Yesterday, I received an encouraging note from a former teacher co-worker. She discovered, while rummaging through her folders of memories, that I had written a pro-life article in her college newspaper that had been a great encouragement to her. Reminded that we do not always realize the good our words can do for others, I have spent today posting my recent homilies and have included my September 12, 2002 pro-life opinion piece below:
Imagine you were asked on a biology quiz, “When does a human’s life-cycle begin?” Only one answer reflects the consensus of the world’s human embryologists: “At fertilization, or what is known as conception.” Through fertilization a new single-celled embryo is created which is genetically neither mother nor father, but offspring. The life-cycle of every human you and I know began at their conception. Here is our next question: when will we defend the human rights of new human life?
With their controversial Roe vs. Wade decision the Supreme Court decided not to recognize human life in the womb as a person. Their rulings have (effectively) legalized abortions at any time during pregnancy, even up to the last moment of delivery. The high court’s discovery of the (unprecedented) right to an abortion has brought horrific consequences.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1,186,039 abortions occurred in 1997. That works out to about 3,250 each day. (Comparatively, 2,872 people died in the Sept. 11th attacks.) According to the CDC, more than 30 million abortions have occurred in our country since the 1973 legalization. It is possible to count abortions, but there is no measurement for the suffering and injustice they inflict.
Today, the partially born are killed with their fully-formed arms and legs dangling outside of their mothers, while their heads remain inside. However, if one of these babies were to accidently fall out, the child would receive the full protection of the U.S. Constitution.
Is personhood decided by location? How can six inches mean the difference between “tissue extraction” and murder? Do we receive our humanity by exiting a birth canal, or are we something of precious value long before entering the outside world?
Americans’ heartfelt convictions, combined with faulty notions of tolerance, create conflicted views on abortion. In June 2000, the Los Angeles Times polled 2,071 Americans, “Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Abortion is murder.” 57% agreed while only 36% disagreed. Yet, among those who agreed, most believed a woman should still have the right to choose an abortion. When I was younger, I reflexively shared this view. I saw abortion as the killing of human beings, but I hesitated to “impose my beliefs on others.” Finally, I realized my position’s absurdity. Imagine someone saying, “I’m personally opposed to terrorism on moral grounds, but I still think it should be legal. I would never murder anyone, but if someone else chooses to, who am I to say they can’t?” There is a classic saying from Supreme Court Justice Holmes about the limits of freedom, “The right I have to swing my fist stops where your nose begins.” Personal rights cannot permit the harming of the innocent. The innocent unborn should be no exception.
But what if a person is still unsure that the human life in the womb is “fully human”? How should we treat embryos and fetuses if uncertain of their humanity? For an answer, consider how we respond in other situations when we suspect human life might be present: We do not bury people who are doubtfully dead. We work frantically to rescue people from the rubble of collapsed buildings, even when there are no signs of life. If a deer hunter sees something moving through the bushes he must wait to shoot until he is positive it is a deer and not another human being. When in doubt, we assume there is life, because human life is precious. Conscience demands that we safeguard unborn life with our full protection and care.
Pro-lifers have no desire to see unhappily pregnant women abandoned out in the cold. There is no reason our society cannot love both mother and child. Local organizations, like the New Life Pregnancy Counseling Center (608-785-2377) and Catholic Charities (608-784-5323), extend helping hands and loving hearts. They offer free, confidential pregnancy testing and counseling. They assist mothers who lovingly choose adoption and support mothers who admirably choose to raise their own. These charities’ professional staffs and trained volunteers deeply care for women and their babies. They proclaim, by word and deed, that the choice to love is the greatest we can make.
In their 1857 Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court ruled black people were ‘not persons, but the mere property of their owners.’ In the 1930’s and 40’s the Nazis killed millions; Jews, Poles, and others they viewed as ‘less than human.’ During the 20th century, communist governments executed even more innocents they deemed counter-revolutionaries, justifying their deaths as being ‘best for society.’ Disturbingly, all these views are held against unborn life today. However, there is reason for hope. When minds and hearts unite in truth, history shows that falsehoods cannot long endure. Love’s future victory is certain, but the time-frame depends on us.