It was standing-room only in the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock Jan. 21 as more than 650 Catholics huddled together for the diocese’s Mass for Life before making the trek to the Arkansas State Capitol for the March for Life.
The annual Mass celebrated the gift of life and the human dignity of every person while also remembering the millions of lives lost to abortion during the 51st anniversary of the legalization of abortion.
Respect life director Catherine Phillips said it is important to continue the work, even after Roe v. Wade was overturned June 24, 2022.
“Pro-life means pro-life, across the life spectrum, from the moment of conception until natural death, and every circumstance in between,” Phillips said. “Our Church always proclaims a consistent ethic of life. But in January, precisely because it is a time to remember all the millions and millions of lives lost to abortion because of the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, we can really double down on our focus.”
Phillips said the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court case that overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, has not eliminated abortion, and continued work and prayers are still needed.
“It’s still important here in Arkansas. Even though in June 2022, when the Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision, in Arkansas, the laws changed and abortion became illegal, so praise be to God for that legal protection, but unfortunately, babies are still dying all across the world, particularly in the United States,” Phillips said. “Unfortunately what we’re seeing with new statistics coming out is that the overall number of abortions that are occurring in the United States annually hasn’t dropped.
“Surge states, such as Illinois and Kansas, are where people go and have abortions, and the laws in many states became even more permissive, and abortion became even more unrestricted, which is tragic, and more babies are dying in those places, while fewer babies are dying in places like Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.”
A The New York Times investigation into abortion changes following the Dobbs decision indicates in spite of 14 states banning all abortions and seven states imposing new abortion limits, the total number of legal abortions in the United States did not fall in the year after Roe v. Wade was overturned — instead, abortions increased by 0.2 percent.
“The big concern we need to really educate ourselves about is that women are accessing abortions outside of the established medical community. In other words, people are doing what are called self-managed abortions,” Phillips said. “They’re obtaining chemicals, drugs, abortion pills online, in the mail, sometimes with a prescription, many times without a prescription. … They’re taking these thinking that this will be a solution to their problem, often doing it in isolation without any kind of help whatsoever, and it can lead to tragic outcomes.”
Phillips says even though the law has changed, Catholics must continue “praying for mothers who feel like this is what they need to do, praying for people who push them to make this decision, because these choices are misguided … praying for people who really think that there are reasons for abortion to be legal.”
“Catholic hospitals have delivered wonderful health care for years without ever resorting to abortion,” Phillips said. “Abortion is never the morally acceptable choice. … We as Catholics know that abortion is never morally permissible.”
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor mentioned these issues in his homily, touching on the importance of a consistent ethic of life as addressed in St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical titled “Evangelium Vitae.”
“If life is sacred, then there should be no euthanasia, no doctor-assisted suicide and no capital punishment in societies where criminals can be imprisoned and pose no further threat to public safety,” Bishop Taylor said. “If life is sacred, then we must find a way to provide universal access to medical care and compassionate care for the elderly and medical research that does not require the destruction of human embryos. If life is sacred, then immigration, when necessary, is a pro-life issue — this planet belongs to all of us — as is welcoming refugees and working to end gun violence and unemployment … If life is sacred, then feeding the hungry and giving shelter to the homeless are pro-life issues.”
Bishop Taylor said Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have further explained the consistent ethic of life.
“Abortion is part of an economy that kills. The abortion industry is driven by huge profits and many of the victims are poor and with few prospects in life,” Bishop Taylor said. “Hence the image often used is of a seamless garment when referring to a consistent ethic of life. Seamless because all of the pro-life issues are interwoven to the point that if the garment is torn, the whole thing begins to come unraveled. Today, we give witness to the sacredness of life in the womb, but that witness will lose credibility if we forget that this life remains sacred once it leaves the womb … all the way to natural death.”
After the annual Mass for Life, Catholics and other pro-life supporters joined in the 46th annual March for Life along Capitol Avenue, sponsored by Arkansas Right to Life. ARTL President Wayne Mays joined elected officials, invited dignitaries and other special guests to lead marchers to the steps of the state capitol for a brief program.
Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, issued a call to action in light of legal attempts to put abortion on the Arkansas ballot.
"All Arkansans who want to protect unborn babies and their mothers must take a stand and join us in this fight for their lives," Mimms said. "Together, we can and will make a difference. Decide today to do something and then do it."
One of this year’s speakers was Cheryl Bible, a Black Oklahoma native who conceived twins at 16 years old when she was raped by a prominent white attorney whose offices she helped her mother clean.
“I was just a little Black child who was trying to help my mother make ends meet,” Bible said. “When I did get enough courage to tell my mother, she supported me because of the racial dynamics of our hometown in those days. There was little recourse for what happened. All of the influential people there stuck together, and all they wanted to do was make me and my babies go away.”
Bible refused to get an abortion despite her doctor’s encouragement.
“I knew God wanted me to have these babies,” Bible said. “I knew God had a plan, and I knew these babies who were inside of me deserved to live. My entire pregnancy, I found myself in the middle of racial tension that I would have never imagined. My life was threatened, the law enforcement officers tried to intimidate me and tried to find ways to either kill or get my children taken away from me. They tried their best to make their attorney friend’s problem disappear. But I knew God would protect me, and I knew he had a plan.”
Bible went on to have her twin son and daughter, earn her GED, attend Parish Junior College in Texas for a dietary management license and work as a supervisor for a nursing facility.
“When others said I couldn’t and that I wouldn’t, God said I could, and I did,” Bible said.
Bible was joined by her daughter, Lekita Gaynor, who sang the opening hymn and delivered a passionate speech of her own.
“I cannot express how proud I am of this woman standing next to me,” Gaynor tearfully said of her mother. “She was so nervous about today because this was her first time telling her story. … Hearing her share this part of her story in her own words only cements my adoration for her. … My mother physically saved me the first time, and Jesus spiritually saved me the second time, so there is no question that I’m blessed.”
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