Abortion & Politics

The stupendous American question of the 19th century was whether black slaves were legal persons entitled to the protection of the law or whether they were merely the property of their owners who could dispose of their lives as they wished. The equivalent question of our time is whether fetuses are legal persons entitled to the protection of the law or whether they are merely the property of their mothers to be disposed of as their mothers wish. It is THE controlling question of our day; it will not “go away”. It confronts us — demanding our response in protecting all human life, particularly in its most defenseless and powerless form both at life’s beginning and at life’s ending. The constitutional issue is: “When does a human life become a constitutionally and legally protected person, a person whose right to live is balanced with other living human persons? All of our rights to choose must be seen within that context. FAITH Magazine’s recent article on Jennifer Granholm has caused considerable concern among Catholic people who are terribly upset that her public position is one that allows women freedom of choice with respect to whether or not they may obtain abortions. The controversy is compounded by the conviction on the part of many that since Ms. Granholm is “pro-choice” she is therefore ipso facto pro-abortion. How, they ask, can a Catholic publication, and FAITH Magazine in particular, publish an article describing her faith-journey without negatively commenting on her public policy position, one in which she states that she is against abortion but would allow women to choose to have abortions? The problem, it seems to me, lies in the overlap that connects two principal Church teachings. We present here two principal “rivers” of Church teaching and a few reflective remarks in conclusion. TEACHING #1: Catholicism is, in fact, “pro-choice”! It teaches that one’s salvation hangs upon one’s freely chosen actions and beliefs. Moral choices can never be coerced, they must be freely held by the individual’s personal choice. There are many Catholic authorities who have repeatedly taught this down through the centuries, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council to mention only a few. The true question is “freedom of choice to do what?” To argue over “freedom of choice” is to miss the point. WHAT is being chosen is the crux of the matter. Of equal importance is to ask what consequences flow from that choice. Thus, while it remains true that one’s choice cannot be coerced, certain choices (such as ownership of slaves) can be proscribed. PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD GAUDIUM ET SPES PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS, POPE PAUL VI ON DECEMBER 7, 1965 “For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. The sexual characteristics of man and the human faculty of reproduction wonderfully exceed the dispositions of lower forms of life. Hence the acts themselves which are proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity must be honored with great reverence. All should be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it are not realities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot be measured or perceived only in terms of it, but always have a bearing on the eternal destiny of men.” (Italics added) TEACHING #2: Human life is present from the moment of conception. It therefore demands respect given to all human life. And it deserves protection, particularly because it is utterly defenseless in its earliest stages of existence. Countless Church teachers and theologians present us with the moral imperative to protect human life from its conception forward through life to natural death. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD OF HOPE, by His Holiness John Paul II (1994) WHAT IS THE USE OF BELIEVING? “Today, many who have been formed–or deformed–by a sort of pragmatism and a utilitarianism, seem to ask: “When all is said and done, what is the use of believing? Does faith offer something more? Isn’t it possible to live an honest upright life without bothering to take the Gospel seriously?” To such a question one could respond very succinctly: The usefulness of faith is not comparable to any good, not even one of a moral nature. The Church, in fact, has never denied that even a nonbeliever could perform good and noble actions. Everyone can easily agree with this. The value of faith cannot be explained, even though efforts are often made to do so, by merely stressing its usefulness for human morality. Rather, one could say that the basic usefulness of faith lies precisely in the fact that a person believes and entrusts himself. By believing and entrusting ourselves, in fact, we respond to God’s word. His word does not fall into a void, but returns to Him, having borne fruit, as was said very effectively in the Book of Isaiah (cf. Is 55:11). Nevertheless, God absolutely does not want to force us to respond to His word. In this regard, the Council’s teaching, and especially the Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, is particularly important. It would be worthwhile to quote and analyze the entire Declaration. Instead, perhaps quoting a few phrases will do: “And all human beings” we read, “are bound to search for the truth, especially with regard to God and His Church, and as they come to know it they are bound to adhere to the truth and pay homage to it” (Dignitatis Humanae 1). What the Council emphasizes here, above all, is the dignity of man. The text continues: “Motivated by their dignity, all human beings, inasmuch as they are individuals endowed with reason and free will, and thus invested with personal responsibility, are bound by both their nature and by moral duty to search for the truth, above all religious truth. And once they come to know it they are bound to adhere to it and to arrange their entire lives according to the demands of such truth” (Dignitatis Humanae 2). “The way in which the truth is sought, however, must be in keeping with man’s dignity and his social nature–that is, by searching freely, with the help of instruction or education… through communication and dialogue” (Dignitatis Humanae 3). As these passages show, the Council treats human freedom very seriously and appeals to the inner imperative of the conscience in order to demonstrate that the answer, given by man to God and to His word through faith, is closely connected with his personal dignity. Man cannot be forced to accept the truth. He can be drawn toward the truth only by his own nature, that is, by his own freedom, which commits him to search sincerely for truth and, when he finds it, to adhere to it both in his convictions and in his behavior. This has always been the teaching of the Church. But even before that, it was the teaching that Christ Himself exemplified by His actions. It is from this perspective that the second part of the Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom should be reread. There, perhaps, you will find the answer to your question. It is an answer that echoes the teachings of the Fathers and the theological tradition from Saint Thomas Aquinas to John Henry Newman. The Council mere reaffirms what has always been the Church’s conviction. The position of Saint Thomas is, in fact, well known: He is so consistent in his respect for conscience that he maintains that it is wrong for one to make an act of faith in Christ if in one’s conscience one is convinced, however absurdly, that it is wrong to carry out such an act (cf. Summa Theologiae 1-2.19. 5). If man is admonished by his conscience-even if an erroneous conscience, but one whose voice appears to him as unquestionably true-he must always listen to it. What is not permissible is that he culpably indulge in error without trying to reach the truth. If Newman places conscience above authority, he is not proclaiming anything new with respect to the constant teaching of the Church, The conscience, as the Council teaches, “is man’s sanctuary and most secret core, where he finds himself alone with God, whose voice resounds within him… In loyalty to conscience Christians unite with others in order to search for the truth and to resolve, according to this truth, the many moral problems which arise in the life of individuals as well as in the life of society. Therefore, the more a good conscience prevails the more people and social groups move away from blind willfulness and endeavor to conform to the objective norms of moral behavior. Nonetheless, it often happens that conscience errs through invincible ignorance, without, for this reason, losing its dignity. But this cannot be said of the man who does very little to search for truth and good, or when through the habit of sin conscience itself becomes almost blind” (Gaudium et Spes 16). It is difficult not to be struck by the profound internal consistency of the Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. In the light of its teaching, we can say that the essential usefulness of faith consists in the fact that, through faith, man achieves the good of his rational nature. And he achieves it by giving his response to God, as is his duty–a duty not only to God, but also to himself. Christ did everything in order to convince us of the importance of this response. Man is called upon to give this response with inner freedom so that it will radiate that veritatis splendor so essential to human dignity. Christ committed the Church to act in the same way. This is why its history is so full of protests against all those who attempted to force faith, “making conversions by the sword.” In this regard, it must be remembered that the Spanish theologians in Salamanca took a clear stance in opposition to violence committed against the native peoples of America, the indios, under the pretext of converting them to Christianity. Even earlier, in the same spirit the Academy of Kraków issued at the Council of Constance in 1414 a condemnation of the violence perpetrated against the Baltic under a similar pretext. Christ certainly desires faith. He desires it of man and he desires it for man. To people seeking miracles from Him He would respond: “Your faith has saved you” (cf. Mk 10:52). The case of the Canaanite woman is particularly touching. At first it seems as if Jesus does not want to hear her request that He help her daughter, almost as if he wanted to provoke her moving profession of faith “For even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters” (Mt 15:27). He puts the foreign woman to the test in order to be able then to say: “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Mt 15:28). Christ wants to awaken faith in human hearts. He wants them to respond to the word of the Father, but He wants this in full respect for human dignity. In the very search for faith an implicit faith is already present, and therefore the necessary condition for salvation is already satisfied.” THE DEFENSE OF EVERY LIFE Among the rights you mentioned, those which might “make us uneasy,” foremost is the right to life, which must be defended from the moment of conception. This is also an issue which is frequently and forcefully raised in your teaching. Your repeated condemnation of any legalization of abortion has even been defined as “obsessive” by certain cultural and political factions which hold that “humanitarian reasons” are on their side-the side that has led governments to permit abortion. ———————————————– “For man, the right to life is the fundamental right. And yet, a part of contemporary culture has wanted to deny that right, turning it into an “uncomfortable” right, one that has to be defended. But there is no other right that so closely affects the very existence of the person! The right to life means the right to be born and then continue to live until one’s natural end: “As long as I live, I have the right to live.” The question of conceived and unborn children is a particularly delicate yet clear problem. The legalization of the termination of pregnancy is none other than the authorization given to an adult, with the approval of an established law, to take the lives of children yet unborn and thus incapable of defending themselves. It is difficult to imagine a more unjust situation, and it is very difficult to speak of obsession in a matter such as this, where we are dealing with a fundamental imperative of every good conscience–the defense of the right to life of an innocent and defenseless human being. Often the question is presented as a woman’s right to free choice regarding the life already existing inside her, that she carries in her womb: the woman should have the right to choose between giving life or taking it away from the unborn child. Anyone can see that the alternative here is only apparent. It is not possible to speak of the right to choose when a clear moral evil is involved, when what is at stake is the commandment Do not kill! Might this commandment allow of exception? The answer in and of itself is no since even the hypothesis of legitimate defense, which never concerns an innocent but always and only an unjust aggressor, must respect the principle that moralists call the principium inculpatae tutelae (the principle of nonculpable defense). In order to be legitimate, that “defense” must be carried out in a way that causes the least damage and, if possible, saves the life of the aggressor. This is not the case with an unborn child. A child conceived in its mother’s womb is never an unjust aggressor; it is a defenseless being that is waiting to be welcomed and helped. It is necessary to recognize that, in this context, we are witnessing true human tragedies. Often the woman is the victim of male selfishness, in the sense that the man, who has contributed to the conception of the new life, does not want to be burdened with it and leaves the responsibility to the woman, as if it were “her fault” alone. So, precisely when the woman most needs the man’s support, he proves to be a cynical egotist, capable of exploiting her affection or weakness, yet stubbornly resistant to any sense of responsibility for his own action. These are problems that are well known not only in confessionals, but also in courts throughout the world and more and more these days, in courts that deal with minors. Therefore, in firmly rejecting “pro choice” it is necessary to become courageously “pro woman,” promoting choice that is truly in favor of women. It is precisely the woman, in fact, who pays the highest price, not only for her motherhood, but even more for its destruction, for the suppression of the life of the child who has been conceived. The only honest stance, in these cases, is that of radical solidarity with the woman. It is not right to leave her alone. The experiences of many counseling centers show that the woman does not want to suppress the life of the child she carries within her. If she is supported in this attitude, and if at the same time she is freed from the intimidation of those around her, then she is even capable of heroism. As I have said, numerous counseling centers are witness to this, as are, in a special way, houses for teenage mothers. It seems, therefore, that society is beginning to develop a more mature attitude in this regard, even if there are still many self-styled “benefactors” who claim to “help” women by liberating them from the prospect of motherhood. We find ourselves here before a very delicate situation, both from the point of view of human rights and from a moral and pastoral point of view. All of these aspects are intertwined. I have always observed this to be the case in my own life and in my ministry as a priest, as a diocesan bishop, and then as the successor to Peter, with all the responsibility that this office entails. Therefore, I must repeat that I categorically reject every accusation or suspicion concerning the Pope’s alleged “obsession” with this issue. We are dealing with a problem of tremendous importance, in which all of us must show the utmost responsibility and vigilance. We cannot afford forms of permissiveness that would lead directly to the trampling of human rights, and also to the complete destruction of values which are fundamental not only for the lives of individuals and families but for society itself. Isn’t there a sad truth in the powerful expression culture of death? Obviously, the opposite of the culture of death is not and cannot be a program of irresponsible global population growth. The rate of population growth needs to be taken into consideration. The right path is that which the Church calls responsible parenthood; this is taught by the Church’s family counseling programs. Responsible parenthood is the necessary condition for human love, and it is also the necessary condition for authentic conjugal love, because love cannot be irresponsible. Its beauty is the fruit of responsibility. When love is truly responsible, it is also truly free. This is precisely the teaching I learned from the encyclical Humanae Vitae written by my venerable predecessor Paul VI, and that I had learned even earlier from my young friends, married and soon to be married, while I was writing Love and Responsibility. As I have said, they themselves were my teachers in this area. It was they, men and women alike, who made a creative contribution to the pastoral care of family, to pastoral efforts on behalf of responsible parenthood, to the foundation of counseling programs, which subsequently flourished. The principal activity and primary commitment of these programs is to foster human love. In them, responsibility for human love has been and continues to be lived out. The hope is that this responsibility will never be lacking in any place or in any person; that this responsibility will never be lacking in legislators, teachers, or pastors. How many little-known people there are whom I would like to mention here and express my deepest gratitude for their generous commitment and great dedication! In their lives we find confirmation of the Christian and of the personalistic truth about man, who becomes fully himself to the extent that he gives himself as a free gift to others. From the counseling programs we must turn to the universities. I have in mind the schools that I know and the institutions to whose founding I have contributed. I am thinking here in particular of the chair of ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin, as well as the institute erected there after my departure, under the direction of my closest collaborators and disciples-in particular Father Tadeusz Styczen and Father Andrzej Szostek. The concept of “person” is not only a marvelous theory; it is at the center of the human ethos. I must also recall the analogous institute created at the Lateran University in Rome, which has already been the inspiration for similar initiatives in the United States, in Mexico, in Chile, and in other countries. The most effective way to be at the service of the truth of responsible parenthood is to show its ethical and anthropological foundations. In this field more than in any other, collaboration among pastors, biologists, and physicians is indispensable. I cannot dwell here on contemporary thinkers, but I must mention at least one name–Emmanuel Lévinas, who represents a particular school of contemporary personalism and of the philosophy of dialogue. Like Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, he takes up the personalistic tradition of the Old Testament, where the relationship between the human “I” and the divine, absolutely sovereign “THOU” is so heavily emphasized. God, who is the supreme Legislator, forcefully enjoined on Sinai the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” as an absolute moral imperative. Lévinas, who, like his co-religionists, deeply experienced the tragedy of the Holocaust, offers a remarkable formulation of this fundamental commandment of the Decalogue–for him, the face reveals the person. This philosophy of the face is also found in the Old Testament: in the Psalms, and in the writings of the Prophets, there are frequent references to “seeking God’s face” (cf. Ps 26[27]:8). It is through his face that man speaks, and in particular, every man who has suffered a wrong speaks and says the words “Do not kill me!” The human face and the commandment “Do not kill” are ingeniously joined in Lévinas, and thus become a testimony for our age, in which governments, even democratically elected governments, sanction executions with such ease. Perhaps it is better to say no more than this about such a painful subject.” Pope John Paul II A REFLECTION: We all have a duty to form our consciences according to the truth and those external realities that of necessity have their claims upon us. We are not sovereign and independent individual monarchies. We necessarily live in families and societies, external realities that demand our conformity the rights of others. It is (at the very least) ironic that post-moderns claim “nothing is absolute” but yet insist that one’s freedom of choice is absolute! But is it? Am I not deprived of my freedom of choice to own a black slave? Am I not deprived of the freedom to smoke cigarettes in certain places? To run red lights? The freedom not to pay income taxes? Evidently, personal and individual freedom of choice is far from being an absolute. And likewise Roe v. Wade far from being an absolute! Nowhere in that infamous and fatally flawed Supreme Court decision is it stated that a woman has an absolute right to have an abortion. The opinion constantly references its strange and medically absurd trimester categories to an overarching “compelling state interest” in the human life that is being taken. Do not any (and all!) laws limit our individual freedom of choice? Of course they do! The pro-choice popular dogma is in fact a myth, a false shibboleth that’s trotted out and used only when convenient. At the same time, it is quite clear to all that any person, male or female, who aspires to run for high office as a Democrat cannot do so unless they openly declare they are in favor of a woman’s personal right to have an abortion for any reason whatsoever. The question that presents itself is: “Can anyone running for political office at this time be “pro-life” and silent with regard to this issue that is so central to the nature of human life itself?”