It’s been conjectured – and I think rightly – that in 1973 pro-abortion advocates never envisioned a strong, influential pro-life movement to emerge across our nation. It was falsely thought that the cultural revolution of the 1960’s regarding sexuality and the accompanying disregard for authority at almost every level demanded abortion rights without any significant opposition from citizens. HELLO!!! As we move toward the regrettable 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade next January, you and I are a part of a strong and growing stronger movement for life. No other democracy in the world – to my knowledge – can lay claim to a Pro-Life Movement that is a fraction of the movement in the United States. Raising our voices in the public square, informing our elected representatives in legislatures and in executive offices, marching, supporting mothers and fathers vulnerable for abortion, offering healing and new beginnings to post-abortive parents, prayerful protests at abortuaries and casting our ballots for pro-life candidates on election day - all these necessary actions and more are taking place and will continue to take place as integral components of the restoration of a culture of life to our nation and to the world. May God grant us the wisdom and all the strength needed to continue, even as the battle moves away from abortion facilities in physical buildings to the proliferation of “over the counter” abortifacients, and threats of life ending interventions for the vulnerable and terminally ill.
Did you read the recent newspaper article about a prison inmate who escaped on the eighty-ninth day of a ninety-day sentence? He was quickly apprehended and then had to serve an additional eighteen-month sentence. HELLO?!
Or maybe you caught the story about the robber who attempted to hold up a convenience store. While the robbery was in progress, the store clerk asked the robber if she could make a phone call. The robber gave his permission and was stunned when in short order the police appeared on the scene. Only then did he realize that the clerk had called 911. HELLO?!
HELLO has become more than our customary way of answering a phone call. HELLO has become a kind of mantra – a word we say to someone who just doesn’t seem to get it. It is a kind of shorthand by which we challenge someone “to wake up,” – a word to ask “what in the world were you thinking? … Is your brain working?” That one word lets people know that somehow they have missed the point or they have gotten something totally wrong and they need to start over. Somehow they have gotten out of touch with reality.
I would compare the Pro-Life Movement in its many expressions, in its advocacy for the dignity and sacredness of all human life from the moment of conception until natural birth as a “HELLO Movement.” Through the witness of our words – written and spoken – and through the witness of our deeds, individual and communal, we are calling out to a culture that has drifted from the truth, a society that has missed the point, to judges and to lawmakers and those in executive offices of our government who have got human life issues totally wrong.
Recently there was an HELLO episode in the wildly popular, made for TV drama, produced by the BBC, Downton Abbey. I’m not going to ask for a show of hands but I would imagine that there are more than a few of us gathered here who have become regulars to this series. The story chronicles the lives of the Crawley Family, members of the British aristocracy, and the equally interesting lives and interactions of their downstairs serving staff. Lord Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, and his wealthy American wife, Cora, have three daughters: Mary, Edith and Sybil. The HELLO episode that a want to comment on was an episode in Season Four which aired in the U. S. this past February.
Lady Edith, the Crawley’s middle daughter, discovers the love of her life, a journalist, Michael Gregson. Lady Edith also finds herself pregnant with Michael’s child and Michael has gone off to Germany, completely out of contact. Edith is alone in her pregnancy. Father, mother, sister and grandmama, the irrepressible Dowager Countess, have no knowledge of what is happening. Edith knows well that a pregnancy outside of marriage would be a scandal; she would become an outcast socially, practically and personally. Contrary to what we have come to expect from the dominant entertainment sources, the script has Edith state clearly that she “does not want to kill her wanted child”. The drama escalates, however, as she weighs the consequences of giving birth to their child. The fear of scandal, the shame and embarrassment drives her to go to her Aunt Rosamund in London who recognizes that abortion is wrong in itself and wrong in its consequences for Edith. Nevertheless, Rosamund knows of someone who helps women rid themselves of their problem and so in loyalty and hope she accompanies her niece to his flat. But when Edith hears the cries of an aborting mother from the next room and the nurse comes to take her in, she walks out. Rosamund with a certain peace and relief explains to the nurse: “It seems that some mistake has been made.”
The episode is set in the 1920’s so the pro-life, pro-abortion conflict had not yet crystallized. Edith knows that abortion killed a child and she wanted her child. She suffered no illusions. There was no willful blindness to what an abortion really is. There was no easy dismissal of the child as a mass of tissue. There was no assertion that this was a matter pertaining exclusively to Edith’s body and she could do with IT what she wanted. Those social deceptions, those legalized lies were still 50 years away.
Interestingly, the English statute that made abortion illegal in the 1920’s dated back to 1861 and was known as “The Offenses against the Human Person Act” – 1861. In the middle of the 19th century British legislators had no problem recognizing that the unborn were persons. The 1861 law inflicted very harsh penalties for abortion, up to and including “penal servitude for life”. The Offenses against the Human Person Act stood on the books although with amendments lessening the severity of the penalties until it was repealed in 1967 – 6 years before Roe v. Wade.
Edith’s situation is the classic story of a crisis pregnancy with all the social, practical, family and personal pressures that can all too often be allowed to trump the life of an unborn child. Save for her aunt, Edith was alone and her aunt, Rosamund, acted in a sense as one person Crisis Pregnancy Center. She understood the reality, faced it head on and once Edith chose to save the life of her child, she devised alternatives to save the life of the baby and spare Edith from moral, emotional and possibly physical disaster. Rosamund represents our pro-life efforts. You do the work of Rosamund when you assist the Edith’s of today from destroying life: their baby’s and their own.
The truth is Pro-Lifers do have a significant influence on American culture and political life. Polls and surveys steadily reveal that an increasing number Americans are coming to recognize the sacredness of all human life and the evil of every offense against human life. Still, it seems pretty natural to ask why so many otherwise good people in our country simply do not see the connection between the advent of Roe vs. Wade and today’s deplorable moral desert, created by a whole spectrum of attacks against human life.
There are a variety of reasons why some people have become incapable of understanding and accepting what we are talking about. Let me present just three of the problems that, I believe, are embedded in our American culture today and create obstacles that keep many of our fellow citizens from recognizing and embracing the truth.
The first problem is an increasing inability to use right reason. America in our lifetime has become a culture driven by marketing and marketing works in exactly the opposite way as reasoning. Reasoning requires time, testing and comparison of competing arguments, the ability to analyze and discover the truth. Marketing appeals to our desires and emotions. It depends upon the suppression of critical thought because rational thought might move you to refrain from buying the advertised product or from believing the marketer’s message. Marketing is bound tightly with creating the right image – - and images operate quickly and effectively at a sub-rational level. That is why a food company will show you a young affluent, athletic couple eating their cereal for breakfast rather than flashing a series of nutritional facts and comparisons on our TV screen. It is the same reason why the pro-abortion media shows us the highly magnified photos of those strange looking cells at fertilization. Implicitly they want us to think, “This can’t be human; it does not look like anything familiar.” If by marketing, we can be engaged on that sub-rational level, then perhaps our reason won’t discover the truth that these cells already contain all the genetic information the person will ever need. Left alone and with proper nurturing, they will inevitably progress to look decidedly human as an embryo, a fetus, to an infant and finally an adult human. But anyone who begins thinking that way no longer suffers from an inability to reason rightly. You become wary of the pro-abortion marketing. You become pro-life.
The loss of right reasoning extends to the most fundamental question of all: when does human life begin. Moral, legal and political issues turn on this crucial question regarding the beginning of a human person’s life.
Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, was on solid ground when during a recent interview he said, “Science has settled the question of when human life begins.” He went on to say that all the evidence should convince anyone with an open mind capable to reasoning that life begins at conception. Since 1973 the compelling images from sonograms and the uniform discoveries in embryology regarding DNA-driven fetal development have served to convince honest, thinking people of the truth that life begins at the moment of conception and therefore deserves legal protection, as the beginning of the life of a human person.
This is empirical evidence that was absent when Roe v. Wade was decided but it goes right to the heart of the flawed decision and its equally flawed interpretation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Remember that in Roe v. Wade, the state of Texas argued for the personhood of the unborn under the protection of the 14th Amendment. Historically, the 14th Amendment is one of 3 Reconstruction Amendments passed after the civil war to resolve important rights issues regarding former slaves. More broadly, it addresses the rights of U.S. citizens and grants us full and equal protection under the law. Since its passing in 1868, it has been one of the most litigated sections of the U. S. Constitution.
Roe v. Wade hinged on whether the unborn enjoy the full and equal protection under the law, guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court Associate Justice who wrote the 7 to 2 majority opinion, Harry Blackmun, states that QUOTE “If the suggestion of personhood IS established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be granted by the amendment.” END QUOTE In other words if the pre-born child is a human person then he or she enjoys full and equal protection under the law and therefore to commit abortion is to commit homicide.
7 of the 9 Justices absolutely rejected the argument that the unborn enjoyed personhood as understood by the 14th amendment and, since in their judicial opinion personhood does not include the unborn, the rejected absolutely the fetal right to life argument.
In the past 41 years the scientific evidence regarding the unborn has led to some very positive pro-life legislation. At last count, 36 states have what are called “fetal homicide Laws”. In 24 states, these laws protect the pre-born from the time of conception. 38 states have wrongful death laws protecting the unborn, with abortion specifically excluded as not constituting wrongful death. HELLO!!! Such contradictory conclusions to me are some of the clearest indications that we as a society are losing our ability to use right reason.
These developments in medical science have caused a change in pro-abortion politics. Rarely now, at least it seems to me, do you hear talk of the fetus as tissue, as a disposable part of the mother’s body. Today you rarely hear talk of the fetus at all. Rather, the focus is on the mother and her rights and her freedom to choose. The arguments today attempt to say that the taking of an unborn life is a justified decision of the mother and father that can legitimately be made after weighing their particular circumstances and preferences. The other side is on the run from the facts. We must continue at every turn to employ right reasoning to our best ability.
If you have not already read and used them, please become familiar with the Roe Reality Check series from the Pro-Life Office of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. You will find there 15 very short essays that contrast common impressions regarding abortion with the real facts. They are a good example of right reason dismantling the misconceptions broadly spread about by the aggressive marketing of the pro-abortion camps.
Problem number two is our inability to remember. Often times outsiders who observe our American culture comment that we have an addiction to what’s new. We are a people of the “now”. We enjoy the past primarily as nostalgia – as a kind of entertainment, like watching Downton Abbey – but we really don’t like history because the past is over and imposes certain restrictions on the present. The fact is that we Americans on the whole tend to have a very poor grasp of history and often learn too few of the lessons that the past has to teach us. For instance, most of us know about Hitler’s campaign against the Jews in Germany – although recent surveys indicate the fact that a shockingly high percentage of high school students are unfamiliar with this tragic chapter in humankind’s history. But how many of us understand that the ethical framework for the Holocaust was already well in place in the German medical establishment before the Nazis came to power? Before targeting Jewish people, the medical establishment was already euthanizing those who were insane, mentally handicapped or terminally ill. And they did so using the utilitarian arguments articulated today in the public discourse by the advocates of euthanasia.
The third and final problem that I would comment on is the increasing inability to understand freedom. For too many Americans, freedom simply means an endless list of choices. To have countless options makes us free. But choice for its own sake is not authentic freedom. Without absolute principles of right and wrong, there can be no genuine freedom. In place of authentic freedom, we get a kind of anarchy of conflicting pressure groups and personal agendas. We get the untenable situation of believing what is right for me may not be right for you; what is true for you is not necessarily true for me. Daily we are bombarded by a misuse of the language of our dreams and our ideals in order to sell the idea that our choices make us free. Many believe that freedom consists in the unrestricted right to choose whatever we want. Americans have a problem realizing that authentic freedom lies in the ability to recognize what is true and the courage to do what is right.
And so, these three problems act as a kind of background noise in our lives and culture and that noise can drown out the message that we must communicate in witnessing to the inviolability of human life. It is for that reason that we need one another and that we need to come together as we do this evening. The opponents of life would have us believe that individuals cannot make a difference. But it is exactly individuals that do make a difference, men and women who refuse to cooperate with evil and insist on doing good. Human beings make history, not the other way around, and we do it day in and day out, in our choices of whom and what we love, what we build, what we live for, and what we fight for. It is often said that “might makes right”; however, the Scriptures reveal to us that it is exactly the opposite: “Right makes might.” Hello!?
If I may conclude – and I think I hear you all saying “PLEASE DO!!!” – I would like to offer a short quote from the universal pastor of our Catholic Church, the much beloved Pope Francis. His words come from a document he issued almost one year ago, entitled The Joy of the Gospel. Pope Francis offers encouragement in the work of spreading the Good News of Christ but his words easily apply to the work that unites us, the work of spreading the Gospel of Life:
“One of the more serious temptations which stiffles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists – sourpusses. (I am certain that this is the only time in history that Pope Francis’ word “sourpusses” has ever appeared in a papal document.) … He continues: “While painfully aware of our frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you; for My power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)” (n. 85).
Friends and supporters of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation and advocates for the sanctity of all human life, our cause will not permit us to be defeatists or pessimists or sourpusses. There is joy in the very cause we promote. There can be no whining over outcomes. There is joy in the fight. We will “march on without giving in” and we will march on in joy – a joy that comes from the Lord, from knowing the truth and for sacrificing whatever is necessary so that the truth may prevail and human life at every stage and in every condition may be afforded – may be guaranteed – the protection its sacredness requires.
Please be generous in your financial support of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation and may God bless you in all your good works. Thank you.