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Living the Gospel of Life -- Study Guide

Paragraph Five


Abortion is issue number one

This paragraph makes a key assertion that is critical to understanding the entire document, namely, that while there are many "life issues," all of which are interconnected and all of which require our active concern, abortion and euthanasia are in a special category, are "preeminent threats," and call for urgent, priority attention.

This is not the first time the bishops have made this assertion. In 1989, in their Resolution on Abortion, the bishops stated, "At this particular time, abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will. …. For us abortion is of overriding concern because it negates two of our most fundamental moral imperatives: respect for innocent life, and preferential concern for the weak and defenseless."

This theme had been set forth in the 1974 Declaration on Procured Abortion published by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which stated, "The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental - the condition of all the others."

In The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae, 1995), Pope John Paul II pointed out that there is a wide array of life issues and attacks on human dignity about which we must be actively concerned. He then, however, points to abortion and euthanasia as attacks of "another category" and of "extraordinary seriousness." He explains what he means as follows:

"It is not only that in generalized opinion these attacks tend no longer to be considered as "crimes"; paradoxically they assume the nature of "rights", to the point that the State is called upon to give them legal recognition and to make them available through the free services of health-care personnel. Such attacks strike human life at the time of its greatest frailty, when it lacks any means of self-defence. Even more serious is the fact that, most often, those attacks are carried out in the very heart of and with the complicity of the family—the family which by its nature is called to be the 'sanctuary of life' (n.11).

The Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities of the US Bishops has always pointed out the priority of abortion, and the most recent version of the plan (2001: A Campaign in Support of Life) explains it this way:

"Among important issues involving the dignity of human life with which the Church is concerned, abortion necessarily plays a central role. Abortion, the direct killing of an innocent human being, is always gravely immoral (The Gospel of Life, no. 57); its victims are the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human family. It is imperative that those who are called to serve the least among us give urgent attention and priority to this issue of justice.
"This focus and the Church's commitment to a consistent ethic of life complement one another. A consistent ethic of life, which explains the Church's teaching at the level of moral principle—far from diminishing concern for abortion and euthanasia or equating all issues touching on the dignity of human life—recognizes instead the distinctive character of each issue while giving each its proper place within a coherent moral vision."

Yes, it's killing

The bishops point out in this paragraph that "supporters of abortion and euthanasia freely concede that these are killing even as they promote them." We have provided here a few of the many examples proving that statement:

  • In 1963, before Planned Parenthood publicly supported abortion, it stated, "An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to the life your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it." [Planned Parenthood ~ World Population, Plan Your Children for Health and Happiness, 1963]
  • Thomas Emerson, the Yale professor who argued Planned Parenthood’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, insisted that recognition of a contraception privacy right would not threaten any state’s anti-abortion legislation. There was a difference, he said, because abortion involves "killing a life in being" [N.E.H. Hull and Peter Charles Hoffer, Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, October 2001)]
  • In 1997, Faye Wattleton, former president of PPFA, said "I think we have deluded ourselves into believing that people don’t know that abortion is killing. So any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus, but it is the woman’s body, and therefore, ultimately her choice." [Ms., May/June 1997]
  • on the Phil Donahue show, when former director, Faye Wattleton responded to the statement: "It's not a frog or a ferret that's being killed. It's a baby," with "I am fully aware of that. I am fully aware of that." (Donahue Transcript # 3288, 1991)
  • "...The abortion-rights folks know it, the anti-abortion folks know it, and so probably, does everyone else. One of the facts of abortion is that women enter abortion clinics to kill their fetuses. It is a form of killing're ending a life." Ron Fitzsimmons, Executive Director, National Coalition of Abortion Providers, New York Times, 26 February 1997
  • "After 20 weeks (4-½ months) where it frankly is a child to me, I really agonize over it. ... On the other hand, I have another position, which I think is superior in the hierarchy of questions, and that is: 'Who owns the child?' It's got to be the mother." -- Abortionist James McMahon, interview with American Medical News, July 5, 1993.
  • "While abortion takes life, it enables life to reproduce itself successfully, not on nature’s terms but on human terms," writes Alexander Sanger in his recent book, "BEYOND CHOICE: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century" (New York: Public Affairs, 2004). "The unborn child is not just an innocent life. While it is the epitome of human destiny and the greatest potential joy that humanity can create, it is also a liability, a threat, and a danger to the mother and to the other members of the family. In order to survive, humanity has necessarily taken pre-born life to preserve other life all throughout its evolutionary history."
  • "Abortion always has been and continues to be another way of choosing death over life….It is morally acceptable that a woman who gives life may also destroy life under certain circumstances….As Artemis might kill a wounded animal rather than allow it to limp along miserably, so a mother wishes to spare the child a painful destiny." (Ginette Paris, The Sacrament of Abortion, Dallas: Spring Publications, 1992, pp.51-56).
  • [Euthanasia] "Active euthanasia. Taking steps to end your life, as in suicide…If you wish to deliberately leave this world, then active euthanasia is your only avenue…[W]hether you bring your life to an abrupt end, and how you achieve this, is entirely your responsibility…(Derek Humphrey, "Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying," Eugene, OR: The Hemlock Society, 1991, pp.20-21).

Discussion Questions

Why do we need to be concerned about many different issues?

Why are abortion and euthanasia more urgent problems than other attacks on life?

Do you find it surprising that some people will promote abortion while at the same time admitting that it kills a child?

Further Reading

Click here for article by feminist Naomi Wolf, Our Bodies, Our Souls, calling on supporters of abortion to be honest about what it is.

Click here to see the US Bishops' web page regarding the priority of the right to life as a concern of the Church.

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