The 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States will be met by the pro-life community with sadness, said Sharon Schuhmann, pro-life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
“There’s sadness for the loss of life,” she said. “And a sadness that the dignity of life — created in the image and likeness of God — is so easily dismissed.”
The Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs. Wade was handed down on Jan. 22, 1973. Schuhmann said she was in high school at the time, but said there are people around the archdiocese who have been working to overturn the decision for four decades.
“I think about how this has weighed on them,” she said. “But at 40 years, there is always hope.”
She noted that the people of the archdiocese and its parishes have worked to end abortion these four decades through outreach to people in need, by raising awareness in the public arena and through activities focused on prayer.
Those efforts — led by people dedicated to civil, compassionate and prayerful work — are a source of hope, she said.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said at a recent Holy Hour that the work of the church and the faithful must be grounded in prayer. Those active in pro-life efforts say that’s how the archdiocese began its work — and continues to work — to end abortion.
The archdiocese celebrated the first Pro-life Memorial Mass to pray for an end to abortion in 1973. The unbroken tradition will mark its 40th year on Sunday, Jan. 20, at 3 p.m. at St. Martin of Tours Church, 639 S. Shelby St.
Each year, the respect life committees from Catholic schools, parishes and organizations attend the Mass and receive roses to represent their commitment to pro-life work. Last year, 150 organizations were represented.
The Mass has been sponsored by the Knights of Columbus since the early 1990s and it’s organized by Mike and Jane Peak with the help of a committee.
Peak, one of the many Catholics who have worked to end abortion since the cause began, said during an interview last week that the anniversary is disheartening to many.
“What most of us are feeling, honestly, is, ‘How do we keep people from losing heart?’ ” she said. “I’ve been telling people, Moses wandered for 40 years in the desert and never saw the promised land. So, maybe we won’t see the promised land. But maybe our children or grandchildren will.”
The annual Mass is one of several prayer-focused activities that have developed during these four decades.
The Helpers of God’s Precious Infants at the Cathedral of the Assumption hold monthly Masses and Holy Hours for Life that include a procession to the local abortion clinic, where participants pray quietly across the street and then return to the Cathedral for Benediction.
Parishes around the archdiocese also coordinate other liturgies and events for life through their respect life committees.
Catholics from archdiocesan agencies and parishes engage in the public arena by raising awareness and advocating for change. They do these, in part, through the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the conference’s Faithful Citizenship program and by taking part in public demonstrations, including rallies at the state capitol and in downtown Louisville.
Schuhmann leads an annual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life. This year, about 50 people — mostly youth — are travelling Jan. 24-26 to the event.
They’ll take part in a Mass and youth rally at the Verizon Center on Jan. 25. Afterward, they’ll join in the march which begins at the National Mall and ends at Capitol Hill in front of the Supreme Court building. Archbishop Kurtz plans to attend and join the local group in the march.
Schuhmann said the journey “really is a spiritual pilgrimage,” especially for the young people.
“It’s good for them to see that many other young people from across the country there for one reason: the dignity of life. I think it’s inspiring to them,” she said.
In addition to these public demonstrations, the archdiocese works with the Catholic Conference of Kentucky — public policy arm of the state’s bishops — to advocate for change at the state level. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops advocates for legislative change at the federal level. Catholics are encouraged to join the effort by becoming Faithful Citizen Advocates. That simply means signing up for email alerts and contacting legislators about key issues.
The archdiocese’s outreach to women in need has changed over the years. Four decades ago, it operated a maternity home called Our Lady’s Home for Infants. Today, that outreach takes several forms. One is Project Rachel, a program operated by Catholic Charities of Louisville.
“It’s a ministry of the U.S. bishops to reach out for hope and healing for anyone who has experienced an abortion,” Schuhmann explained. “One-on-one counseling, a retreat, and meeting the needs of anyone who comes to this ministry.”
She noted that it’s also open to men, grandparents and others connected to an abortion.
Catholic Charities also offers the mother-infant care program that assists women experiencing untimely pregnancies. The agency also refers women in need to St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany which runs a maternity home. It’s sponsored by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Kentucky’s bishops also sponsor Opportunities for Life, a helpline for women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Schuhmann sees these programs as another sign of hope.
“There’s so much hope in raising awareness of our Project Rachel ministry and in the numbers of people coming forward for help,” she said. “I have compassion for people who find themselves in an untimely pregnancy. We’re called to be a people of love and compassion.”