What a wrenching thing it is each
year. Just last month we celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus, fruit of
Mary's humble "yes" to God's gift of new life. This month we
celebrated the arrival of the Wise Men to greet the newborn King, who
"appeared and the soul felt its worth." Then we observe the
birthday of a great preacher whose basic message was the dignity of the human
person and the sacredness of all human life. And then we turn, as we must
each year, to recall a legal decision that said "no" to new life, has
led so many women and others involved in abortion to grieve their loss and
doubt their own worth, and has deprived a whole class of people -- pre- born
babies -- of their right to life.
Such an anniversary cannot be
celebrated. But it does offer an opportunity to take stock -- to ask where we
are, forty-three years after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade and Doe
v. Bolton decisions, and where we need to go.
We live in an increasingly divided
nation, where people of different views as well as different races, religions,
and national origins often seem to lack the patience and good will to respect
each other and try to live in harmony. Abortion itself, despite the
endorsement of our highest legal tribunal and many political and cultural
elites, is as controversial as ever. Most Americans oppose a policy
allowing legal abortion for virtually any reason – though many still do not
realize that this is what the Supreme Court gave us. Most want to protect
unborn children at later stages of pregnancy, to regulate or limit the practice
of abortion, and to stop the use of taxpayer dollars for the destruction of
unborn children. Yet many who support important goals of the pro-life
movement do not identify as "pro-life," a fact which should lead us
to examine how we present our pro-life vision to others.
Even as Americans remain troubled by
abortion, a powerful and well-financed lobby increasingly insists that there is
no real issue here – that abortion is just another part of "basic health
care" for women, to be seamlessly integrated into our health system and
our lives. Planned Parenthood and other abortion promoters say they will no
longer call themselves "pro-choice," apparently realizing that this
phrase might allow others to choose a path different from their own. They
hold that abortion must be celebrated as a positive good for women and society,
and those who cannot in conscience provide it are to be condemned for
practicing substandard medicine and waging a "war on women."
We see this in the rising opposition
of some political leaders to the very notion of a right of conscience on abortion.
A few years ago, for example, President Obama pledged to defend the conscience
rights of those who do not accept abortion, and his Administration assured us
that longstanding federal laws protecting these rights must be fully enforced.
Yet in the final days of 2015, he and other Democratic leaders were unwilling
to support the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, a modest measure to provide for
effective enforcement of these laws.
While this is disturbing, it is also
an opportunity. The great majority of Americans are not committed to this
extreme ideology. They do not see the unborn child as an illness or a
tumor. They are repelled when they see the callousness of the abortion
industry, as in the recent undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials
calmly discussing the harvesting of body parts. They do not want to be
pushed into actively promoting and paying for abortion. They do not want
doctors and nurses who are sensitive to the value of life at its most
vulnerable to be driven from the healing professions. They are open to
hearing a message of reverence for life.
In taking up this challenge, we who
present the pro-life message must always strive to be better messengers.
A cause that teaches the inexpressibly great value of each and every human
being cannot show disdain or disrespect for any fellow human being. We
should celebrate human freedom, always reminding others that this freedom is
ours so we can freely choose the good – and that to enjoy this freedom, each of
us must first of all be allowed to live. And especially in this
Year of Mercy, we recall with Pope Francis that each human life is created by a
God whose love is infinite -- and that this same love is a source of unbounded
mercy and forgiveness for all who have fallen short of God's plans for
us. For its part, through the healing ministry of Project Rachel, the
Catholic Church seeks to offer this gift of God's mercy and reconciliation to
all who have been involved in abortion.
I invite all who are concerned about
the tragedy of abortion to recommit themselves to this vision of life and love,
a vision that excludes no one. Catholics in particular can take part in
the 9 Days for Life campaign, uniting in prayer and action from January 16-24
for the protection of life at every stage and in every circumstance.
Information on the many ways to participate and sign up is available at www.9daysforlife.com.
Finally, let us never be distracted
by the false charge that this life-affirming cause is merely a political or
partisan issue. It is an essential moral vision that lifts up every human
person. With Pope Francis let us remember that "this defense of
unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human
right…. It is not 'progressive' to try to resolve problems by eliminating a
human life" (Evangelii Gaudium, nos. 213-4). Genuine progress must
be progress for all, beginning with those most vulnerable who cannot speak for
themselves. May God bless our efforts to uphold human life!