The current Supreme Court majority that just denied women a legal right to abortion (Dobbs vs. Jackson) consists of religious fanatics whose careers have been fast-tracked (so that young Justices can serve for decades) by ultra-wealthy, like-minded lobbyists and political operatives. The nexus of this activity lies with a powerful arch-conservative organization within the Catholic Church, Opus Dei, that in the U.S. operates out of the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C.
I am not targeting Catholics but rather the Church’s reactionary, fundamentalist wing. Many Catholic organizations are dedicated to upholding the rights and lives of minorities (and majorities, such as women), victims of pedophilic priests, gays, the poor, immigrants, etc. The fundamentalist wing of any religion has more in common with other creeds’ fundamentalisms than with many of its own co-religionists, whom they often regard as enemies. Catholic fundamentalism is obviously not the only “brand” influencing American politics, but it is the one with a dominant insidious influence on the judiciary.
Opus Dei and its partner organizations have poured tens of millions of dollars into promoting the careers and appointments of Chief Justice Roberts and the six Justices who overturned Roe: Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Barrett, and Roberts.
Opus Dei was founded in Spain by Escriva de Balaguer in 1928 and grew in power, wealth, and influence during the Fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco who, with significant military help from Nazi Germany, overthrew the legitimate Spanish government and ruled over a police state from 1939-1975. The group extended its power throughout Latin America, supporting Pinochet’s murderous regime in Chile and other terrorizing dictatorships. It consistently opposes gay, sexual, and reproductive rights, and the Catholic liberation movements that champion the poor in Latin America. It has been involved in the Vatican’s banking scandals but still wields enormous influence over Vatican finances, as detailed by Robert Hutchison in his book, Their Kingdom Come. Opus Dei’s assets as of 2008 were $2.8 billion, but they have undoubtedly grown since. Popes John Paul II and Francis both elevated Opus Dei officials to the highest Church offices. One of Opus Dei’s core principles, as articulated by its founder, is to engage in “the sphere of public life”, not because they are human or Catholic rights but because “they are God’s rights…May such ‘fanaticism’ for the Faith…become stronger every day.” Opus Dei is not simply a conservative religious group, it is openly dedicated to wielding political and financial power in nations throughout the world. And that often means promoting and aligning itself with the most violent, reactionary regimes and acting in the shadow realms of political influence.
Opus Dei members were prominent in Trump’s White House, including Attorney General William Barr and Pat Cipollone, Trump’s former White House counsel. Opus Dei had access to Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, along with other noted right-wing lobbyists (Heritage Foundation, Koch Industries), meetings the Trump administration tried to keep secret. Member Larry Kudlow was Trump’s director of the National Economic Council. It may well be the most powerful political lobby in the world and yet its explicit political agenda is absolutely subservient to its extreme, authoritarian religious agenda.
A key fixer in this effort is Leonard Leo. Leo is on the board of directors of the Catholic Information Center (William Barr was a past director) and Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society, a lobbying group that adheres to an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution (more on this below). The two organizations are close political allies, as Leo’s dual role suggests. As Trump’s close advisor during his presidency, Leo was responsible for selecting and guiding the Supreme Court nominations of Alito, Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch and was instrumental in riddling the lower Federal courts with Trump appointees. Meanwhile, members of both Opus Dei and The Federalist Society include Alito, Clarence Thomas, and the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Chief Justice Roberts is a Federalist Society member and the Society’s members and supporters are prominent in many of nation’s top law schools and most powerful law firms, which allows it to have an untoward influence over judicial selections. When Clarence Thomas headlined a 2013 Federalist Society fundraiser, guests were seated in proximity to him according to the size of their donations. In effect, the Federalist Society and Opus Dei have become the Supreme Court of the land.
Much of Opus Dei’s influence was exerted via the Wellspring Committee, established and run by Opus Dei members Ann and Neil Corkery in 2008. The Koch brothers were instrumental in providing Wellspring with its first $10 million in seed money. According to Robert Maguire of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Corkerys “have been the overseers of massive amounts of money that have gone into federal judicial races.” Wellspring closed down in 2018 but not before passing its mantle to the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN); in 2017 Wellspring transferred $14,814, 998.00, or 94% of its donations that year, to JCN. JCN was formerly directed by Leonard Leo and now by Carrie Severino, who served as Thomas’s law clerk. (Opus Dei’s Roger Severino, Carrie’s husband, was Director of Trump’s Office for Civil Rights). JCN is a 501(c)(4) organization so its donors can remain secret. JCN poured millions into supporting Bush and Trump’s Supreme Court nominees (Roberts, Alito, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Barrett) and millions blocking Obama’s Court nominee, Merrick Garland.
Given Opus Dei’s absolute anti-choice ideology, global power, and influence over the Supreme Court, it is clear the Court’s anti-choice decision was not driven by legal arguments over the right to privacy, strict or “originalist” interpretations of the Constitution, or states rights. These were all just window dressing. The Supreme Court—and much of our judiciary—has been taken over by fanatics with a strictly theological agenda: to replace “separation of Church and State” with “the Church runs the state”. It is a narrow, fanatical religious ideology that decided the case.
The so-called “originalist” theory of interpreting the Constitution claims the Constitution only protects rights explicitly mentioned in the text. The Constitution itself rejects the “originalist” idea so central to conservative ideology. The Ninth Amendment reads, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This clearly states that interpreting the Constitution is a living, evolving process, for how else can those “other[s]” rights be “retained by the people”? The Ninth is also a safety valve: “If we left out any important rights, sorry, our bad, it doesn’t mean those rights aren’t protected as well.” The Ninth has been used to uphold such diverse rights as teaching non-English languages, sending kids to private schools, protecting against forced sterilization, and the 1965 Griswold decision overturning bans on contraception, in which privacy was deemed a “penumbra” (also called “unenumerated”) right. The penumbra concept was then applied to abortion in 1973’s Roe decision.
Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the majority decision in Roe v. Wade, citing both the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments: “This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or…in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent.” The Court also recognized that “When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary…is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.” Blackmun’s decision includes an overview of the dramatic shifts in cultural and legal attitudes towards abortion, though most views differentiated abortions in the first 12-16 weeks (before the baby is usually felt moving inside the womb) from those occurring later.
The “sanctity of the foetus”, that is, viewing abortion at any stage of pregnancy as equivalent to murder, is the linchpin of the anti-choice position and its driving emotional trigger. However, even the Catholic Church’s historical opposition to abortion had nothing to do with the sanctity of the foetus; it was aimed at the “sin” of sexual pleasure. Church policy varied over the centuries but the foetus’s life was either absent as an issue or secondary to sexual sin and other theological concerns. St. Thomas Aquinas asserted that in its earlier stages a foetus is in a “vegetal” and then “animal” state before achieving person-hood at some point, most likely at the end of the third month. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Church banned abortion on the basis of sanctity of life rather than sexual sin. However, the Bible passages used to justify this claim 1) do not really address abortion (the BIble is much more direct in advising that adulterers be stoned to death); 2) are drawn mostly from the Old Testament, a Jewish document, significant since the Jewish religion allows abortion; and 3) are in the Bible, which has no legal standing in the United States. Or didn’t.
The Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson is only the beginning, as anti-abortion activists and GOP-led extremists mobilize to assault a wide range of rights. The anti-choice movement was never only about abortion. Abortion was used as the emotional catalyst for a broad attack on the values of tolerance and social commitment embodied in Federal guarantees backed by Constitutional authority. The well-being of Americans and our system of government is now in the hands of religious fanatics on a crusade against all those who do not believe in their degraded, medieval version of truth. They are welcome to their beliefs but are not welcome to impose those beliefs on the rest of us, nor to challenge the fundamental values of the United States, which holds the value of human beings above adherence to extreme and rigid political or religious ideologies.