Reflections on Roe v Wade

My initial reaction to the recent US Supreme Court decision rendering Roe v Wade unconstitutional and giving individual states the right to regulate abortion was, as it was for millions, anger at the fact that men had once again prevailed in depriving women of their right to decide whether or not to have an abortion.

Trump’s three appointees to the court, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, came through for him and his followers and gave him his greatest victory. The court was not alone in celebrating the end of Roe v Wade, given the happy faces of the millions of women and men dancing in the streets, some of them thanking Jesus for the decision.

However, on NBC’s Meet The Press, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for impeachment of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh for “misleading senators on their views on whether Roe v Wade should be overturned.” Senators Susan Collins and Joe Manchin told Meet The Press that both justices had, “under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee” said they “believed abortion rights to be settled case law.” Judges can be removed under the same impeachment laws that the House can employ against a president.


The Catholic Church responded to the decision just as one would expect, although Catholics for Choice President Jamie Mansen and other activists, according to a National Catholic Reporter (NCR) story, “were headed to the Supreme Court to protest what they consider to be an unjust overreach by a politicized court.” Mansen told NCR that the ruling doesn’t reflect the majority of Catholics:

I don’t think the bishops and other anti-choice Catholics have reckoned with the fact of how pervasive abortion is, how ordinary it is, and how much a part of life it is in the church, and how Catholics who have abortions are participating in the life of the church in their midst, and they don’t even know it.

The same could be said for contraception forbidden, of course, by the church, but used widely by Catholics and definitely viewed as their right regardless of what the church says. But contraception and same-sex marriages are also considered to be threatened by the Supreme Court.


I have found myself, in the wake of this historic Supreme Court decision, trying to recall when I was first even aware of the word “abortion” and when, like many other cradle Catholics, I decided that ending a pregnancy was sinful and definitely worthy of hellfire. Abortion wasn’t a word my generation heard very often, although the most recent issue of the Catechism of the Catholic Church lists it as the first sin under “A.” (Granted, a word that begins with the first two letters of the alphabet was always likely to lead that list). But looking back on what we were taught in religion classes and from the altar, I realize that many of what were considered “grave or mortal sins” had to do with our bodies. (Wearing what was considered a “low-cut” graduation dress, for example, would result in “cover up” action by the nuns, although the prom pictures made it very clear the bolero jackets and strategically placed Kleenex were quickly cast aside once the music began!)

Woman with pro-choice sign

Pro-choice demonstration, Chicago 15 July 2019, (Photo by Charles Edward Miller, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

What the abortion decision really brought to mind for me was the way young women of my generation, who found themselves pregnant and unmarried, were treated. Especially when, as so often happened, the gentleman (I use the term with a large dose of irony) took to his scrapers, leaving the young woman to fend for herself.

How many young women gave birth to “illegitimate children” in shame and sorrow, especially if their parents refused to offer support? And how ironic that, in such cases, it was often the woman of the house who decided whether a daughter would be treated with kindness? I recall one mother whose daughter arrived home from university and announced her pregnancy. She and her husband welcomed their daughter with open arms and offered to care for their grandchild while she completed her studies and, thankfully, this was not an unusual happening. (Some parents would raise the child as their own, despite the nosy neighbors and “friends” who were always ready to let you know about a child who wasn’t actually a daughter or son but a granddaughter or grandson.)


A long ago edition of The Catholic Digest (yes there was such a magazine), ran a letter from a young unmarried woman who had given birth to a baby. The practice in her Catholic parish was to post, monthly, a list of new babies born in the parish and to place a rose near the altar in the baby’s name.

The young woman arrived for Mass and went to see her baby’s name but it wasn’t there, resulting in the young mother leaving the church in tears. Her letter described the heartache this snub had caused her and her family, long-time parishioners. (In retrospect, I have to give the magazine some credit for publishing her letter.)

 Unidentified Magdalen Laundry in Ireland, c. early 20th century.

Unidentified Magdalen Laundry in Ireland, c. early 20th century. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

If you watched Philomena, then you know about Ireland’s Magdelene Laundries, where pregnant girls whose Catholic parents adhered to the church’s rules re unwed mothers (not actually mentioned in any commandment) were sent to work in return for food and shelter, their babies often forcibly adopted, never to be seen again. And this from a church that preached love and forgiveness.

It’s not hard to understand why abortion would have seemed a reasonable choice for a  woman who faced either becoming an unmarried mother with little family support or placing her baby up for adoption, a very difficult decision once she had bonded with the child. It took quite a few years, but eventually, even the Catholic Church came to the conclusion that these women deserved acknowledgement and assistance and began offering family life programs for mothers who kept their babies or chose to put them up for adoption.

But it’s too easy for those of us who for whom the most difficult result of pregnancy was deciding on a name for the latest addition to the family to see abortion simply as sinful. I would not want to see abortion used as a birth control method and I think late-term abortions should be allowed only in cases where the mother’s health is threatened or the baby is malformed, as is the practice in Canada, but within these boundaries, I believe women have the right to choose. Unfortunately, these developments in the United States could very well affect attitudes toward abortion here and we, too, could find ourselves going backward instead of forward.



Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.