Texas’ new law that bans most abortions in the state has been welcomed by many religious leaders who are helping to strengthen the anti-abortion movement. Yet some abortion opponents in American religious circles are suspicious of the law and question the current direction of the movement.
Distrust is linked in part to the most innovative feature of the law, which some critics see as an invitation to vigilantes: it gives no enforcement role to public officials and instead allows private citizens to prosecute anyone they see. as helping with an abortion, with the prospect of earning $ 10,000 in the process.
The law “has serious drawbacks” and indicates that anti-abortion activists are prepared to engage in “desperate and extremist tactics,” said Charles Camosy, associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, who is in favor of stricter national restrictions on abortion.
“Because it appears to be playing legal games to circumvent federal court rulings, the law is fueling the false narrative that pro-lifers do not have public opinion on our side,” said Camosy, a Catholic , by e-mail.
The law, Senate Bill 8, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect heart activity, usually around six weeks. He was attacked in a recent column for the National Catholic Reporter, an independent online media outlet, by one of his senior reporters, Michael Sean Winters.
“I am very concerned that the premature implementation of this truly bizarre law will turn out to be the historic start of a backlash against the pro-life movement for which it is ill-prepared,” Winters wrote.
He said the law’s provisions encouraged “a kind of self-defense justice that we all thought relegated to old Western movies” and warned that its implementation would likely lead some women to resort to illegal and potentially unsafe abortions.
“I’m as pro-life as pro-life can be, but I hate the pro-life movement, for its myopia, for its moral myopia, for its meanness,” Winters wrote. “The pro-choice movement is now energized in a way that it hasn’t been in years.”
Amid the fury over SB 8, the Catholic Bishop of Lexington, Ky., John Stowe, issued a broader critique of some elements of the anti-abortion movement, suggesting they were pursuing their cause while neglecting others. urgent social problems.
“Those who vehemently fight legal abortion but are not interested in providing basic health care to pregnant women or needy children, who do not care about refugee children or those who lack a quality education no hope of escaping poverty cannot truly claim to respect life, ”Stowe tweeted.
Among strong supporters of the Texas law, there is some contempt for abortion opponents who describe the measure as a strategic error.
“The pro-lifers who oppose Texas SB 8 are playing to lose – or rather they are playing the role of a controlled opposition, pretending not to be born, but not acting like real lives are on the line every time. day, “said Chad Pecknold, associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America.
“Whatever happens at Texas SB 8, it will be long remembered as the time when pro-lifers started playing to win,” Pecknold added via email.
The law’s implementation has delighted many religious leaders in Texas and other states who have campaigned against abortion over the years, including many of John Stowe’s fellow bishops.
“We are celebrating every life saved by this legislation,” said the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops, which represents the 20 bishops in service to the state.
“Abortion doesn’t help women,” the bishops said. “Abortion is never the answer. It is always a question of violently taking innocent human life.
The statement was greeted by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on pro-life activities.
Naumann admitted the law had sparked controversy, but criticized President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for “responding with sweeping pledges” to block it and other tough anti-abortion measures.
Like Naumann, some prominent Baptist pastors in South Texas have praised the law while noting its contentious aspects
“I think it’s fair to ask if we really want third parties to be able to profit financially from reporting the crimes of others,” said Reverend Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Dallas mega-church.
“Overall,” Jeffress said via email, “I am very supportive and grateful for this strong assertion of the value of life by our Texas lawmakers.”
Phillip Bethancourt, a former senior public policy official at the Southern Baptist Convention and now senior pastor of the Central Church in College Station, Texas, noted that there was debate over whether the law “is ultimately good or bad”.
“But there is one community that will be universally grateful for this: these unborn children for whom this law will mean life instead of death,” he said via email. “We need to see more legislation and not less across the country doing everything in their power to protect life. “
Another Baptist pastor, John Elkins of the Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria, Texas, said he welcomed the law while wishing it would ban abortion altogether. He hopes congregation members who share his point of view will find ways to help single mothers in their community.
Among the strong supporters of SB 8 is Marjorie Dannenfelser, a Catholic who heads the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading national anti-abortion group.
“The goal of the pro-life movement has always been to make abortion illegal and unthinkable,” she wrote in a column for the National Review on Wednesday. “This is exactly what the Texans are doing, in defiance of the undemocratic stifling of debate brought on by the Supreme Court years ago.”
Carol Tobias, chair of the National Right to Life Committee, said her organization supports “any legal strategy that protects unborn babies.”
“Too many state attorneys general fail to defend protective laws, or judges overrule them when they do,” said Tobias, who belongs to the Lutheran Church-Missouri synod. “The Texan approach is new and deserves its day in court using established legal procedures.”
Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches social research at Catholic University, called the law “unconventional” and predicted it would face multiple legal challenges. Already, he has been the target of lawsuits brought by abortion providers and the US Department of Justice.
Nonetheless, New said he was happy that SB 8 came into effect.
“The pro-lifers have identified a strategy that, at least in the short term, has been successful in providing legal protection to thousands of unborn children,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, SB 8 has been beset by clergy from church groups that support abortion rights. Among the plaintiffs in a July lawsuit challenging the law is Reverend Daniel Kanter, senior minister of the First Unitarian Church in Dallas and former chairman of the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood.
The Jewish Public Affairs Council, which represents more than 140 national and local Jewish organizations, has condemned SB 8 and other anti-abortion restrictions as “dangerous measures” that should be thwarted by federal law.
The Associated Press religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment via The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.