In 1973, when I was not quite one year a priest, I wrote my first letter to the editor. The Supreme Court decision, Roe versus Wade, had been issued. My letter cried out for the needs of human beings without a voice… the pre-born child.
The step I took 40 years ago has developed into a strong advocacy for every human being, from the moment of conception to natural death. While advocating for and teaching about the sanctity of human life, I have always tried to communicate with courage, compassion, and civility. I speak of this conviction with the understanding that while my beliefs are clearly formed in faith, my opposition to abortion is shared, through reason, among people with different faiths or no faith at all.
As Catholic Christians, one of the implications of our belief in the Incarnation is that it matters how we treat people in the here and now, and a respect for the dignity of each human being is at the core of our beliefs about abortion and other life issues. Whether the individual in question is a pre-born child, a senior at the end of life, a convicted killer, or a person with disabilities, how we treat each person reflects our own humanity. There can be no compromise with the standard Jesus set.
During January, the Church is particularly active publicly with annual observances such as National Migration Week, the Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration, and, of course, the March for Life, held locally and in Washington, D.C. All of these efforts remind us that our faith is not a private affair. We are called by our baptism to join in the ministry of Jesus Christ, and this takes place both in the sanctuary and in the community.
In approaching all issues, the Church seeks to focus attention on the moral and human dimensions of issues. As good citizens, we do not impose religious truths, such as our beliefs in the Holy Eucharist or the seven sacraments. Rather, we seek to propose truths that have not only a religious dimension but that also are accessible through reason and that impact the common good. For decades, the Church in the United States has been involved in the issue of abortion, as well as other issues that impact the common good, such as health care, abolishing the death penalty, reducing poverty, providing affordable housing, and encouraging comprehensive immigration reform.
As the science of embryology advances, we have learned more about pre-born children. We know that there is a unique human being with his or her own DNA who is present from the moment of conception. In a nation founded on the self-evident truth that all are created with an inalienable right to life, the deliberate destruction of unborn children at their most vulnerable stage is a travesty. It is a violent response that does not serve women, children, families, or the common good. Blessed Pope John Paul II reminds us: “It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop” (The Gospel of Life, no. 101).
We cannot base moral judgments or convictions on opinion polls, and statistics can vary based on the sample and type of question asked. It is clear, however, from many polls and a recent cover story in Time magazine that there is a growing awareness about the need to protect the life of the pre-born child. I am encouraged by the strong witness of those who desire a strong voice for the unborn and who reject the false choice that is often expressed between a concern for the mother and a concern for the unborn child. Both mother and child deserve our concern and care.
I invite all to join the efforts of the Church and others to witness to life and to reach out to mothers and families facing difficult situations. Catholic Charities, the Family Ministries Office, Opportunities for Life, individual churches, and many pregnancy resource centers in our community reach out to many, but much remains to be done. Our efforts always must be grounded in compassion.
As individuals created by the God of love, our vocation is to love. As we recall that fateful decision of 40 years ago, we seek God’s grace to build a culture of life with courage, compassion, and civility.