Much has already been written about Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft majority opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case, set to be settled later this summer. While no outcome is certain, it stands to reason that with this case or another inevitable challenge that comes before the court, Roe v. Wade will be overturned and abortion will return to the hands of the people in our 50 states.
More still has been written about the current leaders of the pro-life movement, whose voices and perspectives are being heard for the first time by many Americans in print and on major news networks. They are surprising many foes with their compassion for women in distress as well as their unborn children. It’s the public relations opportunity of a lifetime to shed light on what it means to be pro-life.
Less focus has been given to some of the unsung heroes of the movement, whose work preparing the soil might go unknown to large numbers of Americans but whose labor has been essential for getting our country to this moment. Three of those people recently passed away on the eve of the Supreme Court ruling: Vicki Thorn, Deirdre McQuade and Brian Duggan.
Those of us who knew them have speculated about the timing of their deaths, concluding that, as St. Paul says, they had “finished the race” (2 Tm 4:7) and that he “who began the good work in (them) will continue to complete it” (Phil 1:6). That may or may not comfort those who loved them and grieve them. But the mysterious timing does provide an impetus for us to look at their work and draw direction and momentum for a post-Roe future.
Vicki Thorn, founder of the ministry Project Rachel, knew that the Catholic Church’s pro-life outreach was missing an essential part of its mission — accompanying women and men who have lost children to abortion.
In a video celebrating her reception of the University of Notre Dame’s Evangelium Vitae Medal, Thorn describes a life-changing conversation with a friend who was in distress though she had had an abortion many years prior. Thorn understood in that moment that “abortion is not a nonevent,” and that those involved in it need to know of God’s mercy.
Given that 1 in 4 American women has had an abortion, many of whom have had more than one, and provided that some states are promising unrestricted access to abortion if Roe is overturned, the work of healing and pastoral counseling that Thorn conceived of will be needed in the years to come.
Much of Deirdre McQuade’s professional life was spent in the pro-life arena: She accompanied women in crisis pregnancies, she empowered pro-life college students and she served as a program analyst at the National Institutes of Health in the area of women’s health.
Her longest stint was serving as the spokeswoman on pro-life issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which took her to parishes and dioceses across the country.
Many people who are pro-life have trouble articulating why they are opposed to abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia. Deirdre’s work was equipping Catholics to find both the talking points and the courage to speak on neuralgic issues.
Her magic was in making people feel loved even as she challenged them. Even if Roe falls, there will still be plenty of people to persuade using her methods.
Last, while many people are aware of the work of Brian Duggan’s wife, Helen Alvaré, whose legal scholarship and communications skills have steered the pro-life strategy in the country for decades, his behind-the-scenes advocacy for the cause of life was no less impressive or important. He worked tirelessly to help equip Catholics make their voices heard by advocating federally for pro-life laws. Being pro-life in a democracy is a gift not to be taken for granted, and he knew it.
If Roe falls, there will be plenty of state laws that will expand access to abortion. Brian laid the groundwork for how to get better laws on the books. But his life also countered the fallacy that abortion is necessary for women to succeed in their professional life, as evidenced by his wife’s astounding output.
What working mothers need are supportive husbands and fathers who are willing to share domestic duties and childrearing during various seasons so that they can each use their gifts as needed. This will be necessary to show those who believe women must do it all on their own and so have access to abortion.
There’s work ahead in a post-Roe America. We’d do well to compose a playbook based on the legacies of these late pro-life leaders.
– – –
Elise Italiano Ureneck is a communications consultant and a columnist for Catholic News Service.