A Unique Poverty

 

Fr. Frank Pavone

 
  7/19/1999
 

In Living the Gospel of Life, our bishops describe abortion as a preeminent threat to human dignity. One of the reasons, they point out, is that it is committed against the weakest and most defenseless.

It is obvious that these children cannot speak for themselves. They cannot organize a "movement," and they can't even pray. After all, if someone is attacked and unable to call for help, he or she can still pray. The unborn can't.

Yet there is another aspect to the weakness, the poverty of the unborn that deserves more attention. It is a weakness in their ability to make a psychological impact on us.

When teens are shot in schools, or people die in an airline disaster, or troops go into war, prayer services are held all over the place. Petitions appear in the General Intercessions at Mass, and expressions of concern appear in the bulletin...as they should.

Yet when the same number of babies are killed by abortion every few minutes, there is no comparison in the reaction. Instead, in some quarters, objections are raised about even mentioning the fact.

Where is the disconnect here?

Part of this problem, despite the advancement of imaging techniques that introduce us to the unborn, is "out of sight, out of mind." But the problem is even deeper. Much of it has to do with the dynamics of pain and denial. Some of it has to do with how we respond to moral values.

On a moral level, we can acknowledge readily enough that all human beings are equal and that, in this sense, the taking of a human life is as much of a tragedy in one situation as in another. Considering the moral good being attacked -- human life -- the age of the human being does not make a difference.

But psychologically, there is a big difference, and the unborn are on the losing end of the deal. While their death will have a devastating impact on the mother and father (and others in the family) who will experience some form of post-abortion distress, Why, nevertheless, does their death make less of an impact on us and on society overall?

Well, we haven't yet named them or heard their voices...There are no memorable experiences we have shared with them, or bonds of friendship that make their passing so hard to take. Except maybe for some ultrasounds, we have not seen them. Nor have we begun to experience the special, unique features of the personality of each one, or the early signs of the promising contributions they can make to society and history. Because of all this, their loss has less of an emotional price tag.

Here, then, is the challenge for us: Will we respond to the destruction of a moral good based primarily on its psychological aspect or rather based primarily on its moral aspect?

If the former, then the destruction of the unborn will continue to receive less attention than the (morally equivalent) destruction of their older brothers and sisters.