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North Dakota Catholic Conference Opposes Criminalizing Women Who Have Abortions

April 1, 2024

Recently, there has been talk in North Dakota political circles about imposing a criminal penalty on women who obtain abortions. The North Dakota Catholic Conference has always, and remains today, firmly opposed to any measure seeking to criminalize or punish women for having an abortion.

To be crystal clear, the North Dakota Catholic Conference is firmly committed to building a culture of life in North Dakota by advocating for legislation that bans abortion and that provides support for women in need so that abortion becomes virtually unthinkable. The North Dakota Catholic Conference also supports the current law in North Dakota that makes it a felony for physicians to perform abortions in our state and believes these individuals should be held criminally liable for their crimes.

The women who seek an abortion, however, are typically in a much different situation than the medically trained abortionists who should know better and are often motivated by profit. Long experience by the pro-life community reveals that women seeking an abortion are often frightened, confused, and under tremendous pressure to have an abortion. Frequently, these women are left alone to deal with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. These women have also been fed a pack of lies about abortion by the predominant secular culture. In most, if not all cases, the woman is abortion’s second victim.

The Catholic Church believes that women who have had abortions need to be shown mercy and compassion. Post-abortion ministries exist to help women repent and heal from the emotional, psychological, and physical trauma of abortion. This compassionate approach to post-abortive women has also been the approach of the pro-life community at large. Just before the release of the 2022
Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, 75 pro-life leaders signed an open letter to state lawmakers urging them to oppose legislation that would criminalize or punish women for obtaining an abortion. The signatories included the heads of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Committee, National Right to Life, the Susan B. Anthony List, the Pro-Life Action League, and virtually every other major pro-life organization nationwide. (Read the document here.)

We should look to the example of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) for guidance in this arena. As the Gospel of John relates, the scribes and Pharisees hauled the adulterous woman before Jesus and sought to subject to her to the Mosaic law of stoning. Like most women seeking abortion, the woman was left all alone to deal with the consequences of her sin – where was the man? Instead of condemning her and subjecting her to the penalty of the law, Jesus shows her mercy and forgiveness – “Has no one condemned you? … Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (vv. 10-11). We should take the same merciful approach with women who have had abortions.

What We Do

The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.
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