by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Each year, the annual liturgical commemoration of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28) shocks me anew.
It was horrible enough that Herod was prepared to murder a baby whom he perceived to be a threat to him. When he could not identify the specific child who posed this threat, Herod took inhumanity to a new level by ordering his henchmen to kill all the male children under the age of two in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
Killing innocent children strikes us as barbaric. It is hard to understand the coldness in Herod’s heart in ordering the massacre of babies and toddlers. Herod’s willingness to destroy defenseless children and inflict inconceivable pain upon their parents and families in order to eliminate a supposed threat to his self-interest reveals an uncontrolled selfishness that most of us appropriately find repulsive.
January 22 marked the somber commemoration of the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions that, in effect, struck down every existing state prohibition and restriction on abortion. These infamous decisions have resulted in the deaths of almost 50 million American children. The sheer magnitude of the numbers makes this a tragedy beyond comparison in American history. Legalized abortion has inflicted a terrible scar on the soul of the United States.
One of the tragic ironies of this state-sanctioned killing of innocent preborn children is that it occurred at a time when scientific and technological advancements were giving us windows into the womb, providing us with more and more compelling evidence about the beginning of human life. The fertilization of the female ovum by the male sperm initiates a new human life with a genetic code distinct from both of his or her parents. This new human being only needs time and nourishment to be able to advance through all the normal stages of early human development, preparing the child for life outside the womb.
What motivated the Supreme Court in 1973 to accept Justice Blackmun’s gratuitous claim that there was no medical consensus regarding when human life begins? Perhaps, an even more telling question is: What has prevented Americans these past 36 years from insisting that their elected representatives correct the Supreme Court’s mistaken prohibition of the right of states to protect innocent human life?
Our Constitution purposefully made it difficult to undo a decision by our highest court. Either the court has to reverse itself or the arduous task of amending the Constitution has to be successfully undertaken. A constitutional amendment requires super majorities in both the Congress and 75 percent of state Legislatures. Yet, to correct such an egregious error, why have we failed to do whatever was necessary?
The 1973 decisions of our court coincided with the so-called sexual revolution. In truth, the legalization of abortion and the resultant killing of unborn children in staggering numbers were part of the collateral damage of a war against traditional Christian morals.
Contradicting the predictions made by advocates of contraception, the number of “unwanted pregnancies” increased as contraceptives became more available and their use more prevalent. The redefinition of the meaning of sexual intimacy, attempting to uncouple it from part of its essence — the power, privilege and responsibility of participating in the creation of new human life — had enormous unintended consequences. Denying the truth that sexual intimacy can only be authentic in the marital covenant where a new human life can best be welcomed and cared for, many Americans wanted a means to dispose of what amounted to inconvenient lives. Abortion was accepted as the necessary back-up for failed contraception.
During this same period, the “entertainment industry” became a powerful influence on shaping cultural morals. Through movies, television, music and eventually the Internet, Americans, particularly young people, were bombarded with messages that the primary purpose of sexual intimacy was the experience of intense personal pleasure. The traditional Christian understanding, that the complete gift of oneself physically to another is only honest when it represents the complete gift of oneself to the other in every dimension of life as expressed in the permanent and exclusive commitment of the marriage vows, was abandoned by many.
The identification of a young person as a virgin, once a term of honor and virtue, now makes her or him a target for mockery and derision. In this sexually permissive environment, despite the promotion and availability of contraceptives, pregnancies occur at an alarming rate to couples who feel themselves completely unprepared for the responsibility of parenthood.
When their financial, educational, social and/or career plans were threatened by a child, young men were schooled that the responsible thing for them to do was to offer to help pay for the destruction of their child. Herod could be the poster boy for this ethic of male selfishness. Similarly, young women have been counseled to go against their natural maternal instincts, placing their hopes and ambitions first by authorizing the abortions of their children.
In such a hostile environment, heroically pro-life Americans have labored to provide the maximum protection permitted by our courts. They have worked hard to try to change the composition of the court. Many believe that today we are within one vote of a Supreme Court majority restoring the authority of states to protect innocent human life.
After our most recent elections, these modest but important pro-life gains have been placed in jeopardy. The new administration and the leadership of the new Congress have signaled an eagerness to pass and sign into law the so-called Freedom of Choice Act that would invalidate informed consent and parental notification statutes, bans on taxpayer-funded abortions, as well as conscience rights protections for doctors, nurses and health care institutions.
In your parish this weekend or sometime soon, you should be given the opportunity to sign postcards for your two U.S. senators and your representative in Congress, urging them to prevent the passage of the Freedom of Choice Act and any other effort to eliminate current protections for unborn children.
The people in Herod’s time did not have any ability to dissuade their king from ordering a massacre of the innocents. In contrast, our leaders are elected and serve at our pleasure. We have the ability to influence and affect their decisions.
We cannot go back in history and save the children massacred at Bethlehem. However, we can do something to try to limit the massacre of the innocents in our own time.