On Thursday, Feb. 22, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) issued a public advisory urging parishes not to support the pro-life non-profit organization, Texas Right to Life. The advisory may be indicative of a larger trend of balkanization among Texas pro-life groups.
Bishop Michael Olson, who has been at the Diocese of Fort Worth since January of 2014, asked that the advisory be read following weekend masses.
The advisory claims that Texas Right to Life does not take an incremental approach to pro-life reform and end-of-life reform, and is too harsh in its scorecards that grade Texas legislators’ dedication to pro-life issues.
Different pro-life groups in Texas have a history of taking varying approaches to activism and disputing among themselves which legislators and bills to support as pro-life. The disunity has not gone unnoticed by active pro-life students on the University of Dallas campus.
“There’s Texas Alliance for Life, and they’ve never gotten along with Texas Right to Life, partly because they have slightly different approaches,” Outreach Officer for University of Dallas Crusaders for Life and a Dr. Joseph Graham Fellow for Texas Right to Life, Teresa Roach said. “Texas Right to Life is stronger about which bills they are going to support. If there is one with lots of loopholes, they are not as likely to support it.”
The TCCB continues to support Texas Alliance for Life and the Texas for Life Coalition, which they maintain remain consistent with the TCCB position on pro-life legislation reform. The advisory also encourages Catholics to be actively pro-life through involvement with diocesan Respect Life offices, the Gabriel Project, Project Rachel and the 40 Days for Life, as well as through support of pregnancy resource centers.
According to the advisory, Texas Right to Life “has implied that the bishops do not faithfully represent Church teaching. Part of the dispute is rooted in Texas Right to Life’s rejection of incremental pro-life reforms, which bishops support following the guidance of Pope St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae.”
At the 9 a.m. mass at Church of the Incarnation on Sunday, Feb. 25, Fr. Thomas More Barba did not read the bishop’s statement in the announcements.
Some students oppose the TCCB decision to sever ties with Texas Right to Life.
“Texas Right to Life does support incremental measures,” said Roach. “A non-incremental measure would basically be: let’s make abortion illegal everywhere right now, and that’s impossible, because that’s never going to pass. Hopefully it will be possible someday. [Texas Right to Life] has to make the laws that they support incremental just by the nature of the situation.”
This is not the first time that TCCB and Texas Right to Life have disagreed. In 2013, Texas Right to Life opposed Senate Bill 303 while TCCB supported it. TCCB saw the bill as broadly making pro-life progress, while Texas Right to Life claimed the bill was not pro-life, because it did not fully respect patient’s autonomy to receive life-sustaining care and allowed Do Not Resuscitate/Do Not Attempt Resuscitation orders to be imposed on patients without their consent.
A brief response to the bishops’ advisory was posted on Texas Right to Life’s website on Feb. 24. The response stood firm on the group’s approach and expressed sadness at the division within the pro-life movement.
“Texas Right to Life has worked for decades with diverse stakeholders and advocacy organizations to build consensus on needed life-saving incremental reforms,” the response said. “Uncharitable mischaracterizations of our political and policy goals serve only to dissolve the spirit of collaboration that yielded recent legislative victories.”
The majority of Crusaders for Life officers are Fellows with Texas Right to Life and do not intend to withdraw their involvement from the organization following the bishops’ decision.
Texas Right to Life sponsors events like Boots on the Ground, an annual pro-life conference for college students. In recent years, many on-campus pro-life groups have been founded by students involved with Texas Right to Life or who are fellows with the organization.
Joseph Aglialoro, Secretary of Crusaders for Life and a Dr. Joseph Graham Texas Right to Life Fellow, compared the advisory’s criticism with his own experience with the organization.
“If it weren’t so serious it would be laughably wrong,” Aglialoro said. “Every talk I’ve gone to by [Texas Right to Life] and just in this past month, when we went to the March, they specifically said, ‘we are taking an incremental approach.’”
Although Texas Right to Life may be more incrementalist than the advisory asserts, their main purpose remains absolute and undisputed.
“Our end goal is to completely abolish abortion,” Aglialoro said. “Texas Right to Life’s legislative plan is to get strong bills … The only way to actually knock out Roe v. Wade is through a huge chain of cases that are tried in court and passed.”