Many religious leaders who support the anti-abortion movement have praised the new Texas law that prohibits most abortions in the state. However, some abortion opponents in religious circles in the United States are wary of the law and question the movement’s current course.
The apprehension stems in part from the law’s most novel feature, which some critics see as an invitation to vigilantism: it allows private citizens to sue anyone they believe is assisting in an abortion, with the possibility of winning $10,000 in the process. The law “has serious drawbacks” and conveys that anti-abortion activists are willing to engage in “desperate and extremist tactics,” according to Charles Camosy, an associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University who advocates for stricter national abortion restrictions.
“Because it appears to be playing legal games to avoid federal court rulings, the law feeds the false narrative that pro-lifers don’t have public opinion on our side,” Camosy, a Catholic, said in an email.
Senate Bill 8 prohibits abortions after medical professionals detect cardiac activity, which is usually around six weeks. It was slammed in a recent column by one of the National Catholic Reporter’s senior reporters, Michael Sean Winters, in the independent online news outlet.
“I am deeply concerned that the hasty implementation of this truly bizarre law will prove to be the historic start of a backlash against the pro-life movement for which it is unprepared,” Winters wrote.
He claimed that the law’s provisions encourage “a kind of vigilante justice we had all thought was relegated to old Western movies,” and he warned that its implementation would likely lead to some women seeking illegal and potentially dangerous abortions. “I am as pro-life as pro-life can be,” Winters wrote, “but I despise the pro-life movement for its short-sightedness, moral myopia, and viciousness.” “The pro-choice movement is now more energized than it has been in years.”
In the midst of the uproar over SB 8, the Catholic bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, John Stowe, issued a broader critique of some elements of the anti-abortion movement, claiming that they pursued their cause while ignoring other pressing social issues.
“Those who vehemently oppose legal abortion but are unconcerned about providing basic healthcare for pregnant mothers or needy children, who are unconcerned about refugee children or those who lack quality education and have no hope of escaping poverty cannot truly claim to respect life,” Stowe tweeted.
Abortion opponents who portray the Texas law as a strategic mistake are viewed with disdain by staunch supporters of the law.
The law’s implementation has elated many top faith leaders in Texas and other states who have long campaigned against abortion, including many of John Stowe’s fellow bishops. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, praised the statement.
While acknowledging that the law has sparked debate, Naumann chastised President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for “responding with radical pledges” to block it and other tough anti-abortion measures.
Some prominent Southern Baptist pastors in Texas, like Naumann, welcomed the law while pointing out its flaws.
Another Baptist pastor, John Elkins of Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria, Texas, said he supports the law but wishes it would outright prohibit abortion. He hopes that congregation members who share his viewpoint will look for ways to help unwed mothers in their community.
Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches social research at Catholic University, called the law “unconventional” and predicted that it would be challenged in court. It has already been the subject of lawsuits from abortion providers as well as the US Justice Department.
Nonetheless, New expressed satisfaction that SB 8 is now in effect.
Unsurprisingly, clergy from faith groups that support abortion rights have criticized SB 8. The Rev. Daniel Kanter, senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Dallas and former chair of Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advocacy Board, is one of the plaintiffs in a July lawsuit challenging the law.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which represents more than 140 national and local Jewish organizations, called SB 8 and other anti-abortion restrictions “dangerous measures” that should be stopped by federal legislation.