The decision of the U. S. Supreme Court in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services provides reason to hope that our nation is moving toward a time when unborn children will again enjoy the protection of law. The Court recognized states' legitimate interest in protecting prenatal life and their authority to adopt laws favoring childbirth over abortion. The Court indicated that a state's interest in protecting life might well exist throughout pregnancy, not only after viability. We are encouraged by this.
Yet abortion on demand remains our nation's legal policy because the 1973 Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion throughout pregnancy have not been overturned. Because of those decisions many citizens believe that women have a moral right to abort their unborn children. This has led to erosion of respect for the right to life, which is bestowed by the Creator and cannot legitimately be denied by any nation or court. More than one and a half million unborn children in the United States continue to die each year by abortion, and increasing numbers of women suffer abortion's physical, emotional and spiritual pain. Often they suffer alone, deserted by men unwilling to acknowledge their own responsibilities as fathers.
Most Americans believe that abortion should be illegal except in certain limited circumstances; an overwhelming majority agrees that unmarried minors should not obtain abortions without parental knowledge or consent. Nonetheless, pro-abortion or so-called "pro-choice" groups have mounted a campaign to convince legislators and others that Americans want abortion on demand. These organizations have formed new political arms and have intensified efforts to defeat politicians who do not support permissive abortion. Because of the critical importance of the issue and the need for a timely response, we wish to reaffirm our conviction that all human life is sacred whether born or unborn. With the Second Vatican Council we declare that "from the moment of conception life must be guarded with the greatest care, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes" (Gaudium et Spes, para. 51).
As leaders of the Catholic community in the United States, we acknowledge our right and responsibility to help establish laws and social policies protecting the right to life of unborn children, providing care and services for women and children, and safeguarding human life at every stage and in every circumstance. At this particular time, abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will. The duty to respect life in all its stages and especially in the womb is evident when one appreciates the unborn child's membership in our human family, and the grave consequences of denying moral or legal status to any class of human beings because of their age or condition of dependency.
We who revere human life as created in the image and likeness of God have all the more reason to take a stand. 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. As we said three years ago in reaffirming our Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: "Because victims of abortion are the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human family, it is imperative that we, as Christians called to serve the least among us, give urgent attention and priority to this issue. Our concern is intensified by the realization that a policy and practice allowing over one and a half million abortions annually cannot but diminish respect for life in other areas." No Catholic can responsibly take a "pro-choice" stand when the "choice" in question involves the taking of innocent human life.
We therefore call upon Catholics to commit themselves vigorously to the implementation of all three elements of the Pastoral Plan—an education and public information effort, pastoral care for pregnant women and their children, and a public policy program in defense of human life in all its stages, especially the unborn. Our long and short range public policy goals include: (1) constitutional protection for the right to life of unborn children to the maximum degree possible; (2) federal and state laws and administrative policies that restrict support for and the practice of abortion; (3) continual refinement and ultimate reversal of Supreme Court and other court decisions that deny the inalienable right to life; (4) supportive legislation to provide morally acceptable alternatives to abortion, and social policy initiatives which provide support to pregnant women for prenatal care and extended support for low-income women and their children. We urge public officials, especially Catholics, to advance these goals in recognition of their moral responsibility to protect the weak and defenseless among us.
Our concern about the national debate on the legal dimension of this vital issue should not distract us from the continuing need within our own community to educate, to form, to encourage people on life issues, most specifically, the right to life of the unborn. This right of the unborn to life demands legal protection and we will continue to insist on this. At the same time we recognize, as we rightfully engage in this debate, that we must hear the issues the struggles, and the anguish of women who face issues in a way that we never will. As we continue to teach clearly and forcefully the moral evil of abortion, we must also—as our Pastoral Plan suggests—speak to them a word of understanding and encouragement, a word of solidarity and support. Both in word and deed, we must inspire the entire community to help carry the burdens of all our sisters in need.
Above all, we ask people to commit themselves to daily prayer and sacrifice so that our nation might soon witness the end of the scourge of abortion. We continue to ask God's merciful assistance, without which we labor in vain. May the patroness of our nation, Mary, the Mother of God, who herself said "yes" to life, intercede before her son for the restoration of respect for all human life in our day.
Resolution adopted unanimously by the U.S. Catholic bishops at their annual meeting in November 1989.