By Jeff Grant, The Catholic Sun
PHOENIX — Shawn Carney smiled often as he spoke at the conclusion of 40 Days for Life’s Spring campaign opening Mass at the Diocese of Phoenix’s St. Mary’s Basilica.
The president and CEO of the nationwide pro-life campaign often wore a happy expression while chatting with worshippers during the reception that followed at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.
While Carney said the campaign and its participants carry the joy of a message full of truth and hope, there is an added reason this year for his outlook. Carney and other pro-life supporters said the United States Supreme Court — with its conservative majority — may be ready to overturn the nearly 50-year-old landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion.
“I do think they’re going to overturn it and send it back to the states,” said the Texas resident in an interview after Mass. “The Supreme Court has not taken a lot of cases that could have strong implications to Roe. The Mississippi-Dobbs case is the strongest.”
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization asks the nine justices to decide whether a 2018 Mississippi law banning nearly all abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation is unconstitutional.
So far, lower courts have said yes.
A U.S. District panel previously barred Mississippi from enforcing the law, finding the state had not provided evidence that a fetus would be viable at 15 weeks and that Supreme Court precedent bars states from banning abortions prior to viability. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed that ruling.
But Carney and others are optimistic that when the nation’s highest court rules — likely this June — it will be in their favor.
“(Liberal and now-deceased Justice) Ruth Bader-Ginsburg said herself Roe v. Wade is bad law,” Carney noted. “Sandra Day-O’Connor, another pro-abortion justice, said Roe v. Wade is on a collision course with itself because of science. We have so many cases that protect unborn children, and (yet) we have this dated case from 1973.”
Optimism aside, 40 Days’ approach through Palm Sunday (April 10) is consistent with past efforts in Greater Phoenix and beyond. Nearly 15 years after its founding in Bryan, Texas, the campaign claims over a million volunteers and 20,000 churches across 66 countries. South Korea and Cuba became the latest sites came last year.
Volunteers, families and church groups are praying regularly, fasting, conducting community outreach and holding peaceful daylong vigils on the sidewalks outside abortion businesses in Phoenix, Glendale and Tempe.
“There’s something special about being outside an abortion facility and praying,” Carney explained. “You’re the only one who wants to be there.
“Nobody grows up wanting an abortion or wants to drive their girlfriend for an abortion. No doctor is in medical school right now — studying, striving to be the best abortion doctor. The workers don’t want to be there. The clients don’t want to be there. You’re the only one who truly wants to be there, and that will be evident to those going in.That is powerful,” he told the nearly 200 inside the Basilica.
Earlier, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in his Homily reminded volunteers to maintain the spirit of 40 Days – a joyful, yet peaceful, humble frame of mind. There is no screaming, shouting or angry chants from participants seeking to be ambassadors for Christ.
“Keep in mind the words of Jesus: ‘Do not be distressed or fearful.’” he said, referring to Christ’s words recorded in the Gospel of John, (Ch.14:27).
“Not by chance but by God’s providence, you and I are living in the same time as the COVID pandemic, and now the terrible aggression against Ukraine. It is God’s plan to grant us, at this time in history, the gift of being His beloved sons and daughters, and to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel of Life: the life of the child in the womb, and the life of one sick from a pandemic, and the life of innocent people of Ukraine. He’s the one who created us in our mother’s womb and has given us the shared mission of standing up for the dignity of every human person.”
The bishop also urged prayers for women who have undergone abortions.
“The Lord wants us to be His messengers of hope to them. Let us pray that after feeling like an evil sinner who aborted (her) child, they may know – themselves — to be a mother or father of beautiful babies whom Jesus and Mary are (now) caring for and (who) are waiting to greet them,” he said.
If any there doubted the effectiveness of prayer, speaker Mayra Rodriguez reminded the congregation of its fruits. The onetime Planned Parenthood clinic director and former 17-year employee’s story is well-documented. After learning of botched procedures and falsified records, she blew the whistle on Planned Parenthood. And though the business fired her, Rodriguez later won a $3 million wrongful-termination lawsuit against Planned Parenthood.
But her message to 40 Days volunteers March 1 was not one of vengeance or payback, but compassion toward her former colleagues.
“Most of them are good people. They have a good heart. They just don’t get what it is (they’re) really doing there. Many of them really think they’re helping women.
40 Days volunteers reaffirmed an unwavering faith and commitment.
Kathy Roper of Phoenix, who attends Bethany Bible Church, traveled to Washington, D.C., in December to pray outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices heard arguments in the Mississippi case. Roper also prays outside the Glendale Planned Parenthood building for clients and workers.
“We feel an ownership and responsibility to give them hope. Where there’s life, there’s hope. The darkness is getting so much darker, and we’re able to show them light.”
Russ Gunther of Phoenix, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Basilica and participant in the annual March for Life, is considering wider involvement “to serve as an influence; to recruit, to help people learn about options to unplanned pregnancies, such as adoption.”
Debbie Cheatham, vice chair of Arizona Life Coalition, has volunteered in the spring and fall 40 Days campaigns for years.
“I am always encouraged every time I participate in anything in the pro-life movement. It’s beautiful, and it’s the most important issue in life. It is life and honoring its sanctity and beauty. When others are sad and worried, we are full of hope.”
There are signs the prayers of 40 Days and other pro-life supporters may be about to bear one of the movements’ largest pieces of fruit ever.
Overturning Roe v. Wade would send the issue back to the states. Carney noted 38 of the 50 now poised to enforce their own laws – either allowing or banning the procedure. In Arizona, the state Senate Feb. 15 approved a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of gestation, similar to the Mississippi law. The Arizona measure next faces consideration in the state House of Representatives.
A Texas law bans abortion after 6 weeks. Enacted in 2021, the law was upheld March 11 by the state Supreme Court, which the U.S. Supreme Court said was the proper forum since the case involved a question of how the state enforces the law. Significant was that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the law to stand while it was challenged — the first time since Roe v. Wade the nation’s high court “allowed a pro-life law to remain while litigation proceeds in lower courts,” according to the Texas Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops.
In Idaho, legislators have sent a measure similar to the Texas law to the governor in Boise.
The Guttmacher Institute, a leading research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide, acknowledges lawmakers and courts have been inching away from abortion for some time.
“Since 2010, the U.S. abortion landscape has grown increasingly restrictive as more states adopt laws hostile to abortion rights,” the institute states on its website.
According to Guttmacher, 862,320 abortions were provided in U.S. clinical settings in 2017. That year, the rate was 13.5 per 1,000 women ages 15-44. In 1973, the figure was 16.3.
Still, President Joseph Biden, a Roman Catholic, has pledged to defend Roe v. Wade.
“It is a right we believe should be codified into law, and we pledge to defend it with every tool we possess,” he said in a White House statement issued Jan. 22.
Carney said today’s abortion climate is contradictory.
“We do surgeries on unborn children. We don’t allow pregnant women on a rollercoaster, we won’t serve them 10 whiskeys at a bar, but we’ll allow them to have an abortion at 25 weeks. The inconsistency and hypocrisy have caught up to itself – and that’s just from a secular standpoint. We have TV documentaries on the miracle of the womb and the unborn child. So, we can’t have it both ways.
“There are 2,500 abortions a day in the United States,” he continued. “The great injustice of abortion is not only that it actually takes place. It’s that so many think that it’s OK.”
But that may about to change.
“Abortion is an attack on nature, but ultimately, it’s an attack on our Lord, who we can’t fathom how much He loves these children, how much He loves these workers, and how much He wants to see abortion end.”