TESTIMONY OF TERENCE CARDINAL COOKE OF NEW YORK, CHAIRMAN,
COMMITTEE FOR PRO-LIFE ACTIVITIES, NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS
Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, November 5, 1981
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee:
I am Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York. I offer this testimony
today as Chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops. I welcome the opportunity to appear before this
Subcommittee in order to affirm once more that abortion is detrimental to our
nation, and to urge the enactment of a Constitutional Amendment rectifying that
The promotion of abortion which we have witnessed since the Supreme Court
decisions of 1973 has grave effects on the lives of individual human beings, on
families and on society itself. It has rendered defenseless before the law
millions of the unborn and has created a system of selective justice where some
members of society decide who will live and who will die.
I am, further, grateful for the opportunity to appear before you today in
fulfillment of our right to speak on matters of public policy, precisely as a
religious leader concerned with the moral and spiritual welfare of our society.
While noting the complexity of the abortion issue and agreeing that it has moral
and religious dimensions, I am convinced that legal protection for the unborn
child must be based on a respect for human dignity and fundamental human rights
commonly held by people of good will, regardless of their religious affiliation.
This conviction is not restricted to one particular religious denomination, or
to one particular theory concerning natural law, but it is at the very root of
American law. It requires that, if the laws of our government are to be
considered valid, they must recognize that human rights are grounded in human
dignity and cannot be freely bestowed and removed by government. Instead human
rights call out to be recognized because they exist prior to any particular
government. Laws which violate or ignore these rights do not truly remove them,
but instead, render themselves invalid.
I am convinced that each day that permissive abortion on demand continues to
reflect a situation of lawlessness in our country, the concept of the
acceptability of violence is reinforced, the respect for the dignity of each
human being is diminished, and the moral fiber of the nation is further
Abortion is not a victimless procedure. Every time an abortion is performed, the
developing life and future of a human being is violently destroyed. There is no
more permanent or decisive form of child abuse than the aborting of the unborn,
and yet we live in a society which has attempted to make abortion socially
acceptable by fostering an abortion mentality.
Some people in our country have even asserted that abortion is a God-given
right, an affirmative good, and have gone to great lengths to promote this
attitude toward the destruction of unborn human life. Others have insisted that
taking away the opportunity of abortion is an invasion of the privacy which
should mark the relationship between a woman and her physician. This ignores
totally the fact that there is someone else to be considered. Yes, abortion
involves a woman and her physician, but it also affects an unborn child as an
innocent third party.
Every abortion also has consequences for the future of the society in which
it takes place, for it involves moral, psychological and emotional factors which
play an important role in making up the character of that society.
All of us are concerned about the growing evidence of violence in our nation.
I am convinced that a society is doomed to violence when it allows direct
attacks on the most fundamental of all human rights, the right to life itself.
The potential for destructiveness in such actions reaches to the very roots of
our system and turns its most basic principles upside-down. The right to life is
replaced by the right to destroy. The very concept of inherent rights is
replaced by the concept of privileges bestowed by the State upon those it
considers worthy of recognition.
Ready access to abortion has failed to solve society's problems as some of
its proponents claimed it would. It has become instead a legal and social
disaster and its consequences will be felt for many years to come. We must
reverse the current policy if we are to promote the common good of all who live
in our society. Without such a reversal of policy we fear that our society's
commitment to the common good can only erode further.
The society in which we live has always placed an emphasis on family life.
The family, as the United Nations' Declaration on Human Rights says, is "the
natural and fundamental unity of society, entitled to protection by society and
the state." The family is the place where life originates and human
relationships are first experienced, where values and beliefs are found and
formed and passed on from one generation to the next.
We find ourselves now in a situation where the widespread practice of
permissive abortion brings about the rejection of the concept of protecting
family life through the ordinary means of society and the state. In addition to
denying the sanctity of human life and allowing its ultimate destruction,
abortion involves a denial of family values and parental responsibilities. It
constitutes a threat to all family relationships and so contributes to
destabilizing and weakening society itself.
In recent years, especially since the Supreme Court decisions of 1973, our
government to a large extent has failed to recognize and support the family as a
basic institution with its own roles and prerogatives. The Supreme Court and
other Federal Courts have gone beyond the promotion of permissive abortion with
decisions that have undermined various family relationships between husbands and
wives, parents and children. At the same time, notions used as a rationale in
the abortion decisions have been extended into other areas, such as the care of
the terminally ill, and used to override the role traditionally assigned to the
family as a mediating agent between the individual and the state.
Increasingly our government has come to look upon abortion simply as a matter
of private, individual choice, as a mechanism to limit population growth, or as
a way to deal with poverty or unplanned pregnancy. In doing so, government
intervenes in the internal dynamics of the family and substitutes its policies
and technical solutions for the compassion, mutual assistance, support and human
love on which family life is based.
These developments are inherent in the logic of promoting abortion, and they
underscore the need for corrective action.
In calling for a constitutional remedy, we have no intention of asking the
government to take over our own task of teaching moral principles and forming
consciences. However, the law does have a teaching function, which is exercised
by encouraging or forbidding specific actions according to their assessed impact
on the common good.
In evaluating abortion, legislators and jurists inevitably make judgments as
to the moral principles which will be reflected in the law. In a real sense,
therefore, the question now before Congress is not whether it will legislate
morality, but whether the morality reflected in the law shall respect human
life, or legitimate its destruction, along with undermining family structures
I submit that the time
come for our elected representatives, in the face of the arbitrary and
destructive action by the courts, to resume and exercise their role to protect
the common good of all, to enact legislation which embodies moral values
essential to the well-being of society and which guarantees the most basic of
all human rights, the right to life.
I join with Archbishop Roach in accepting the concept
expressed in the proposed Hatch Amendment, and I encourage it as a step in this
This approach recognizes that the constitution does not confer a right to
abortion, and it grants to the Congress and the State Legislatures the power to
legislate against the destruction of unborn life.