diocese of Dallas. She says since the heartbeat law passed, women have been going “very early on” in their pregnancies to Dallas abortion providers.
“Even if they do not know that they’re pregnant,” she says, “they are going straight to the abortion center because they are afraid with this heartbeat law that they will not be able to get an abortion.” That is where some women respond positively to encounters with sidewalk counselors from the Catholic Pro-Life Community, accepting assistance in preparing for a pregnancy instead of ending it.
That effort reached about 100 women annually in the Dallas area before the law, she says. Now in the first four months of 2022, “we are already at 58 percent of what we had in 2021, so we are getting more and more women who are in need of help.” She expects diocesan programs will reach at least twice as many women this year as it did before S.B. 8.
Pro-life outreach in Dallas provides emotional support, of course, but it also seeks to cover basic material needs for young people confronting unplanned pregnancies.
“Whenever we get a mom who comes to us who is in need—regardless if she’s abortion-minded or not, if she’s pregnant and she needs help—we are there,” Ms. Meyer says. The women are quickly paired with volunteers, called “angels,” from Project Gabriel, part of a national network of parish-based ministries assisting women facing unexpected pregnancies.
The outreach provides emotional support, of course, but it also seeks to cover basic material needs for young people confronting unplanned pregnancies. “We help them with everything they might need for the baby that’s coming,” Ms. Meyer says. “We have the cribs, the diapers, the strollers, and then we also, in certain circumstances, provide financial assistance.
“Some of them are on their own. They do not have a partner or the partner was maybe the one who was pressuring them to have an abortion…or they’re young and their parents kicked them out, so we help them find a place,” she says. “We give them stability. We even help them with getting jobs or their education.”
For a lot of the women, “the pregnancy in and of itself is not necessarily the crisis.” It is one part of the larger challenges they face. Many are dealing with a crumbling relationship at home with the child’s father.
“The most important thing is that we help them also with spiritual support, right? Help them get back into a relationship with God,” Ms. Meyer says.
Connecting to support
The Dallas diocese has hosted Project Gabriel since 1995 and has signed on with a recent initiative to support pregnant women launched by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Walking with Moms in Need. That new effort is described by the conference as a nationwide, pastoral effort to encourage increased outreach to pregnant and parenting mothers.
For a lot of the women, says Geralyn Kaminsky, the executive director of the Catholic Pro-Life Community, “the pregnancy in and of itself is not necessarily the crisis.” It is one part of the larger challenges they face. Many are dealing with a crumbling relationship at home with the child’s father, she says.
Often, Ms. Kaminsky says, as soon as a woman feels “that there is a network of people to help her, she can carry on.”
Ms. Kaminsky believes efforts like Walking with Moms in Need and Project Gabriel will only be growing larger in the future. “We’re going to continue offering that support and direction for resources for pregnant and parenting moms and families in need,” she says. “We will do this if Roe is overturned, and we will do this if Roe is not overturned.”
“We’re going to continue offering that support and direction for resources for pregnant and parenting moms and families in need. We will do this if Roe is overturned, and we will do this if Roe is not overturned.”
She remains confident that those pro-life efforts will enjoy the strong material and spiritual support of diocesan leadership and average parishioners in Dallas. Volunteers have been generous and budgets for state assistance programs in Texas, she says, have been increased to cover costs for medical care, housing and nutrition assistance for new mothers. But Ms. Kaminsky does not deny that all players in the ongoing drama over abortion will need to do more.
“It would be wrong for me to say, yes, that we’re all set [to respond should Roe be overturned] because of course, we don’t know the exact need that will come forward,” she says.
“We are making appeals to our supporters, to the Catholic pro-life community, to the other pro-life supporters here within Dallas as well and letting them know of our needs,” she says. “We care for the mom and the baby. It’s not an either-or. It’s both. And we need to show our support.”
Critics of S.B. 8 say that while the new limitations in Texas have made it more difficult to obtain an abortion, it has not significantly reduced the number of them. In the first month after S.B. 8 went into effect, the number of procedures in Texas indeed plummeted by nearly 60 percent, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. But researchers at the University of Texas at Austin argued that the true decline over time has been a more modest 10 percent.
They report that women in Texas are merely traveling longer distances for abortions or turning to mail-order terminations. Abortion clinics in surrounding states report being overwhelmed with appointments from women in Texas.
“There’s going to be a lot of legislation coming out to increase support for women who choose life because it’s going to be demanded.”
“Yeah,” Ms. Kaminsky agrees, “there are still women in Texas that are going into the Dallas abortion facilities that are being shown a map and told to go to New Mexico. That’s still happening. And that will likely continue to happen. But what we can do is we can arm our Project Gabriel ministry and the programs that we have to be able to go forward and walk with these moms in need.”
Of course if, as expected, the Supreme Court upholds a 2018 Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that pattern of outsourcing abortions to neighboring states will play out nationwide.
Breaking out of ‘stealth mode’
Randy Bollig, the executive director at Loreto House, in Denton, Tex., wants to make it clear that his agency is not like some of the other crisis pregnancy operations in Texas. Many of them operate in “stealth mode,” he says, to lure women who believe they are entering a medical clinic. “That was the model in the ’80s, and there are still some centers that operate like that. I don’t think that’s good for our movement.”
According to Mr. Bollig, Loreto House is upfront about its intention to assist women through their pregnancy, not helping them end it. Loreto’s model is service, he says.
“We try to focus on loving the mom,” Mr. Bollig says. “We don’t use any type of graphic images; we don’t use any type of shaming or Scripture or trying to convert them to the Catholic faith. We’re kind of like trying to emulate our Blessed Mother.”
All the more reason a vandal’s attack on Loreto House in May came as a shock. The vandal struck days after a draft Supreme Court opinion that suggested that Roe would be overturned was leaked to the press. After spray painting over a security camera, missing a different camera that captured the entire crime on video, the vandal spray painted “Not a clinic” on Loreto’s front door and highway signage, and “Forced birth is murder” across the exposed brick of the center’s exterior front wall.
The pro-choice answer to women in poverty or distress faced with an unplanned pregnancy is simply to provide more public money to terminate more pregnancies. The pro-life community can offer a better choice.
Local police are still investigating what Mr. Bollig bluntly calls a hate crime targeting the Catholic community, but no arrests have been made. Ominous communiques issued by an obscure collective self-identified as “Jane’s Revenge” suggest that more vandalism or worse can be expected in Denton and around the country at pregnancy support centers in the near future.
He has built up Loreto’s security budget, but Mr. Bollig has also increased its advertising spending, attempting to counter a message pro-choice groups have been offering area Texas women. “There’s a lot of organizations that are countering the heartbeat bill by saying, O.K., we will pay your way to go to the Mexico or California, Colorado to get your abortion,’” he explains.
Loreto House has been just about doubling the number of women it reaches each year, according to Mr. Bollig, and he estimates that the numbers have increased about 15 percent since S.B. 8. The program assists 30 to 40 women each day. “We’re seeing a lot more traffic,” he says, “a lot more babies being saved.”
Mr. Bollig says he is often surprised by how little it takes to persuade women not to terminate their pregnancies; many are just looking for a modicum of help—even just the assurance of a regular supply of diapers can be enough. “I’ve served thousands of women over the last 15 years, and there’s only about four or five reasons that they will say that they need to get an abortion,” he says.
“One of them is: ‘Well, it’s not the right time, I can’t afford a child.’ And when you start analyzing their real [financial] fears, sometimes it’s only a few hundred dollars,” he says.
Since the heartbeat law has passed women have been coming at a much earlier time of their pregnancy. Loreto House has been just about doubling the number of women it reaches each year.
Mr. Bollig argues now is the time for the Texas pro-life community and the state’s taxpayers to step up and do more on behalf of women confronting unplanned pregnancies. “The number one complaint you’ll hear from NARAL is that pro-life people only care about the baby, like, ‘Yeah, what are you going to do for all these moms?’
“Well, our core program serves women or any parent who contacts us that has a child up to 36 months of age,” Mr. Bollig says. “We provide all resources free of charge: diapers, wipes, parenting classes, you name it…. We’re doing what our Catholic faith calls us to do and that is to walk with the moms through the pregnancy and support them afterwards.
“That is the new model,” he says. “The pregnancy centers that do not offer continuing support will go out of business.”
A legislative agenda?
Mr. Bollig sees reason to be optimistic about additional spending to support new mothers, noting the impact of the state’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program—$100 million has been earmarked for the program through 2024. That program has not been without critics. Some complain it has done more to support the crisis pregnancy centers themselves than to directly support women facing unplanned pregnancies.
And a legacy of minimal investments in social spending in Texas will have to be overcome. More than 25 percent of women of childbearing age are uninsured in Texas, the highest rate in the nation.
But inconsistency and contradictions on abortion and social support abound far beyond Texas. Many states with the toughest restrictions on abortion or impending bans have also declined to expand Medicaid, cutting off access to health care to many low-income women who become pregnant. A Tulane study in 2021 found that states with the highest restrictions on abortion also experienced the highest maternal death rates, and according to a recent analysis of federal data by The Associated Press, those states are also some of the hardest places to have and raise a healthy child.
Mr. Bollig expects to see more help from government sources soon. “There’s going to be a lot of legislation coming out to increase support for women who choose life because it’s going to be demanded,” he says.
The pro-choice answer to women in poverty or distress faced with an unplanned pregnancy, he points out, is simply to provide more public money to terminate more pregnancies. The pro-life community can offer a better choice, he argues. But in addition to more volunteering and more donating, it needs to keep the issue before the eyes of state legislators.
He is confident Texas taxpayers will agree to support better funding for child care, housing and other social investments for young women and couples whose lives are complicated by an unplanned pregnancy.
“The pro-aborts, they’re gonna say, ‘You got your way; now what are you going to do?’ And we have to answer that.
“I’m in favor of more of my tax money going to support women who choose life,” he says.