On July 21, Priests for Life (PFL), a national association of catholic priests committed to a vision of respect for every human life, ran a full-page ad in the New York Times. A few days earlier, Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of PFL, made some remarks to the press at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Fr. Pavone began by calling attention to the following documents of the Catholic Church on matters relating to abortion. That is, the U.S. Bishop's statement, Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics (Nov. 1998) and the statement Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a new Millennium (USCC Administrative Board, Sept. 1999). Underlying this call is the teaching of the Catholic Church in the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: "At all times and in all places, the Church should have the true freedom to teach the faith, to proclaim its teaching about society, to carry out its task among men without hindrance and to pass moral judgments even in matters relating to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it."
In this light, PFL have an urgent message for American voters, candidates for public office and lawmakers.
To American voters, PFL's message is not to control their vote, but rather to urge them to make an informed choice, one aware of the implications of their choice, including the moral and spiritual implications. With this in mind, PFL has the responsibility to instruct voters "on the moral principles that should inform their voting decisions." The most basic of all human rights is the right to life. Surely, then, candidates for public office and their policies should be evaluated first and foremost on how they impact human life and dignity. Of course, abortion is not the only issue we should measure against this standard. Yet, abortion is the premier human rights issue of our day. "Abortion is a violent act that destroys a human being. We call upon those who do not admit this to demonstrate the contrary and upon those who do admit it, but would still defend it, to demonstrate why legalized abortion does not violate our nation's recognition (in the Declaration of Independence) of the unalienable right to life and of equality before the law."
"We are not speaking here," adds Fr. Pavone, "about imposing religious beliefs by law, but rather about defending (the) value (of human life) that is as fundamental to the state as it is to the Church." The Church teaches that human life itself must be valued, but this doesn't make this proposition a Catholic issue. Rather, that human life itself must be valued is a matter of the fundamental rights of the human person. The Church also teaches that stealing or murder is wrong. Does that mean non-Christians are at liberty to steal or murder, or that laws against stealing or murder involve imposing religious beliefs on the nation?
Of course not: "Abortion not only contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church, but it contradicts the Gospel, as well as the principles of the Declaration of Independence. To supporters of abortion who profess a faith other than Christianity, or profess no faith at all, we say that your position contradicts the Declaration of Independence and its assertion that we all have an inalienable right to life." To those self-professed Protestant Christians who would allow abortion, or worse, even actively support it as a positive good, we say, "Stop being a scandal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ." To those self-professed Catholic Christians who do the same, especially in their role as public servants, we add the Bishop's words, "We urge those Catholic officials who choose to depart from Church teaching oft the inviolability of human life in their public life to consider the consequences for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin. We call on them to reflect on the grave contradiction of assuming public roles and presenting themselves as credible Catholics when their actions on fundamental issues of human life are not in agreement with Church teaching. No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support, direct attacks on innocent human life."
As Christians, it makes no sense to say that one is "personally opposed" to abortion while supporting its legality and even public funding. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, "One of the gravest errors for our time is the dichotomy between the faith that many profess and the practice in our daily lives." To those who say they don't support abortion as such, but merely support the woman's freedom to choose (abortion), we say this view implies that abortion is something quite right for women to choose. Choosing abortion could not, evidently, be wrong, because we are not at liberty to choose that which is wrong. Besides, "abortion is no more a matter of 'freedom of choice' than slavery a matter of 'property rights' or segregation a matter of 'freedom of association"' (Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University).
Finally, PFL appeals to the media on two counts. One, why don't you show the American people what abortion is? Why not ask abortion supporters to defend their claim that so-called fetal life has no value? Isn't medical science firmly on the side of the life of the unborn child? What do ultrasound and genetic screening, indeed, fetal surgery clearly show but simply that every unborn child is a distinct, unified, self-integrating organism? If this is true, why not challenge abortion supporters to argue against the biological fact that the unborn child is fully human?
Furthermore, why not challenge them to show how a late-term abortion is not killing an infant? Why not ask them to defend the claim that the "choice" between giving birth and abortion is morally neutral, just a matter of opinion? Moreover, why not ask the to explain how the absolute freedom to choose abortion is compatible with even the slightest respect for the life of the unborn child? Shouldn't life itself be valued rather than carelessly thrown away?
When are we going to see and act on the insight that, as Father Pavone says, "When our laws permit violence against little babies, incidents like the Columbine High School shootings are the logical outcome(?)"
Two, because PFL is pro-child and pro-woman, it appeals to the media to repeat the offer it makes to any woman anywhere, regardless of her ethnic, racial or religious background. "If she is pregnant and feels unable to continue that pregnancy, she can come us, to our Churches, to me personally and we will see to it that she and her child receive all the help they need. And to anyone who suffers the pain and grief that follow abortion, we declare that the doors of the Church are open. We are ready to assist you to find the forgiveness, healing and peace that you seek."