Some religious leaders laud abortion ruling, others say choice is needed in 'morally responsible circumstances'

·5 min read

Jun. 25—Jeanne K.C. Clark can remember a time when women were forced to resort to drastic measures before the 1973 Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade gave them a constitutional right to abortion.

"Women had to travel," said Clark, of Shadyside. "There were doctors who did abortions, some of them threatened for their licenses, but they felt it was right. But those were few and far between, and it was all underground."

On Friday, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that overturned the landmark abortion case that had set precedent lasting almost 50 years. The new ruling gives states the right to decide whether the procedure should be legal. It came more than a month after a leaked draft opinion signaled the court was ready to take this momentous step.

The decision, which will likely lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states, was greeted with mixed reactions from local grassroots activists who have been fighting for the right to choose and from religious leaders who see themselves as protectors of life.

"As bishop, I will not remain silent," said Bishop Larry Kulick of the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg. "Silence is a fast track to a continuation of policies against human dignity and an implicit acceptance of the evil of abortion."

That sentiment held true at the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, where Bishop David Zubik celebrated the ruling.

"Those of us who have worked and prayed to protect unborn children are profoundly grateful that the Supreme Court of the United States has determined that there is not a constitutional right for abortion," Zubik said.

The diocese, he said, will "continue to support and encourage legislation that protects unborn children."

"We're maintaining a consistent message that's been part of our faith tradition," Zubik said at a newsconference at the Little Sisters of the Poor site in Pittsburgh's North Side. "I think it's important to help people understand the value of human life."

While opinions are strong within the Catholic church, not all denominations have the same thoughts.

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, sent out correspondence Friday stressing the importance of safe and legal abortion.

"This church does not support abortion as a normative form of birth control but rather understands it as necessary in some morally responsible circumstances," Eaton wrote. "This church does not condone late-term abortions except in extreme circumstances, which must be determined by the individual with their medical caregivers."

Officials with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Lutheran Synod in Pittsburgh were not immediately available for comment.

The Rev. Canon Natalie Hall, of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, said that while Episcopal and Lutheran leaders are not "excited about abortion," they realize that people seeking the procedure are doing so because of a serious medical crisis, a devastating diagnosis of the fetus or for socioeconomic and financial reasons.

"We would all like to make sure that abortion is free and available and safe and yet we want to treat the conversation about abortion as pastoral care," Hall said. "Not pastoral care in which my job as the pastor is to help gear a household or a pregnant woman toward a particular decision but to work with a posture of love and gentleness and kindness."

In Greensburg, Pastor Martin Ankrum of First Presbyterian Church said he has concerns over protecting women's health and their right to make personal decisions.

"I'm not speaking against or in favor of the Supreme Court determination; that's not my place," Ankrum said. "My concern is just that we would protect human life in all forms, including families who for whatever reasons do not feel that they can in good conscience carry forward a pregnancy."

Post-Roe world

Clark, of Shadyside, spent nine years of her life running an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood.

"I saw women when I was at the clinic, 11 years old, victims of incest, 45 years old who thought they were through menopause," Clark said. "Women who had just incredibly hard medical and personal lives. Those women now are off to try to fend for themselves."

Now, Clark worries about the ramifications that could follow the ruling.

"I feel this is just in many ways the tip of the iceberg because I think part of the goal is to push back against women's success on every level," she said. "Cause if we didn't have birth control, we didn't have abortion, we wouldn't have been able to make the kind of advances, whether it was Title IX that opened education and sports to women or to get ... to medical school, to get to law school. To actually be able to support our lives and our families."

Tracy Baton, director of Women's March Pittsburgh, expressed similar concerns.

Baton, along with other officials at the organization, are organizing marches in hopes of spreading awareness about what the ruling means while encouraging people to vote.

"It was an extreme ruling," Baton said. "Even I thought that the Supreme Court would at least in some way attenuate that ruling but it didn't. And it didn't reflect on the fact that this is a political maneuver that has led to vigilantism and that women will be arrested for having miscarriages. It doesn't reflect on any of that."

At the Diocese of Pittsburgh, officials are now focusing on offering support for pregnant women and families who face challenges in raising their families.

Catholic Charities has been supporting mothers and pregnant women for more than 110 years, said Susan Rauscher, executive director of Catholic Charities for the diocese.

"We fully believe when we have a pregnant mom in front of us that we are treating two clients," she said, referring to both the mother and the unborn baby she carries. "Our goal is to be a place of such strong support that a woman never has to decide that the solution for her is to kill her unborn child."

For Clark, however, the reality of the ruling is much deeper.

"The kind of desperation women lived under pre-Roe is going to be back. ... People need to realize how terrifying it is," Clark said.

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, or via Twitter .