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Women’s Health Protection Act and “codifying” Roe v. Wade

How can our President Biden square his repeated calls for national unity with a determination to pursue an egregiously disruptive and divisive policy on a practice—abortion—that millions of Americans rightly judge abhorrent?

March for Life participants and counter-protesters hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, in 2018. (CNS photo/Peter Lockley)

What is President Biden talking about when he speaks of “codifying Roe v. Wade”? Biden has used the expression many times and conspicuously repeated it two days after the Inauguration in a joint statement with Vice President Kamala Harris.

Roe v. Wade is of course the Supreme Court decision in which the court struck down all state laws against abortion and legalized the practice nationwide. In a notably nasty touch, the Biden-Harris statement was released on the 48th anniversary of that infamous ruling.

As for “codifying” Roe, Biden almost certainly means pushing Congress to enact a sweeping pro-abortion bill called the Women’s Health Protection Act. The legislation, which has been kicking around in Congress for years, has little do with protecting women’s health and everything to do with making America the world’s pacesetter in permissive abortion.

The bill is best described as a kind of abortion rights catchall. Along with establishing a federal statutory right to abortion, it would sweep aside any and all state enactments that set limits to abortion and establish conditions for it to be performed. That includes measures barring late-term abortions, prescribing pre-abortion waiting periods and ultrasounds, and requiring that parents of minors who are seeking abortions be notified.

Biden’s promise to push for enactment of this frightful bill comes as the pro-life and pro-choice sides wait to see whether the Supreme Court will agree to review a case that many people think could produce a landmark ruling significantly modifying the Roe decision.

The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, comes from Mississippi and involves a state law called the Gestational Age Act, enacted in 2018, that bars virtually all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. Dobbs is Dr. Thomas E. Dobbs, the state’s chief medical officer. The Women’s Health Organization, located in Jackson, is Mississippi’s only abortion facility.

The state is asking the Supreme Court to review and reverse a December 2019 ruling by the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals which upheld a district court decision that overturned the law. Among the groups supporting Mississippi in its appeal are the state’s two Catholic dioceses, Jackson and Biloxi.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, the state argues that the Gestational Age Act is consistent with several of the court’s own abortion-related decisions. Barring late-term abortions, it further adds, is an important measure for the protection of women’s health inasmuch as the maternal mortality rate is far higher in late-term abortions than in abortions performed earlier in pregnancy.

The Dobbs case presents an early test of the widely held belief that the Supreme Court, with three justices appointed by former President Trump, now has a pro-life majority. The three, Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, join the pro-life members already on the court—Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and presumably Chief Justice John Roberts. The court’s liberals–Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—are all firmly pro-choice and sure not to budge in this case or any other.

Supposing the court agrees to consider Dobbs, it’s an interesting question whether, given President Biden’s support for abortion, his administration will intervene in opposition to a law that offers limited but real protection to unborn children. Chances are good it will. And if so, we will be left to wonder how our president can square his repeated calls for national unity with a determination to pursue an egregiously disruptive and divisive policy on a practice—abortion—that millions of Americans rightly judge abhorrent.

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About Russell Shaw 256 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. Well, Mr. Shaw, we got your “seasoned politician,” “chosen by party elders.” Catholics who aligned with the establishment knew that Biden promised to do just as he is doing. He received a Catholic imprimatur from bishops and cardinals, and dare we say, the pope. As one cardinal solemnly asserted, Biden is a “man of character”, and another happily said, “he is a president we can talk with.”
    Whining now about divisiveness and protecting unborn children is but window dressing, and it rings tragically hollow. Those who voted for Biden shoulder the moral responsibility for his actions, especially the decisions he promised all along – before they pulled that lever. These “seamless pro-life” Catholics knew the massacre was coming, and they gave it their blessing. Enough with the charade of “citizens’ informed consciences,” Marches for Life and collections for USCCB “pro-life” activities. Please, not another word from our hireling bishops and Catholic literati.

    • Sir, we must work with what we have. The votes have already been cast and Joe Biden is president. Mr Shaw is absolutely correct in informing good Catholics (as opposed those calling themselves catholic that voted for Biden) what may happen so we can contemplate counter measures. I am with you that good, practicing Catholics should NEVER have voted for Biden and in my opinion the lazy USCCB and certain bishops should be ashamed of themselves for supporting Biden. I think Mr Shaw wants us to consider our next move. Those Bishops Mr Shaw speaks of better be avoiding anyone carrying a millstone!

      • What next move? It’s over. “What may happen?” The whole world knows what will happen. Biden promised it and is doing it: he and democrats will make sure that abortion is on-demand, without limits and a cause for pride. And the USCCB is fully on board with Biden. The folks at USCCB headquarters are giddy that Biden was elected and democrats in charge of congress. Every single one of them know exactly what Biden and democrats are committed to doing. Led by bishops, the USCCB’s collective “conscience” is formed by the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and the democrat party. Let’s call it what it is. As for “those bishops Mr. Shaw speaks of,” he doesn’t mention one, much less the USCCB. Frankly, Mr. Shaw’s column, like so many others, dares not name names for fear of losing favor and access. They sound the alarm but never put favor and access at risk.

  2. Of course, any such attempt at “codifying” Roe and imposing Federal legislation intended to over-ride any state limitations would itself be open to Constitutional challenge in the SCOTUS on 9th and 10th amendment grounds (among others; especially if Roe itself were ever overturned).

  3. We need to start calling abortion what it is: Genocide. And Racist. More than half of all black pregnancies in NYC end in abortion….

  4. We have been trying for 48 years to end abortion through the Government and laws. It flip flops constantly to our frustration. Perhaps it’s time to address the issue without worrying about the Government and convince women that killing your baby isn’t the answer to the problem. Change minds, change hearts…I, personally, think that’s our mission. Let’s spend our money on alternatives to abortion and show our love for life that way.

    • Most parishes have a Pro-Life Warrior organization and this is PRECISELY what we do! Good idea, though, in bringing it out in a forum like this. Perhaps more good, practicing Catholics will join and pray outside abortion mills like the one on Greenville Avenue in Dallas, TX! I personally think we are winning this fight on abortion but the Biden Administration wants to make it more difficult to overturn Rod vs. Wade. This “codification” will help to do that!

  5. Interesting comments from three men. I would like to see discussion of care of young impoverished women and their children. Ideas for more real opportunity and hope for this group. This would lead to less of a desire or need for abortion. Vilifying poor women does not lead to anything good.

  6. Can we stop focusing on the act of abortion and look at the whole picture affecting women’s health. We know that burying a problem(literally) does not make it go away. I would like to hear Catholics advocate for the woman who finds herself in a desperate situation. Call a law for full support for both mother and child.

    • Pregnancy is not a disease. And if a pregnancy is going to make you “desperate” then the intelligent thing to do is not to have sex if you are unprepared for the consequences. An unplanned pregnancy need not end in an abortion. I adopted my two sons and thank God for them every day.Truth be told, I think that teaching young people some sexual responsibility has been a sorely neglected area.

  7. The author’s concerns are legitimate enough , since a leader , who like Haman in Book of Esther , desires that families see the murder of own children as ‘health care’ , in spite of massive evidence of the destructive effects of such choices in all aspects of life and relationships even in this world . Such are manifested as the massive expenditures for health care – breast cancers , heart attacks, bone problems in men , eating disorders , addictions – all examples as well as broken families and loss of faith with the hardening of hearts in not trusting in God and His Goodness , related issues as depression , suicides , gender confusions issues in population at large and on and on ..

    Mo.Teresa’s words too how such choices lead to chastisements and wars , supported in Dr. Gloria Polo’ s ministry how the souls of the little ones are loving and praising God .The law makers who felt the panic when the Capitol was breached , hope they can relate at least minimally to what such souls feel , echoing in many other hearts as well ; ironic that the Capitol incident was allowed to happen , as
    ? chastisement , on the Feast of Epiphany too . Those who chose to do so,
    ? incited into the rebellious acts in self will , by the spirits that are unleashed by breaking the seals of hell through evil choices .

    God’s Goodness in our midst is there too in abundance – just heard the other day , in talks on the Divine Will , words similar to what The Lord tell St.Faustina – prayers by holy persons can have far more impact than all the evils of the world .

    Those persons whose hearts have been hardened , by evils such as ? generational spirits of even immediate ancestors belonging to Masonic orders ( ? interesting similar Irish connection in Obama’s family line as well ! ) and lingering bitterness for tragedies in own family – ? desiring the ‘oneness ‘ in that bitterness for others as well , as in the ‘undivided kingdom ‘ , who carry eternal hatred for God and His Goodness..

    The need for the unity with those who are in the Divine Will – with the Holy Father on down , who carry The Cross of sorrows for the hardness of hearts and the evils , yet trusting joy , in The Lord and His graces , knowing well that more harshness or words alone would not do much good for those who point to families to hire the ‘hit man ‘ as the way to live in health ! ‘ Codifying ‘ evil rules to thus command the nation to ‘trust’ in the pagan gods , often caricatured as animals after whom the Masons pledge , as a means to destroy trust in God – and we read articles that lament the close to a billion spent for animals , instead of choosing to love His children , to bring them up to praise God , with every human heart – in the love with which The Father created Adam , readying humanity to be prepared to live in His glorious Will .
    Families being pointed to such hope as the means to have lasting impact for all eternity – thank God that The Church does same faithfully enough , such as in inviting us again , to drive out the animal powers , in fasting from the self will and its fears and despair , to empower us in the Oneness in the Divine Will –
    ‘ love and glory to You Lord , in every grain of sand and rock .. in Your fasting and trials , in every drop of The Precious Blood ..’ hoping such too would echo through the errant hearts to see The Light .

  8. I think some Catholics have become too focused on a man when really it is the women who are at fault. Margaret Sanger was the one person who was a Catholic woman who went around the world encouraging contraception and of course now abortion. I think Catholics are good at shifting blame to those in authority because of fear of confronting their sisters, mothers, daughters and aunts who are vocal on pro-choice and some are actively using these services. Most Pro-Choice are like Margaret Sanger was, White middle class women. They are educated and are living with us at home and at work. Just watch who is shouting for abortion in Poland and most recent in Argentina. I do not see men in the crowds. Very few. Why are women exoarating men who make them pregnant and then have Pro-life turn on one man who is basically being hounded by our sisters etc. Do we as women not have the ability to stop this train without combat? COVID-19 is also genocide, particularly as it s only the richest countries, the 10 countries that account for 60% GDP that have bought all the vaccines and refuse patents to poorest countries so that they can develop their own medication to treat COVID-19 or reduce the Coronavirus viral load. So to you all who hide behind Biden pointing fingers like Pharisees and yet are afraid to confront your own family members who are Pro-choice. He has become easy target for lukewarm Catholics who are selective on who should be saved and who shouldn’t. Real Prolife means every breath of life is worth saving . There is no hierarchy of who should be saved. Life for those on death row, life for the elderly and life for all God’s children. Do yourselves a favour, teach your girl child, sister, niece etc not to use these services. Would it not be a big achievement if we use the Lent to pray for all our daughters not to use the abortion clinics and force them to close down. The Crucified Jesus Christ turned our sins into Salvation.He put aside his suffering and gave consolation to the women of Jerusalem who were following him but did not know how to relieve his pain. We too fellow Catholics let us put aside our anger and resentment aside and focus on praying for conversion our enemies before they fall forever.That is Christ’s Way to the Cross.

  9. How about free contraception for men and women. That would do more to prevent the murder of unborn children than merely talking about it.

    • Contraception for both men and women is free and so is abortion in most EU countries including the United Kingdom. The problem is not the accessibility of these services but White middle class educated women whose demands have to be met. That is the crux of the matter.They are not united. Just take another look at the poster/photo of this article. It goes back to Adam and Eve. Adam trying to please Eve and we all know what happened.

    • Big Guy look around you at the reality. Your comment approaches the silly. If artificial contraception were not morally wrong which it of course is, this is a battle between the dogma of abortion as a good thing to be celebrated and the Dogma of the Church. We could have buckets of contraceptives on every street corner in the world and the pro abortion crowd would still demand, lie, cheat and steal to be able to have babies killed on the tax payer dollar.

      Let’s go radical if we want change and an end to abortion. Since no one cares about inflation and national debt then every woman who carries her child to term would get $50,000 even if they place the child for adoption. If the child is disabled tax payers would pick up all the expenses for assisting the family in raising the child. If the father stays involved in raising the child the couple would get $100,000 the day the child graduates from high school. The inflation and debt would be staggering and the welfare mentality obviously pervades but at least the government and tax payer money would be incentivizing a good.

    • Contraceptives are free or at reduced cost according to income level at every US public health department I know of.
      Truthfully if you are a low income woman or on public assistance the greater challenge is to avoid being offered free contraception. Trust me.

  10. – good little booklet by a priest author , with an interesting background , that can help bring more light as to how The Church has been blessed with the wisdom to help marriages to be what they have been designed to be , by The Author of holy relationships . In advocating contraception , couples are telling God and each other as well as all around that they cannot / would not accept the gift of The Spirit as self control , in loving and thanking Him , for the infinite Love that flows from The Wounds , to thus love Him , with His Love , which is our destiny , the Holy Father too reminding us of that Oneness in the Wounds as Love ..

    Denying same leading to the flaring up of the gods of lusts and self will , both in men and women , pervading as the bad leaven all around – hence studies that show how such leads to the increased promiscuity among the teens as well .

    The ‘Little Sisters of The Poor ‘ and their courageous stand on the issue having its roots in the same loving concern for all involved .

    Fear of life , instead of desire to accept His Will as His Love – the difference in marriages that choose to trust that He can give the grace and power , thus avoid intentional means to deny life , thus also denying the origin of marriage being in God and His Will . ‘Man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife ‘- leaving the father and mother , in the sense of seeing the origin of life not being from the will of man but from God , thus having the awareness of the responsibility as love , ( St.J.P.11 ‘s words ) to return that love , in loving and honoring Him , in all aspects of life – for every heart beat and breath , every drop of the Precious Blood , every affection and act being for His glory …

    The wisdom in The Church to help us see through the death loops prepared by those whose hearts have been seduced by lust for the momentary power of this
    world . King David , in erring in his choice to take up the census ( ? having momentarily fallen into the grip of the rebellious self will , not heeding to God , His right as The One to whom every life belongs ) , and it says ‘Satan rose up ‘ against him with the plague that follows .

    Thank God that the Holy Father has also declared this year in honor of St.Joseph , the ‘chaste guardian ‘ of the Holy Family .

    ‘Love and glory to You , O Most Holy Trinity , for the rivers of Love , in the Holy Family ‘

    • PAF is 100% right. Abortion is just a band aid to the real problem of open range sex. Over turning Roe vs. Wade wont end Abortions even though I pray daily to over turn it.
      Our time and money should be spent on promoting morals, especially to Hollywood.

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