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America Will Not Reject Abortion Until America
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"We must mobilize public opinion against abortion."

CARDINAL BERNARDIN'S STATEMENT January 1988

In commemoration of the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's "Roe vs. Wade" decision legalizing abortion, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Archbishop of Chicago and Chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for Pro-Life Activities issued the following statement.

Fifteen years after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to legalize abortion throughout the United States, attempts to provide a principled defense of that decision are more unconvincing than ever. Advances in fetology and prenatal medicine have made it increasingly difficult to deny the unborn child's membership in the human family. Study and reflection by legal scholars have helped confirm that the court's action was a misplaced legal interpretation, which has opened the door to other problematic areas, rather than a legitimate application of constitutional principles.

But as abortion on demand is increasingly recognized as indefensible in principle it is still defended as a tragic necessity to which we must resign ourselves. Those of us who support legal protection for the unborn are dismissed as idealists who ignore the lived experience of flesh-and-blood people in our pursuit of principle. It is now argued that the Supreme Court's abortion decisions must be accepted regardless of their invalidity, simply because they have been in place long enough to become a basis for later legal developments.

Clearly one can be accused of worse things than idealism in the cause of justice. Even it abortion were more entrenched in American society than it presently is, efforts to reform that situation and to begin building a consensus in favor of protecting the defenseless would be appropriate and necessary. But it is not at all clear that the experience of the past 15 years indicates a nation resigning itself to abortion. Evidence to the contrary includes the following:

- Opinion polls indicate that opposition to abortion is as strong today as in 1973. This in itself is a remarkable commentary on a court ruling presented as defending a fundamental constitutional liberty. The court of public opinion remains unconvinced. In the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll, a majority of registered voters in both major parties favored a legal ban on abortion except in rare special circumstances.

- The experience of physicians and other health care personnel also argues against routine acceptance of abortion. In recent years the percentage of abortions in the United States performed in abortion clinics has risen, in part because hospitals and private physicians increasingly consider the practice too controversial. A study published by Planned Parenthood's research affiliate recently deplored the fact that fewer and fewer residency programs for physicians now offer abortion training as a routine part of obstetrics and gynecology residency. Noting that only a third of gynecologists perform abortions, the study quoted one residency director to the effect that "enthusiasm for abortion" is lacking among both residents and attending physicians. Following the lead of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionists and abortion clinic directors are becoming more visible as active members of the pro-life movement.

- Some abortion rights groups have claimed that the positive experience of women who have undergone abortion is the best argument in its favor. But the campaign designed to highlight this experience with the title of "Silent No More" has fallen silent. Those now breaking their silence are women who have found abortion to be a destructive reality for themselves as well as for their children who were deprived of life. The growth of post-abortion counseling and reconciliation programs, and of mutual support groups for women harmed by abortion, are testimony to this.

- Almost as tragic has been the experience of infertile couples, highlighted in the media this year after publication of the Vatican Instruction regarding the ethics of reproductive technologies. Some couples have become so desperate as to resort to harmful practices such as "surrogate motherhood" to obtain a child; often they considered adoption but were told that abortion on request has greatly reduced the number of newborn children available for adoption. The anguish of these couples belies the claim that abortion is simply eliminating "unwanted' children.

If experience is the best teacher, the experience of countless men and women confirms that abortion violates all that is best in us. By promoting further education by helping those who are tempted to resort to abortion, and by calling for legal reform, we can bring the day closer when our society will reject the destruction of innocent life as a means of resolving individual and social problems. We pray that this conversion will be all the more profound for having been won at such great cost. In a year of political choices, we can and must work together to mobilize public opinion against abortion and for a legal system which will protect innocent unborn children.

Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion

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