by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past Sunday, Oct. 1, was Respect Life Sunday, inaugurating the 45th annual Respect Life Month as designated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
This annual educational and awareness program was initiated a few months before the Jan. 22, 1973, U.S. Supreme Court decisions (Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton) that struck down every existing state and federal protection for unborn children.
Is Respect Life Month exclusively about the church’s opposition to abortion? No. The respect life ethic of the Catholic Church includes a wide range of social issues, such as opposition to: 1) euthanasia; 2) assisted suicide; 3) in vitro fertilization; 4) sterilization; 5) racism; and 6) capital punishment. Our life ethic includes as well the promotion of: 1) natural family planning; 2) pastoral care for refugees and migrants; 3) inclusion of those with disabilities; 4) charitable efforts to assist the poor; 5) assistance to those facing an untimely pregnancy; 6) the availability and accessibility of health care for all; 7) proactive efforts to reduce urban violence; and 8) educational opportunities for urban youth, etc.
The Catholic Church’s respect life efforts are aimed at upholding the sacredness of each and every human life, while at the same time promoting the dignity of the human person wherever it is threatened.
It is important to appreciate the breadth and depth of the church’s respect life efforts. At the same time, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has identified abortion as the most significant human rights issue of our time. Why? The following are some of the reasons:
1) The sheer numbers make it a priority. Over one million children are aborted annually in the United States. Nearly 60 million U.S. children have been aborted since 1973.
2) Each abortion not only destroys the life of an innocent and defenseless child, but it scars emotionally and spiritually the mother and father of the child.
3) Our public policy places the entire responsibility for the abortion decision upon the mother. These women are often under tremendous pressure from the father of the child, her parents, her friends, etc., to have an abortion.
4) The father, if he does oppose the abortion, is completely powerless to protect his unborn child. This makes some men consider themselves failed fathers, because they were impotent to defend their children.
5) Abortion destroys the most fundamental of human relationships, namely that of parent and child. The family is meant to be the place where children are protected and nurtured. Abortion pits the welfare of mothers against their children, rather than recognizing that the well-being of mother and child are inextricably entwined.
6) Abortion clinic personnel are profoundly wounded by their participation in the killing of innocent children in the womb. The testimonies of those formerly in the abortion industry (e.g., Abbey Johnson, Ramona Trevino, Dr. Beverly McMillan and Dr. Bernard Nathanson) reveal the profundity of these wounds.
The Catholic Church’s strategy for reducing, if not eliminating, the culture of death’s greatest symptom (the abortion of more than one million unborn American children each year) is holistic and multidimensional.
First and foremost, we must pray. Pray for a change of heart for those who support legalized abortion. Pray that individuals considering an abortion find the help and support they need to choose life for their child. Pray for wisdom, courage and perseverance in our respect life efforts.
Secondly, we must educate, educate and educate. We must attempt to reach the minds and hearts of those who consider themselves to be pro-choice. Creating a culture of life is not primarily about enacting laws. It is about changing one mind and one heart at a time. Technology and science are on our side. Ultrasound imaging has created a window into the womb that makes it difficult to deny the humanity of the unborn child.
Third, we must surround with love those considering an abortion. Children that we cannot protect by laws at this time, we can rescue with love.
The work of pregnancy resource centers —such as Advice and Aid in Johnson County, the Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic, Mary’s Choice in Topeka and Birthright in Leavenworth — not only provide care for women through their pregnancy, they accompany their clients for several years after the birth to help these families not just survive but thrive.
Equally important is our Project Rachel ministry that provides assistance to those wounded from a past abortion to discover the pathway to healing and reconciliation.
Finally, we need to engage in public advocacy for the restoration of legal protection for the unborn. We must change our public policies that give legal authorization for abortion. The law not only permits abortion, but it teaches that abortion is an ethical choice. There is no other instance where our laws permit the killing of innocent human life. Young people especially interpret this to mean that unborn children are somehow subhumans.
I encourage and challenge each member of the Archdiocese to make a commitment to do something to help our church’s efforts to build a civilization of love and a culture of life.
Minimally, we can all pray during October for a renewed respect for human life in our nation. Next week, I will provide some concrete suggestions of how each of us can help to renew respect for human life and promote the dignity of the human person — not just during October, but throughout the year. Stay tuned.