The Future of the Pro-Life Movement (Guest: Elizabeth Kirk)

Crisis Point

Interview Transcript

As we mark the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, attorney and Director of the Center for Law and the Human Person Elizabeth Kirk joins Crisis Point to discuss the future of the pro-life movement. What is likely to happen in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court case? How will it impact abortion in America? What impact has the Texas Heartbeat Law had? What can pro-lifers do to fight for life?

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Transcript:

Eric Sammons:

Today on Crisis Point, we’re going to talk about the state of the Pro-Life Movement as we approach the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Hello, I’m your host, Eric Sammons and I’m the editor chief of Crisis Magazine. And I just want to encourage people to like and subscribe to the podcast, wherever you might listen to it, wherever you might watch it. Some people listen to it. Some people watch it. So whatever it is, please make sure you subscribe. Also follow us on all the different social media channels we’re on. Basically, if it exists, we’re probably on it at Crisis Mag.

So today, our guest is Elizabeth Kirk. She is an attorney, a policy consultant and freelance writer. She currently serves as a research associate at the Catholic University Of America, Columbus School Of Law, where she teaches in the area of law and the family and serves as the director of the Center For Law And The Human Person. She’s also previously been a lay consultant to the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Welcome to program Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Eric Sammons:

So why don’t you tell us a little bit, first of all, your background. Obviously you’re an attorney, but how did you get interested in the Pro-Life Movement, in Pro-Life Law and in things of that nature?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah I mean, to be honest, being pro-life, people speak of themselves as Cradle Catholics. I mean, I’m a Cradle Pro-Lifer. I mean, I’ve been pro-life as long as I can remember. It’s part of my personal story in that, I was the child of a crisis pregnancy. My mom chose life for me at a time when it would’ve been legal for her to pursue abortion and out of gratitude to her, but also kind of deep empathy for what women in crisis struggle with, it’s just always been at the heart at the heart of who I am. And so, to be able to express that professionally through my legal work as well, has been a real gift, as a way to use my gifts and talents.

Eric Sammons:

Now, when you decide to become an attorney, was it always with the idea of that you would try to work somehow, in the Pro-Life Movement or towards having more Pro-Life Laws?

Elizabeth Kirk:

You know, I wish I could say as a young person, I was so organized in my thinking, but no. I mean, but I’ve always been the sort of person that wherever I am, I try to use my gifts and talents for these gifts that I’m especially grateful for, including my life. And so again, it was just sort of a natural outgrowth at each stage of my … Whether I was a student or a young lawyer, now teaching law, it’s just always been part of who I am.

Eric Sammons:

That’s great. Now, the big issue … We want to talk about today, like I said, the Pro-Life Movement, what’s going on in the legal field, pro-life political, all those things. And I think, the one thing that most of us are talking about is the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court Case. And in fact, I saw an article title just the other day saying, “Will this be the last March For Life ever.” I think it’s hopeful that maybe this will be finally the case.

I mean, I’m old enough to remember Casey. I was very involved with Pro-Life Movement when Casey came out and I remember how crushing a defeat that was to us. We all thought it was going to overturn Roe v. Wade. And then when it didn’t, it was really crushing. So I will be honest, I’ve grown cynical and I’m expecting to lose, but why don’t you give us first of all, background of this specific case and what we can kind of expect the Supreme Court to do?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah. Well, let me first just say, I share your sort of outlook. I mean, I sort of joke that being of Irish descent, I’m sort of most comfortable expecting the worst. And I think, as you referenced with Casey, almost the entire court at that time were Republican appointees. So there was good reason for people to think that that was the moment at which Roe would be overturned. And so, while I think there’s a lot of optimism with Dobbs and hopefulness, I also think it’s too soon to count our chickens in this regard, but the basic controversy in Dobbs is quite simple.

Mississippi passed a law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks, with some exceptions for severe fetal abnormalities and medical emergencies. And so, because the current American jurisprudence under Roe and Casey prohibits states from banning abortion before viability, which right now is arguably around 21, 22 weeks, a law banning abortions at 15 weeks clearly strikes at the heart of our current American jurisprudence. So it’s squarely at issue, the right to abortion in Roe and Casey. Obviously, there’s a number of ways that the court could come out, but presenting the opportunity to overrule Roe is squarely on the table.

Eric Sammons:

The Mississippi legislators, did they do this purposely to try to attack, to go against Roe?

Elizabeth Kirk:

You know, I’m not privy to what their strategy was, but that’s certainly a strategy that many states have, is to promote laws, one that reflect the will of their people, right? That many states have … Well and just by and large Americans in general are not supportive of unregulated, unlimited abortion. And the studies or the surveys indicate that, there’s this big disconnect between what people are comfortable with and what Roe actually permits. And many people when they learn what American jurisprudence on abortion is, are quite surprised, because they’re not comfortable with it, even if they would describe themselves as pro-choice.

So I would say, first of all, that I think states like Mississippi are some reflecting the will of the people that they represent. But certainly, there’s strategic goals in mind as well, to overturn Roe and Casey and return to the states, the ability to do just that, to reflect the will of the people.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. So I was going to ask you about what could be the consequences of different decisions. Before I do that though, I want to take a step back and make sure I’m clear and that everybody’s listening is clear, the status of abortion law in this country. Right now, every state, of course abortion is legal because it has to be under Roe and everything, but now in certain states, it is restricted after a certain timeframe, correct? After a certain number of weeks, is that correct?

Elizabeth Kirk:

That’s right, but I think what is important to keep in mind is that, the Casey Rubric, the governing standard for abortion legislation in the United States is that, before viability states cannot place any undue burden on a woman’s access to abortion. And so, what that means is that before that point of viability, all the state can do are things that encourage her to choose life. They can put various restrictions, like waiting periods, parental consent, various things that are kind of nibbling around the edges, but they can’t actually prohibit abortion or place an undue burden on her access to abortion.

After viability, states are permitted to more heavily regulate or even ban abortion, except they have to include an exception for life or health. And health was defined in a companion case to Roe, called Doe v. Bolton. It’s much less known than Roe v. Wade. But health was described in that case as encompassing all kinds of considerations, emotional, psychological, familial, the woman’s age. And so, that’s sort of a big gap, right? That you can sort of drive a truck through in terms of exceptions. So, what that means is that, the reality is abortion law, even in states that have more restrictions, have to be permissive of abortion throughout pregnancy, which puts us in very limited company internationally. Countries like China and North Korea are as permissive of abortion as we are.

Eric Sammons:

Right. I know people are often shocked when they hear that you can get an abortion so late in the pregnancy, because there’s a late term abortion provider not too far from where I live. You know, I lived in Maryland, there was one who would come out there and we would pray and counsel there and it’s just unbelievable. And it was always this matter of basically, health is such a huge hole, you can drive a truck through.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

Because a woman just says, “Well, this would disturb me if I had this baby.” Okay, well that’s against her mental health. So therefore we’ll go ahead and abort the baby at 32 weeks or something like that. So it makes it open-ended.

Okay, so now, with Dobbs, there’s two extremes obviously that could happen and probably stuff in the middle. So on the one hand, the court could just basically say, “We’re keeping everything as is. And nothing’s going to change.” On the other hand, it could just completely topple the entire Roe, Doe, Casey structure, and just say, “Okay, we’re starting all over from scratch.” And I assume that means it would go back to the states, at least at first. And then I would guess there’s lots of stuff in between. Is that correct, first of all, that those are kind of all the options of what could happen?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah. I mean, I think what I would say is one option that seems to not be on the table at all, that is dear to many pro-lifers, is the personhood option, right? The idea that, far from the constitution protecting the right to abortion, in fact, the constitution explicitly protects the life of persons, right? And John Finnis, some of your readers might be familiar with an article last year John Finnis wrote in First Things, arguing that the original public meaning of the 14th Amendment, which prevents states from infringing on life, liberty or property without due process of law. That’s the legal hook for the right to abortion, that Liberty Clause.

But what John Finnis argues is that, the original understanding of that amendment of persons who are protected by that amendment, would’ve included the unborn. And he and Professor Robbie George wrote an amicus brief in Dobbs arguing that same position, that in fact, unborn children are persons protected by the 14th Amendment. That didn’t even come up at all oral argument. It’s very unlikely, I think. I mean, I’m not prognosticating, but that anyone besides maybe Justice Thomas would support that argument, but that’s certainly one thing that people hope and pray for is that, eventually [crosstalk 00:11:07].

Eric Sammons:

That’s the dream.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Huh?

Eric Sammons:

That’s the dream.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Right, exactly. So I would say that’s an option that’s unlikely to happen. Short of that, I think, a decision that overturns the fundamental right to abortion that Roe discovered and was affirmed in Casey, would be the next best thing and it would return the legislation of abortion to the states. Short of that, there’s lots of things they could do. They could change the undue burden test to something else. So the undue burden test again, is what court to use to evaluate whether restrictions on abortion are constitutionally permissible, so they could come up with some other test.

For reviewing abortion legislation, they could revisit or get rid of viability as the point in time at which it becomes easier for states to regulate abortion. The law at issue is 15 weeks. It’s kind of hard to imagine them picking something like 15 weeks as a bright line, because it’s so arbitrary.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Elizabeth Kirk:

All of these middle positions are sort of incoherent intellectually, regardless of what side you’re on. They’re a bit in incoherent to make legally and intellectually. So it’s hard to know exactly what they would do, and then of course they could just simply affirm Casey and strike down the Mississippi Law.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Now, which justices are the ones that matter this? Because obviously, we know Thomas is going to be awesome. Sotomayor and others are going to be terrible. Who are the ones that really will be the ones that kind of decide which way it goes?

Elizabeth Kirk:

So I think that’s a really tricky question. What I’m going to say is that, people should fast and pray for all of the justices between now and June. I really believe that this is a spiritual battle. And I think that even those justices that we can feel sure of, are going to be under tremendous pressure to vote a certain way. And I just think it’s really important that we pray for all nine of them in the coming months.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Elizabeth Kirk:

I mean, I certainly have my list of who I think is a safer bet than others, but I really think they all need our prayers and fasting.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Yeah, that’s definitely for sure. People should be doing that from now too. And by the way, it likely will be decided in June, correct?

Elizabeth Kirk:

There’s no reason, I think that that has to be the case, but that seems to be the practice, especially with the more controversial cases as I understand it, that they wait till the end of term to release those decisions. So people expect it to come down in June.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Okay, okay. Now, let’s say they do overturn Roe and Casey, and basically the current structure we have for abortion now. What happens then? Does individual states, does their old abortion law go into effect? I mean, would they have to then all of them, all the legislatures have to get together and say, we’re going to have new abortion laws now? I mean, how would that actually work in practice?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah, it’s really state by state. I mean, this is the beauty and the messiness of our federalism system that every state is different and I can’t speak to every single state situation, but I think, you have many different scenarios. You have some states that have laws that are called Trigger Bans or Contingency Laws will restrict abortion more than Roe or Casey, or maybe even altogether. Again, it depends on what their state says, and the triggering event is Roe Casey being overturned, right? So those are laws that will go into effect if Roe or Casey is overturned. And to my knowledge, there’s even a couple of states, this session, that are considering laws like that in anticipation of Dobbs reversing Roe and Casey.

Other states do still have their pre-Roe cases on the books. Some of them are just sitting there. Others are enjoined and it would be state by state what process needed to happen in order for those laws to be reinvigorated. You know, the other thing I would say is that, this will obviously if it overturns row, it would obviously then create the opportunity for states who may not have had the political will or the political ability to pass laws, because of Roe and Casey hanging over their head, right? There’s the political will to restrict abortion, but legislators and the people just don’t want to kind of spin their wheels, right, and do things that are fruitless.

And so in those states, they’ll be emboldened to enact a new law. So I think we’ll see kind of creative new laws across the country, if Dobbs is overturned. Obviously you are going to have states on the other end of the spectrum, right, that are going to come down hard, that already have very abortion laws in place and those states will likely remain unchanged or even become more permissive of abortion.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I would guess and I admit, I don’t keep track of all this stuff, but I would guess there’d be a handful of states that would just allow abortion on demand all the way through birth.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

There’d be a couple states who would probably outlaw abortion completely. And then there’d be, most of the states would have varying levels of restrictions, and I would guess a lot of them would allow abortion in early weeks. I would think most of them would outlaw, most states would outlaw abortion after like 20 some weeks, because like you said, most people think that’s the way it is now anyway and that’s what they’re fine with. Most Americans who are not really strongly pro-life, they seem to be okay with abortion early on, but not later. They don’t realize that that can actually be done now. Does that seem to be your sense too, from the different states?

Elizabeth Kirk:

I think that’s right. I mean, I think the states that double down on abortion rights, you see for example California and New York sort of advertising like, “Come here,” providing financial incentives or otherwise to be kind of an abortion destination state. And so, I think you will see that and I think you’ll see exactly the diversity of views reflected more accurately in the state’s laws.

Eric Sammons:

So it sounds though like, if that does happen, then pro-lifers will have to get localized and work at a state level to do everything we can, at each individual state.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think some people who are kind of in the business of crunching these numbers say that, because the highest rates of abortion are in these very permissive states, like New York and California, that overturning Roe won’t actually do that much to impact the final number of abortions. I’ve heard numbers like maybe reduction of 10 or 15%. Obviously, any reduction is invaluable, but I absolutely think that pro-life advocates will still have their work cut out for them at the state level, certainly but there will remain efforts at the federal level.

You see efforts to federalize Roe, different other aspects depending on the administration and their priorities to financially to fund abortion or fetal research and all those kinds of things. They’re still going to go on, and so we can’t lose sight of the federal implications, but this just kind of frees up the democratic process to work at the state level.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I mean, like you said, it’s not ideal. Obviously what we want is a constitutional protection for the unborn, but if it does restrict abortion in some places where it wasn’t restricted before, that’s a good thing. So we can do that. Now, speaking on the state level though, I want to move to Texas and the Heartbeat Law was upheld. I can’t remember now. It was just in … Was it September? It wasn’t that long ago, I feel like, it was up upheld. And so, I just wanted ask you, basically let’s review what that law is in Texas, and then also kind what’s the status of its impact so far on abortion in Texas and are any other states maybe trying to look to do the same thing?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah. So, this is a law in Texas that was enacted that prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That, in itself, is not super novel. Other states have passed Heartbeat Bills. What’s unique about it is that, it contains this novel enforcement mechanism. And so, to understand that you have to kind of understand the way that abortion laws generally get challenged. As I said, abortion regulations get evaluated by courts under this undue burden analysis, but how does that get into the court?

Well, if a state passes a law restricting abortion, typically speaking, there are state officials whose job it is to enforce those laws, right? Whether it’s the Attorney General or other state officials within the state. And so what happens when a state passes a law restricting abortion is that, it’s immediately the subject of litigation against those state officials, whose job it is to enforce the law. And often what happens is that law is immediately enjoined or prohibited, the officials are prohibited from enforcing it, while the court or decides whether or not it’s constitutional. And that’s how many of these laws get immediately enjoined or stopped from going into effect.

So what was novel about this case is, they knew that A, it was going to be immediately enjoined, likely to be immediately enjoined. And in fact, the Texas Officials, some of the Texas Officials charged with enforcing these laws said, “We’re not going to en enforce the Heartbeat Bill. It’s unconstitutional. We’re not even going to bother enforcing it.” And so they had this novel idea to instead prohibit these typical officials from enforcing the law and instead to enable or empower private citizens in a kind of whistleblower way to be the ones to enforce the law.

And so therefore, until a private citizen actually challenged the law, right, or I’m sorry, sought to enforce the law, then the abortion providers couldn’t challenge the constitutionality of it. And therefore, in this interim space, the law’s in effect, right. It prohibits all abortions after a heartbeat can be detected. So, and there’s Byzantine, like the status of the law, it’s still in effect. It’s still being litigated. It went up to the Supreme Court. It’s now being … Certain questions that are technical and procedural are being certified to the Texas Supreme Court. That’s all probably mostly of interest to lawyers.

What I would say about the law generally is, I think it reflects this unbelievably pent up frustration that pro-lifers have, that we have not been able to have a democratic voice on abortion since Roe, for 50 years. And so, one of the most damaging things about Roe and Casey is, it took away people’s sense of agency and their participation in the democratic process. And so, law after law was stricken, especially under Roe but still under Casey and this clever ingenious response is born of that kind of frustration, like we’ll give the power to the people.

I do think we have to be careful about not being too clever by half or whatever the expression is, because we could easily be at the receiving end of this kind of strategy, right. That folks who disagree with us on a whole host of other rights that are quite dear to us, could pass laws with a similar kind of strategy. So I think if Dobbs is overturned, I don’t think it’s likely this is ultimately going to be resolved before Dobbs is resolved. And I think if Dobbs goes the way we hope it will, I hope efforts like this will become moot, that we can in a more straightforward way, seek to protect life through legislation and in the typical fashion.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Now, I have heard that the number of abortions in Texas has gone down pretty dramatically since this went into effect. I’m not sure what the exact number was, but I remember seeing something that it’s gone down significantly. Is that what you’ve heard too?

Elizabeth Kirk:

That, yeah. And what I’ll say there though is, and this kind of goes back to our earlier conversation about how important it is for pro-life advocates to not lose momentum, if we are successful in Dobbs. States like Kansas, again, said, “Texan …” You know it’s less than a day’s drive depending on where you are in Texas to Kansas, “Come here. We will welcome you.” And so …

Eric Sammons:

Kansas said that? I thought Kansas was pretty good on that stuff.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Well, so Kansas interestingly, I think will be one of the … Again, we’re operating under the assumption here that Dobbs goes our way. If Dobbs overturns Roe, Kansas is going to be the place, I think, where we see the first real battle at the state level. And the reason for that is, you’re right, that Kansas is … I mean, what I would say is that it’s very pro-life, maybe not compared to places like Louisiana or Mississippi, but generally speaking, it’s very pro-life, including having several State Democratic Legislators, who have supported pro-life bills in the past. But what happened was a couple of years ago, the state eight passed a ban on a certain type of late term abortion procedure and it was challenged and immediately went up to the … But they were very strategic about it. They challenged it only under the state constitution. It was already likely to be held unconstitutional under Casey.

So they didn’t challenge it under federal law. They challenged it under state law and it went up to the Kansas State Supreme Court, which in a decision, I think it was in April of ’19, they found a natural right to abortion in the state constitution. And the test that they adopted was actually even more permissive of abortion than Roe. So many people don’t realize that Kansas, at this moment in time, has one of the most permissive abortion landscapes in the country, because of the State Constitutional decision by its Supreme court.

So what’s happened since then, is that the legislature has passed a constitutional amendment to overturn that decision. The amendment itself is abortion neutral. All it says is that, the constitution doesn’t say anything about abortion and that legislators are free to permit or restrict abortion, as the constituents demand. I mean, that’s not the technical language of the amendment. That’s basically what it comes down to, and that will go on the ballot in August of this year.

So Dobbs will come down in June. That ballot decision will happen in August. And there’s already a tremendous amount of disinformation being promoted by the pro-abortion side in Kansas saying that this would be the groundwork for banning abortion, sending women to prison, et cetera. So I think it’s … Keep an eye in Kansas, I guess, is what I want to say.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Now, just going back to the text real quick. What is the actual penalty, if an abortionist does actually do an abortion after the heartbeat? Is there a specific penalty on the… Is it towards the abortionist? Is the mother liable in any way?

Elizabeth Kirk:

No, no, no. It’s not the mother. I don’t have the law in front of me. I don’t remember off the top of my head what the penalty is.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I mean-

Elizabeth Kirk:

But I mean, you raise a good point, which is, this is another sort of red herring that the pro-abortion movement tries to say is that, women are going to be penalized. It’s women who are going to be thrown in jail, et cetera, and that’s never been the goal of the pro-life movement. Our goal towards women is to support them, to show love, to show mercy, to show … To give material support, friendship, et cetera. Our punitive efforts where they exist are towards those who would prey on a woman’s vulnerability, whether it’s the abortionists, whether it’s the people manufacturing abortion pills, et cetera. That’s I think where the punitive efforts are directed.

Eric Sammons:

Right, right. I would like to see every abortionist in jail, frankly, but the women, I’d like to see them all supported.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s something that’s really important, always to keep forefront in our rhetoric, right, is that women and babies are the ones that we care about, right, and that we’re not about punishing them.

Eric Sammons:

And the truth is, if you’ve ever been, anybody … A lot of people probably listening probably have been, involved in any type of sidewalk counseling or crisis pregnancy center work, you know the pressures the woman goes, the mother goes through when she gets to that point. The vast majority of them that you see, they’re under some type of outside pressure on them. And so yeah, trying to relieve those pressures is mainly what we’re trying to do out there.

Now, are there any other states right now … You talked about Kansas. Of course, Texas has the Heartbeat Bill. Kansas has coming up in August. Are there any other states that are currently trying to mimic Texas or doing anything else? Or is it all kind of everybody waiting for Dobbs to drop?

Elizabeth Kirk:

No, I mean, this is the beginning of the legislative session in most states. So I think that’s something to certainly keep one’s eye on. I mean, there’s a lot of legislators who’ve said, “I’m going to introduce a Heartbeat Bill. I’m going to introduce something modeled after Texas.” As I said earlier, there’s going to be these trigger bands that are contemplated to take effect if Dobbs overturns Roe.

And then at the other end of the spectrum again, I think we need to keep an eye on states like Illinois, that just last session, repealed their parental notification law, not just … I mean, they don’t even have parental consent, just notifying a parent of a minor’s seeking an abortion. That’s something that overwhelmingly Americans support, is a parent’s involvement in their young daughter’s abortion decision.

So, they overruled their parental notification. Vermont, so sort of in contrast to Kansas, Vermont is considering A, an amendment to their constitution that would enshrine abortion in the state constitution. So, every state I think is, and state legislators are looking at, again, reflecting their constituencies, “How can we best position ourselves for the possibility of overruling Roe.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Now, this question’s a little bit out of the left field, so you might not know the answer. I’m curious though, we’ve talked a little bit on the podcast in our Crisis Magazine about the whole fetal tissue research industry. And that of course the COVID vaccines have a connection to that, but then that’s just a tip of the iceberg.

Do you know if there are any laws or any attempts, I should say, for any legal consequences for people using fetal tissue in medical research? Because I mean, it’s been in like University of Pittsburgh has done some terrible things. There’s a lot of connections with abortion clinics to harvest this. And I know, every once in a while we hear about some terrible situation where they find that what they’re doing to these babies is terrible, but then just kind of goes out of the news. Do you know if there’s been any effort to try to make some type of legal structure for the experimentation on fetal tissue?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah. So I mean, I think that’s something I don’t have a lot of specific information for you, but I think that’s something that is especially relevant at the Federal level, right, because it’s not just whether the research is permitted, but again, depending on the administration, whether we’re actually funding and promoting that sort of research, right. And so that way it ebbs and flows, depending on who is in the administration.

What I can say is, I mean, you mentioned at the beginning that I had served as a lay consultant to the USCCB Pro-Life Committee and that’s one of the things, that’s one of the areas that the staff of the USCCB Pro-Life Secretariat keeps a very close eye on. A lot of people don’t know exactly what they do, there at the Pro-Life Secretariat. But one of the things that they do is, they monitor every bill, like from things that are super explicitly, obviously about life issues, like fetal research or the hide amendment or whatever. But they also monitor appropriations bills, they monitor policy statements by various administrative agencies. They monitor administrative rules and they often issue statements, and then obviously also try to advocate for various positions. So their fact sheets are really invaluable and I wouldn’t be surprised that they didn’t have a really great fact sheet on fetal tissue research or certain efforts to oppose fetal tissue research.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Yeah, let’s talk about that a little bit though. You were on the USCCB Committee, lay consultant. And my understanding is that basically the lay consultants are appointed by whoever the Bishop is, who’s currently in charge of that committee. And first of all, who’s the Bishop in charge of the activities right now?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Archbishop Lori, just assumed chairmanship of the committee.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. And who was … But you were under a different Bishop, right? When you were lay consultant-

Elizabeth Kirk:

I was under Archbishop Naumann.

Eric Sammons:

Okay.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Who’s the Bishop of Kansas City in Kansas.

Eric Sammons:

Okay.

Elizabeth Kirk:

And I had gotten to know Archbishop Naumann and he invited me to be on the committee in particular because of my interest, which we haven’t talked about at all, but in adoption and the role that it should play in the Pro-Life Movement. And so I was really honored to be on the committee. It was an incredible experience. I mean, I really learned as I said, how hardworking … I mean, we all see the courageous witness of those bishops for whom abortion is the preeminent priority, right, that’s the language we hear. And that’s, I think what most people are aware of in terms of the life issues, but what they don’t know about is this kind of quiet work of people for whom that priority is actually what they do every day. So we would get reports from them on different things they were monitoring and it’s very impressive, the work they do.

Eric Sammons:

Now, is it mostly though geared towards political aspects of the Pro-Life Movement? Is that mostly what that committee does? Or do they also get into things like Crisis Pregnancy Centers and things like that?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah. No, I think the Pro-Life Secretariat, which is the staff at the USCCB and the committee obviously is in conversation with them. They do other things like, they serve as a resource for the diocese and Respect Life offices. So obviously, every Bishop is that … I don’t know if theologically how to describe it, but the king of his own [crosstalk 00:35:12].

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Elizabeth Kirk:

King … Right.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Elizabeth Kirk:

So, they serve as a resource, right, to the Respect Life offices throughout the country. They put out Novenas and just different like bulletin inserts and all kinds of resource. The fact sheets that I mentioned, they issue action alerts that you can get by text and that sort of thing. So they’re a resource for educating people on political things, action items, but also prayer, and just educating yourself about the life issue. They’ve got a great guide on Evangelium Vitae. They do a conference for Diocese and Pro-Life Leadership. So there’s a lot of different ways in which they support Catholics throughout the country on the life issue.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, great. Well, you brought up adoption. Let’s talk about that a little bit. I’m a huge … My wife and I actually, for a number of years, this is years ago, we ran a foundation that helped financially assist people who were trying to adopt, because it can be very expensive, especially to adopt domestically.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

So why don’t you talk a little bit of how you see adoption being part of the Pro-Life Movement and kind of going forward as well?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Gosh, this would be the topic for a whole new podcast.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah.

Elizabeth Kirk:

But what I’ll say briefly is, what a lot of people don’t realize, I mean, many people think women in crisis has three options, right? Legally, she has three options. She can choose to parent, she can choose abortion or she can place her child for adoption. The reality is, is that adoption is not a meaningful option for most women facing a crisis pregnancy. By a ratio of 50 to one, women choose abortion to adoption. That is for every one child, one infant placed for adoption, 50 are aborted.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Elizabeth Kirk:

So women are not considering adoption as a meaningful response to a crisis pregnancy. And so, while I think that it’s really important to do what we can to support prospective adoptive parents through efforts like you just mentioned, making it more affordable for them, making the paper work a little bit less burdensome, et cetera, the reality is, the problem, right, is that there’s not babies to adopt, right, because they’re being aborted.

And so, that’s the way in which I think we need to change the thinking of the choice of adoption in this country. Many people think that adoption is this noble thing. My husband and I have adopted. We’ve welcomed all four of our children through adoption, and people always say things to us like, “You’re so amazing. You’re so generous. You’re so wonderful.” Which of course is kind of embarrassing to us to hear. So people have this idea that adoption is this noble institution, but when it comes to it, they don’t choose it, either as a way to grow their own family or as a response to a crisis pregnancy.

And so, I think there’s this kind of stigma against adoption. Women report that they would be more comfortable, or let me put it this way. They report that they would be more uncomfortable with the thought of their child being out there, than they would be with choosing abortion.

Eric Sammons:

Right, which is insane. [crosstalk 00:38:22].

Elizabeth Kirk:

And I think [crosstalk 00:38:22]. What’s that?

Eric Sammons:

Which is insane, but that does seem to be the common way of thinking among many women.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah, it’s the reality. And I think, for … I mean, there’s so much one could unpack there, but I think part of it has to do with this idea that women believe in part, because the culture reinforces the idea, that they’re abandoning their child and that, that’s not something a good mother does. And I think, to be able to push back at that, through the witness of, I think, birth moms themselves can be really the most impactful witnesses for the beauty of adoption. But just to help them understand that placing a child for adoption is exactly what mothers do, right. They put the needs of their child ahead of their own every day, selfless sacrifice. I mean, this is obviously an ultimate sacrifice. But if we have time, I want to just link it back to the Dobbs case if [crosstalk 00:39:19].

Eric Sammons:

Sure. Yeah, yeah.

Elizabeth Kirk:

So in the oral arguments in Dobbs, Justice Barrett asked this question that got a lot of people really upset. I don’t know if you remember this, but she asked whether the right to abortion could be justified in light of the fact that every state has a Safe-Haven Law, which Safe-Haven Laws are laws that allow women to drop their baby off at a safe place, like a fire department or something without risking being charged with child abandonment and the child will be placed in a safe, adoptive home, et cetera.

And so a lot of people got really upset us at Justice Barrett for asking that question, because they thought it made kind of light of a woman’s struggle. That somehow a woman facing this incredibly difficult decision about abortion would somehow feel better if she could just drop her baby off at a fire station. So people thought it was insensitive, but I think what her question reveals is something that was actually in Roe.

So, I mean, if you’ve read the decisions, you’re like, “Oh, I see exactly what she was getting at.” In Roe, Justice Blackmun identified the right to abortion and he justified it in basically one paragraph, like his reasoning for it was one paragraph, if you go back and read it. And he references that women need abortion because of the burden that pregnancy places on them. But he only very briefly mentions the burdens of pregnancy and then he has this litany of the burdens of parenthood, right.

And so what Justice Barrett I think, was getting at is to say, like if we have these resources in place and Safe-Haven Laws are just one example of them, if we have these resources in place that allow women to not be alone in bearing this burden, then can we really say that a woman needs abortion right, in order to participate in the life of the country, et cetera. What Justice Blackmun did was place the entire weight of the burden of pregnancy on women alone, right.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Elizabeth Kirk:

That burden should be shared by the fathers, right.

Eric Sammons:

Right, exactly.

Elizabeth Kirk:

And it should be shared by the community. And instead, he put the entire weight of the burden on the woman and therefore the responsibility and the obligation, right. I mean, abortion is a boon for an irresponsible man.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Elizabeth Kirk:

And so I think adoption is one way in which the community can come in to say, “We will bear this burden with you.” Of course, there are lots of other policies or laws that can allow women to parent, if that’s what they choose to do. But the point is that abortion makes pregnancy the sole burden and weight of a woman and it should never be that way.

Eric Sammons:

Right. And Pope Paul VI predicted that abortion and contraception, everything would end up leading to this case where you have men are basically encouraged to be irresponsible. I mean, they’re given a whole framework in which they can be irresponsible about their activities with women. And so, it does end up in practice, putting the burden on the woman singly.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yep.

Eric Sammons:

But that, of course, that’s a big cultural issue more than anything, because I would guess and I don’t have the figures off the top of my head, but my guess is that women who choose abortion are predominantly in situations in which they don’t have that that cultural support. They don’t have a loving … The father of the baby in a stable relationship. They don’t necessarily have family members that are like, “Oh, we’ll help you with them.” I mean, because I’m sure you know people and I do, that good Catholic families then maybe somebody makes mistake and somebody gets pregnant and they shouldn’t have, in the sense that they’re not married. Well what happens? Just the whole community then comes in and helps take care of the baby and helps the mother. And if the dad’s still around, obviously the dad helping out too.

So I do think that’s interesting that … I forgot that about Roe, that I remember reading that a long time ago, but that the defense was, it’s such a burden on women to raise children.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

But obviously, there are ways to alleviate that and adoption’s obviously one of them. And I think my understanding of this and it’s all anecdotal is though, that currently, the people I know who have adopted, it’s a pretty long, typically it’s a long period of time before you can actually adopt. Now something of that has to do with, to be blunt, what type have a baby you’re willing to accept because somebody who’s willing to accept, for example, an African American baby or something like that, or a baby with some disabilities, obviously that seems to go faster. But I guess that’s because it’s a 50 to one ratio, right? It sounds like there’s a higher demand of adoptive parents, is that correct, then there are actual babies for adoption?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah. I mean, it’s obviously extremely distasteful to think about this in terms of a kind of economic market dynamic, but it’s the truth, is that there are more prospective adoptive parents waiting than there are children available.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Elizabeth Kirk:

So, I mean, there are … Now in the foster care system, of course we have a different dynamic and that’s a completely different set of issues, but there are children waiting in foster care to be adopted.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah. No, I [crosstalk 00:44:48] Go ahead. Sorry.

Eric Sammons:

I was just going to say it’s funny also, I don’t know about you, but any time I’ve ever been at maybe praying for an abortion conference or something like that and a pro-abortion person would be like, “Are you willing to adopt? Anybody willing to adopt these kids?” It’s always funny, because every single person there’s like, “Yeah, sure. Yeah, let’s do it right now.”

Elizabeth Kirk:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

I mean, that’s the lie that we are not willing to support these babies. But I do think you’re right though, promoting that, adoption and doing everything we can to make that process easier and less burdensome and more attractive to women who are in a crisis pregnancy. I think, that’s probably what you’re saying is, the biggest problem is because of just the cultural insanity we’re living under, they actually think the baby being dead is better than the baby being not under their care. And obviously that just shows a lot of … There’s a lot of reasons why they come to that conclusion.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Yeah. I mean, Pope Francis just spoke and he gave an address that was largely sidetracked by his comments about pets. But it was a reflection on Saint Joseph and he really beautifully promoted adoption in this. I was disappointed that it got sidetracked on pets. In that address, he recognized that one of the biggest barriers to couples adopting, he’s encouraging parenthood, right, as opposed to just being satisfied with your dog or your cat. But he recognizes that one of the biggest barriers to welcoming children through adoption is fear, right? This fear that something might be wrong with it or fear … Whatever the fear is, and sort of echoing John Paul, he urges couples to not be afraid.

What he didn’t talk about, I think, which is also an enormous barriers, the fear that women have, who are considering abortion, which is this fear of placing their children. And some of that has to do with just an outdated understanding of what adoption involved. So, 40 years ago, adoption was cloaked in secrecy and shame and women would be sent away. They didn’t know where their child was placed. They had no contact with it, et cetera. That doesn’t describe the modern landscape of adoption at all. Women are very involved. They’re the ones who choose the family. They can keep in contact with them. They can have visits. The concept of open adoption is something that’s promoted and supported.

And unlike abortion, adoption, I mean I don’t want to sugarcoat it, adoption is obviously a very difficult experience, but it carries with it, this potential for healing that abortion simply can’t do. And so, I think it’s exactly the sort of thing, that we as Christians ought to be promoting, that yes, there’s great suffering, but we know from looking at the cross, right, that great suffering offered in love, always bears fruit, right. And so, I think it’s something, we need to try to encourage women to consider.

Eric Sammons:

Absolutely. Okay. I think we’re going to wrap it up here.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Okay.

Eric Sammons:

But I just wanted to have a couple things I wanted to bring up just for people who are listening to do. I think the one thing … You said two things already that I’m taking away. One is pray and fast for the Supreme Court Justices, all nine of them, even Thomas. Even the ones we think are locks, definitely-

Elizabeth Kirk:

Well, I don’t want anybody to die in the next [crosstalk 00:48:17].

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, well that’s true too. Yeah, exactly. That’s right. And obviously, Thomas, somebody like Thomas needs it a lot because the demons are attacking him probably more than the most because of the fact that he’s standing for life and these situations. So obviously fast and pray for the Supreme Court Justices that Dobbs would be at least as good as we can hope for, a result that is.

Secondly, I like the idea of let’s do all we can to promote culture of adoption, to try to get away from the stigma of adoption, whatever we can do. Consider obviously being an adoptive parent, if you know somebody in crisis pregnancy, find out about options for adoption. Is there anything else that you would just recommend for your average lay Catholic that they can do right now to just further a culture of life?

Elizabeth Kirk:

Gosh, I guess the thing I would say, because our hope is that this will return to the states is to become knowledgeable about your state legislator, what the status of the law is in your state, and not just laws with respect to abortion, although that’s obviously important, but also what pro-family policies either exist or could be promoted in your state that will enable women to choose life, right? We don’t want to just declare victory in this legal sense and then not have resources in place for women to make it easier for them to choose life. So I would say, becoming educated and active at the local level is the best thing you can do to prepare for Roe being overturned.

Eric Sammons:

Right, because you probably want to know who your state legislator is, your state Senator is, who represents you because you want to let them know, “Hey, when this happens, we want Pro-Life Laws to be enacted.” And if they’re not pro-life then get somebody new.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Exactly.

Eric Sammons:

Work to get somebody new, because it’s very important on a local level. Okay. Well everybody, thank you very much Elizabeth, for being on the show. I really appreciate it.

Elizabeth Kirk:

Thanks for having me.

Eric Sammons:

And this was great. We got a lot of great information here and hopefully we’ll have very good news in June. We’ll just keep praying for that. So …

Elizabeth Kirk:

Amen.

Eric Sammons:

Okay everybody, until next time. God love you.

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