With abortion essentially banned in Kentucky, though available in neighboring states, about two dozen parish respect-life committee members in the Archdiocese of Louisville gathered Aug. 30 to consider their next steps.
“How do we reduce abortion now?” asked Jason Hall, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, and the event’s guest speaker.
The answer, he said, is to make abortion unthinkable for Kentucky women.
“What drives most women to abortion is economic uncertainty, relationship uncertainty and access to medical care,” Hall said.
The Catholic Conference of Kentucky, which is the public policy arm of the state’s four bishops, supports a variety of legislative efforts to help alleviate these challenges, he said.
The conference, he noted, supports efforts to improve child care assistance, family and medical leave policy, access to specialized medical care and postpartum coverage under Medicaid, funding for pregnancy care centers and tax policy that is more “pro-family.”
“We can build coalitions across the aisle and get some of these done,” he said.
Hall noted that the landscape in pro-life work has shifted dramatically since last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision on June 24, 2022, returned abortion policy to the states.
The move triggered a Kentucky law that essential bans abortion in the state. But abortion is widely available in nearby states, Hall noted.
“Surrounding states make abortion available within a short drive,” in particular, he pointed out access is widely available in Illinois and Virginia. In Ohio, a constitutional amendment that would protect a right to abortion is pending. “If it’s available one state over, it’s available.”
Last fall, Kentucky voters here rejected a proposal that would have amended the constitution to explicitly state there’s no right to abortion guaranteed by the constitution.
Hall noted that the Dobbs decision was, “a tremendous victory 50 years in the making.”
“At the same time, the pro-life movement was very focused on overturning Roe. Sometimes victory is very difficult for a movement to adapt to,” he said.
Hall encouraged pro-lifers to keep in mind, as they work on the issue, why the Catholic Church is so concerned about abortion.
“We need to be clear we are pro-life because of the sanctity of life of the unborn child,” he said. “That’s really important. … It’s not misogyny; it’s about the child.”
By the same reasoning — the sanctity of life — the conference is also concerned about a potential resumption of executions, in Kentucky, Hall told those gathered.
In 2022 the legislature banned death sentences for people who are severely mentally ill. But in 2023, Hall said, another bill expanded the death penalty by expanding the list of crimes that qualify for death sentences.
In the meantime, more legislators have suggested they are against capital punishment, Hall said.
The conference is also monitoring the governor’s efforts to amend regulations that could allow executions to resume, he said. Kentucky has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 2010.
“Trends may collide and this could become a live issue,” he said.
After Hall’s presentation, the Archdiocese of Louisville’s pro-life coordinator, Stuart Hamilton, asked the respect life committee members to raise awareness about the pro-life landscape, both in their parishes and among parish youth.
The “Walking with Moms in Need” initiative, in which parishes provide support ministry to women in crisis, has had some successes, said Hamilton, encouraging parishes to get involved in the initiative.
Noting that his “heart is in youth ministry,” Hamilton also urged parishes to address respect life issues with young people.
“Currently youth are not polling pro-life,” he said. Yet, “this is the most justice-oriented generation since the 1950s.”
Hamilton said youth are receiving a “distorted version” of abortion. “Our parishes need to engage the youth” and help them understand the sanctity of life, he said.
The archdiocese’s Office of Family and Life Ministries, which sponsored the gathering Aug. 30, is planning four major events during October, Respect Life Month. The topics and dates are:
- Adoption and Foster Care, Oct. 4., St. Bernadette Church in Prospect, Ky., 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mass will precede it at 6:30 p.m.
- “Modern Slavery: Human Trafficking in Kentucky,” Oct. 11, St. Peter the Apostle Church, 5431 Johnsontown Road, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with Mass at 6:30 p.m.
- “Preparing for End-of-Life,” Oct. 18, St. Gabriel Church, 5505 Bardstown Road, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with Mass at 6:30 p.m.
- “Open Wide Our Hearts: A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” Oct. 23, Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth St., 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Ministry.