Above: Pope Francis and Nancy Pelosi yesterday, who has been excommunicated by her own bishop.
Editor’s note: in light of yesterday’s tacit approval to pro-abortion Catholic Nancy Pelosi given by the Roman Pontiff in the midst of his silence regarding the Dobbs decision, we publish this important perspective from Mr. John Smeaton, reflecting on the United States Pro-Life achievement from England.
The next step for the US pro-life movement
The American pro-life movement has achieved something which is magnificent to the point of being miraculous. The significance of the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse their decision on Roe v Wade is the fact that, amongst other things, ordinary US citizens who are completely outside the establishment have toppled the false god of “Choice” — a god worshipped by members of the pro-abortion elite which runs virtually all the main institutions in the country; and a god who is tragically revered, to one extent or another, by most US citizens, including Catholics.
As a leading British journalist (and former editor of The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph) observed last week, in order to be part of the establishment, it is necessary to be pro-abortion and to be “entranced by concepts” like “gender fluidity” and “LGBT+”. Such ideologies are not supported by grassroots pro-life supporters anywhere in the world, and certainly not in the US!
Whilst Donald Trump’s admirable appointment of three morally upright justices proved decisive in last week’s historic triumph, the Supreme Court’s decision is principally the result of half a century of relentless work by the pro-life movement to overturn the infamous 1973 ruling which redefined abortion as a woman’s right and has cost the lives of over 63 million unborn children. Electing presidents who were committed to appointing pro-life justices was the top priority of every American pro-lifer I have met on the various occasions I visited the United States over more than 40 years working for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).
In their dedication to reach this honourable goal, which is destined to save millions of human lives, ordinary American citizens have embarked, with a loving perseverance, on countless first-class educational programmes as well as intelligent, well-balanced lobbying and courageous, peaceful and prayerful witness to the sanctity of human life. The qualities of this last activity have been in abundant evidence on pavements outside abortion clinics, in the ranks and leadership of pro-life groups and even on the floor of the US Congress and Senate.
The achievement of the US pro-life movement is all the more remarkable because it has been accomplished alone — without the support of most of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, whose children are among the most active members of the pro-life movement worldwide and whom her pastors are charged with leading in the fight. Instead, Catholic bishops have permitted pro-abortion Catholic politicians, as well as those who support same-sex “marriage”, to receive Holy Communion, in breach of God’s laws — a permission which would surely be denied, and rightly so, to politicians who favoured the killing of people of colour or of any other group that might be targeted.
At this point, I must issue a friendly and respectful warning: as long as Catholic officials continue to treat unborn children as second-class citizens, the murderous regime in the United States is destined to get worse, despite the overturning of Roe v Wade. As the USA’s abortion battle moves from the Supreme Court to the 50 states and to Washington DC, let us consider the heartbreaking experience of the Republic of Ireland.
In a referendum on 7 September 1983, the efforts of ordinary Irish citizens resulted in the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, which was signed into law a month later. It famously declared:
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
66.4% of Irish citizens who participated in the referendum voted to defend babies’ lives before birth without exception. Phyllis Bowman, my predecessor as CEO of SPUC, was a leading voice calling for the referendum and arguing for a “yes” vote. It proved to be a brilliant counter-revolutionary move which saved the lives of over 100,000 babies.
Since then, amidst great scandal, blatantly unrepentant pro-abortion politicians in Ireland were permitted by bishops to receive Our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion; and in 1992 and 2002, disastrous statements from Catholic bishops encouraged Irish citizens to vote “yes” in referendums seeking to permit abortion in particular circumstances. By the grace of God, a majority of Irish citizens rejected the bishops’ advice on those occasions.
In 2018, however, two-thirds of Irish citizens voted in favour of repealing the 8th Amendment. 35 years of malformation of Catholic consciences, on the part of the Irish bishops, had done its damage and resulted in yet another abortion referendum which reversed the 1983 decision. On 25 May 2018, unborn Irish children were stripped of their dignity and protections by a huge majority of the adult voting population, with 66.9% in favour of killing the unborn and only 33.1% against; almost the exact reverse of the result 35 years earlier.
There are two lessons to be learned from our tragic experience in the Republic of Ireland.
Firstly, US pro-lifers must not make the same mistake as the Irish bishops: backing legislation at state level which expressly permits unborn children to be killed in certain circumstances; for example in the case of rape or if the child is disabled, or before a certain number of weeks’ gestation. In the heat of the pro-life battle, we must always remember the fifth commandment: Thou shalt not kill. Backing such legislation not only breaks God’s law but has disastrous practical consequences: malforming the consciences of Catholics and non-Catholics alike and giving a signal, both to politicians and ordinary citizens, that voting to kill the innocent is acceptable. The only values which really protect the weakest and most vulnerable in society are moral absolutes. The last half a century is proof that, once legislators permit the direct killing of an unborn child in certain circumstances, the defence against killing an unborn child in any circumstance is torn away.
And secondly, US pro-lifers must continue to apply the incomparable qualities they have demonstrated in last week’s triumph in the Supreme Court to their new top objective: persuading the Catholic bishops to use their unique apostolic power to get behind the pro-life fight. This must be done by nationwide organisation, direct filial supplication and, above all, by prayer and sacrifice.
This momentous achievement of the US pro-life movement has given us hope. But we continue to live through the most murderous war in human history, which continues to be waged in the United States, where only the battlefield has changed. Around two billion human beings are estimated to have been killed by abortion in the past thirty years — more than the estimated number of deaths in all of the wars in recorded history. The voices of pro-life groups need to be reinforced by the prophetic voices of bishops and reunited by their unequivocal teaching. We cannot win this battle on our own.
This article first appeared at Voice of the Family.
John Smeaton is vice-president of the International Right to Life Federation and co-founder/co-director of Voice of the Family, an international Catholic initiative which provides formation on the family and the sanctity of life in conformity with Catholic teaching. He was chief executive of the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) from 1996 until 2021 and SPUC general secretary from 1978 until 1996. John Smeaton and his wife, Josephine, have four children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.