Brothers and Sisters,
I just learned with sorrow of the death of one of the world’s greatest pro-life advocates, Fr. Paul Marx, OSB.
Fr. Marx was, first and foremost, a priest who was not afraid to be a prophet. He knew that his mission in bearing witness to the Gospel and in fostering love of God and neighbor compelled him to speak up for our smallest neighbors, those in the first moments and weeks of life. He undertook countless initiatives, made seemingly endless trips, gave innumerable talks, wrote a warehouse of articles and books, and inspired countless people in the effort to build a Culture of Life.
I first came to know Fr. Marx through his founding and leadership of Human Life International and the remarkable conferences he held for pro-life advocates around the world. He was always a clear reminder to his brother priests that we should never be afraid to speak about abortion, contraception, and the beauty of human sexuality as taught by the Church. All of us at Priests for Life are grateful for the strong encouragement he gave to our ministry. We will pray not only for the repose of his soul, but for the continued fruit of his labors in the minds and hearts of so many people and in the policies of so many nations.
Speaking of the fruit of his labors, we are at a pivotal moment this weekend with the health care vote, and I invite you to read, spread, and quote from my open letter to Congress. Here is the link, and below is the text.
On Sunday morning, March 21, members of Congress and their spouses will hold a prayer service in the US Congress, and I have been asked to deliver a homily. The purpose of this gathering is not political or legislative, but rather religious: to express our dependence upon God as a nation. In the early days of our Republic, prayer services were held in Congress. Many have long since forgotten that, and Sunday’s service will be a reminder that worship is not incompatible with the legislative chambers of our government. Please pray along with our lawmakers, that they will have wisdom, especially as they cast the important vote on health care reform, and in all the other decisions they need to make.
Fr. Frank Pavone
Open Letter to Congress: The Health Care Vote and Abortion
March 20, 2010
Dear Members of Congress,
As you prepare to cast your vote on health care reform, abortion again has emerged as a momentous and defining issue in this debate. Some consider it a distraction or an unwanted obstacle to authentic health care reform. But the fact is that the abortion debate is bigger and more important than the health care reform debate, and the apparent inability of our nation to avoid wrestling with the abortion issue is another sign that until we resolve the abortion debate the right way, we will not be able to make the progress we need to make on health care or any other matter of social justice or human rights.
Today, therefore, along with countless other Americans, I urge you not to try to look beyond the abortion debate, but to look at it directly, to wrestle with it honestly, and to realize that it is the question that surpasses all others, because it involves the principle that underlies all others.
As a public servant, you are responsible to know the difference between serving the public and killing the public. The first responsibility of government is the protection of human life. To fail to do this is to fail to serve. To violate the right to life is to fail to protect every human right, including health care.
The service that we are all called to carry out to humanity embraces life at every stage and in every circumstance. To fail to respect a human life at any stage of its development is to break the principle that holds it sacred at every stage of its development.
That is why one may never use our duty to life at one stage to justify destroying it at another. Some have tried to do this in the health care debate, by their willingness to expand child killing in the process of helping adults get medical treatment. This approach is self defeating, because as soon as we tolerate the killing of children, we undercut every rationale to provide health care to both children and adults.
Despite the views of some in political office, abortion is not an aspect of health care. In fact, this destructive and violent act does not even deserve the name “medical procedure.” After all, a medical procedure is supposed to help the body to do what it is trying to do, but is having trouble doing. Abortion is just the opposite: it stops the body from doing what it is supposed to do and is doing very well. And in stopping the life of the child within by an unnatural and cruel method, it introduces numerous complications for the health of the mother. Abortion is not health care, it is not respectable, and it deserves the same kind of rejection by society as slavery, segregation, and terrorism.
We who are part of the vast pro-life movement in America call upon you, our legislators, and all our fellow citizens to listen carefully to what the practitioners of abortion say about the procedure itself.
Abortionist Martin Haskell, in describing, under oath, the suction curettage abortion procedure, said , “The fetus passes through the catheter and either dies in transit as it’s passing through the catheter or dies in the suction bottle after it’s actually all the way out” (1).
The same abortionist describes the D and E procedure by saying, “We would attack the lower part of the lower extremity first, remove, you know, possibly a foot, then the lower leg at the knee and then finally we get to the hip … Typically the skull is brought out in fragments rather than as a unified piece…” (2)
Abortionist Warren Hern writes in his medical textbook Abortion Practice, “A long curved Mayo scissors may be necessary to decapitate and dismember the fetus…” (p.154).
We ask you, our legislators: When you say the word abortion, is this what you mean? Is this the kind of activity you want to fund?
We in the pro-life movement also listen to and give voice to the women and men who have lost children to abortion. Their experiences, shared through the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, draw attention to the physical and psychological damage abortion does. These are voices we cannot ignore.
Some prefer to ignore, trivialize, or relativize abortion. Others, represented by the pro-life movement, declare not only that it is wrong, but that it is a show-stopper, a deal-breaker.
It is a show-stopper precisely because the principle it breaks is the show-starter for every effort and struggle on behalf of human rights, including the great experiment in freedom and self-governance that is the United States of America.
As Pope John Paul II explained, “The common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination” (3).
The United States Catholic bishops expressed it this way: “Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. … But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” — the living house of God — then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. These directly and immediately violate the human person’s most fundamental right the right to life. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand” (4).
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, when he was Archbishop of Chicago, explained “the consistent ethic of life,” showing that issues like health care are connected to issues like abortion and every other issue. He also explained, “A consistent ethic of life does not equate the problem of taking life (e.g., through abortion and in war) with the problem of promoting human dignity (through humane programs of nutrition, health care, and housing). But a consistent ethic identifies both the protection of life and its promotion as moral questions” (5) He also said, “The fundamental human right is to life—from the moment of conception until death. It is the source of all other rights, including the right to health care” (6).
Today, you stand again in the crosshairs of this debate whether you choose to or not. Some will continue to dismiss our concerns. Others will echo them, declaring that we can no more pay for the destruction of innocent children weeks after their life begins than we can do so years after their life begins.
Today, you have the opportunity to decide whether you will contribute to our nation’s blindness about abortion, or whether you will be part of a new awakening, by which our nation will see the abortion debate as the civil rights issue of our time and again apply its founding principles to its youngest citizens.
Fr. Frank Pavone,
National Director, Priests for Life
President, National Pro-life Religious Council
(1) Sworn testimony given in US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (Madison, WI, May 27, 1999, Case No. 98-C-0305-S), by Dr. Martin Haskell, an abortionist. He describes legal activity.
(2) Sworn testimony given in US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (Madison, WI, May 27, 1999, Case No. 98-C-0305-S), by Dr. Martin Haskell, an abortionist. He describes legal activity.
(3) Christifideles Laici, 1988
(4) Living the Gospel of Life n. 23, 1998
(5) A Consistent Ethic of Life: Continuing the Dialogue, The William Wade Lecture Series, St. Louis University, March 11, 1984.
(6) The Consistent Ethic of Life and Health Care Systems, Foster McGaw Triennial Conference, Loyola University of Chicago, May 8, 1985.