On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 6-3 decision, sided with Thomas E. Dobbs and the Mississippi Department of Health against Jackson Women’s Health Organization on the issue of the state’s right to ban abortions after 15 weeks gestation. In essence, this struck down all previous SCOTUS rulings relating to the legality of abortion and placed future decisions on the issue in the hands of individual states. Even some so-called “pro-choice” proponents saw this as - if only from a legal standpoint - the correct decision.
Last Friday in Washington, D.C., thousands of people gathered for the annual National March for Life. Young marchers held banners and signs declaring “We Are the Post-Roe Generation” as the focus in the pro-life movement has shifted from overturning Roe to fighting for pro-life laws in state legislatures where the hot potato of the abortion debate has been thrown.
Before looking ahead to what that battle might look like in each state - places like Ohio will undoubtedly be different from states like California - it is theologically quite interesting to look back to the Dobbs decision and peer at it through the lens of the Church’s liturgical calendar.
On that fateful day in June, the Church celebrated two important feasts: the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist and the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The former is always commemorated on the 24th, while the latter is a movable feast. This means the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus changes dates each year to fall in line with other feasts whose dates depend on the celebration of Easter. Therefore, the chance of these two solemnities sharing the same day is rare, so their pairing on June 24, 2022, seems less a coincidence and more a reminder from heaven.
The feast of the birth of John is quite unique as he is the only saint - other than Jesus and Mary - to have his birth commemorated in the Church calendar. Only these three were born without Original Sin, and thus their entrance into this world came after the bestowal of supernatural grace. Only Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist were already members of the divine and supernatural community at the time of their births. Neither Jesus nor Mary were conceived with Original Sin. And John the Baptist was cleansed when he leapt in the womb of Elizabeth at the entrance of Mary’s home while she was pregnant with Jesus, on the feast known as The Visitation.
John was still three months away from his birth when Mary (and Jesus) came to visit and was certainly not considered “viable” by anyone, especially those involved with helping during births. Today, even after the fall of Roe, Elizabeth could procure an abortion of her “unviable” son in most states, and in seven of those states, she could have her son killed up to the day of his birth. So in some evil parallel world, June 24 could commemorate the death rather than the birth of John.
But back in this world, at the Rally for Life, many in the post-Roe generation held heart-shaped signs bearing artwork depicting a pregnant mother with her hands cradling the baby in her womb. Emblazoned on these signs was the phrase “Love Them Both.”
And who are “them both”?
They are Mary and Jesus, they are Elizabeth and John, they are each and every woman who carries life within her womb. Mary was pregnant in a circumstance that could have gotten her stoned to death, and Elizabeth was old and assumed to be barren. Neither of these were ideal pregnancies, and, to be honest, very few pregnancies are. But each pregnancy was an opportunity to love: to love the mother, to love the child, and to see them both as essential to the loving plan of God.
The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds us of what was so beautifully expressed in The Little Prince: “it is only through the heart that one can see rightly.” Seeing rightly helps us to focus on the call to love them both. But we also need the story of John in the womb of Elizabeth and the visit of Mary with Jesus in her womb to focus on the call to love them both. For in that event we complete the quote from St. Exupery’s classic tale: “what is essential is invisible to the eye.”