The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade inaugurated a new era in the pro-life movement. With that accomplished, we are now faced with new challenges and an uncertain future.
In Kentucky, we currently have a complete ban on elective abortion. In February, the Kentucky Supreme Court allowed two key legal protections for unborn life to remain in effect, rejecting an effort by abortion providers to challenge the law on behalf of their patients. Such challenges were long allowed in federal courts, but will not be allowed in Kentucky.
That Kentucky decision was certainly a welcome one, but it is important to remember that it only dealt with who can challenge abortion laws in court. The more important question, whether Kentucky’s constitution will be interpreted by the courts to include a right to abortion, was left unresolved. At any point, an individual woman seeking an abortion could file suit and that larger question could then be addressed.
Last November, Kentucky voters rejected an attempt to amend the state Constitution to clarify that it contains no right to abortion. This is part of a larger trend nationwide since the end of Roe where direct votes on abortion questions have resulted in defeats for the pro-life side. This doesn’t mean Kentucky courts will decide there is a right to abortion, but it does leave open the possibility.
For now, Kentucky is an abortion-free state. But even if that remains the case, our work is not done. Abortion is legal in Illinois and Virginia. In November, Ohio voters will decide whether to amend their constitution to create a right to abortion. If Ohioans approve that amendment (we certainly pray it is defeated!), we will have three bordering states with open access to abortion.
To create a culture of life in Kentucky we must work to make sure no one ever feels the need to cross state lines to procure an abortion. The Catholic Conference of Kentucky, along with other groups, are working on a number of efforts to support women in vulnerable situations who might feel compelled to consider an abortion.
Last year, I was part of a working group of legislators, advocates, and business leaders exploring how we might improve access to paid family and medical leave. Several states have programs that support small businesses and non-profits in their efforts to provide these benefits and we are hoping to bring that about in Kentucky very soon. Likewise, the state is currently funding a pilot program to support businesses in providing child care. We support continuing and expanding that program.
Access to quality prenatal and maternity medical care is also an area critically in need of improvement. The federal government has recently extended Medicaid’s coverage of postpartum care from 60 days to 12 months, with states having the ability to opt in. Proposals have been brought forward to extend this coverage to 18 months. Also, access to perinatal hospice care can be an urgent need in the case of nonviable pregnancies.
Being a life-affirming community means protecting vulnerable human life, including the unborn, but also providing the resources to welcome all new life and support vulnerable persons and families. In addition to access to medical care, another major factor is providing economic support, whether through direct assistance, tax credits, or protections that enable participation in the workforce.
The end of Roe was a momentous victory, but the work to create a culture of life continues. Our bishops, through the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, work with all people of good will to support vulnerable Kentuckians through public and private action.
Jason Hall is the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.