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A Word from Bishop Higi Archives

Bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana

Jan. 22: a date that lives in infamy


(Now and Forever)

 For all who value life from conception to natural death, Jan. 22 is a date that lives in infamy. It was on that date in 1973 that the Supreme Court of the United States handed down two infamous decisions: Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton. As a result, “no significant barriers of any kind whatsoever exist today in the United States for a woman to obtain an abortion for any reason during any stage of pregnancy” (1983 Senate Judiciary Committee Report).

Abortion is a violation of human rights, incomparable in magnitude, and an atrocity for the human family (Statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade). Yet it remains legal in the United States throughout pregnancy. A surprising number of people do not seem to understand the “throughout pregnancy” reality. While Roe vs. Wade appeared to create some limitations, Doe vs. Bolton, which was decided on the same day, erased those limitations by creating a “health” exception so broad that it effectively allows abortion for any reason, including the most common: “can’t afford a baby now” and “unready for the responsibility.”

Efforts to restrict abortion most often are struck down because they do not contain a “health provision.” But, as a result of Doe vs. Bolton, that inclusion in effect renders restrictions meaningless.

The lack of any limits to legal abortion was never clearer than in the case of Stenberg vs. Carhart in 2000, when the Supreme Court ruled that even the horrific partial-birth abortion procedure could not be restricted.

There does seem to be a changing climate. The widespread use of ultrasound imaging underlines the fact that a fetus in fact is an unborn child. A baby’s heartbeat can be detected at 21 to 22 days. Brain waves are recordable at 40 days. Partial-birth abortion, too, has horrified the public and demonstrated how extreme U.S. abortion law actually is. Moreover, the inability to stop partial-birth abortion has frustrated the public and legislators, and turned opinion against a judicial system unwilling to end this barbarous violence. Prior to the mid-term elections, even leaders of the Democratic Party began to publicly question the efficacy of the party’s radical stance on abortion.

It would seem that a nation that has more or less acquiesced to Roe out of ignorance of its extremism, respect for federal courts, and a desire to be non-judgmental, is awakening in recent years to these realities. If Roe means that partial-birth abortion must be legal, Roe is far worse than once thought.

An increasing number of people are beginning to become convinced that Roe is bad law, bad medicine and bad social policy, in addition to being profoundly immoral.

As a Church, it is important that witness to the sanctity of life be ongoing. It was for that reason that back in February 2002 the following became particular law for the dioceses of the United States of America.

In all the dioceses of the United States of America, Jan. 22 (or Jan. 23 when Jan. 22 falls on Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. The Mass for Peace and Justice (No. 21 from “Masses for various needs”) should be celebrated with violet vestments as an appropriate liturgical observance for this day.

Jan. 22 this year falls on Monday. The traditional elements of a day of penance are fast and abstinence from meat. I challenge the Catholics of our Local Church to join me on Jan. 22 in fasting and abstinence. If you are able to do so, you are urged to participate in the Mass for Peace and Justice. If you are unable to participate in Mass on Jan. 22, I urge you to make the following petitions part of your prayer on that day.

Almighty God, on this day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life, I turn to you asking that you hear my prayer:

  • For young mothers everywhere, and especially those who are tempted to despair, that through the child they carry deep within, they might know hope and joy.
  • For all whose hearts ache from the sin of abortion, that God will soothe and heal them with the balm of his mercy.
  • For mothers broken by the memory of a child lost to abortion, that through the intercession of the Mother of God, the gentle and merciful love of God may heal their innermost being.
  • For a growing love of God’s little ones, in the womb, in nursing homes or at death’s door, that we might love with the love of Jesus.
  • For all mothers, especially those who are young or alone, beaten or addicted; that God might heal their broken hearts and seal them with his love.
  • That the Lord, who rescues the life of the poor from the power of the wicked, might send an angel to guard and protect all unborn children.
  • For (your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators), and all the leaders of our country; that God may make them strong and effective defenders of the poor, the unborn and the forgotten.

Lord, with gratitude for the blessings you shower upon me, I beg you to open my eyes to your presence in my life, and my heart to the gifts of your Holy Spirit. Strengthen my faith. Lift the scourge of legalized abortion from our nation, heal the wounds of those who carry the scars of abortion, and bring peace and justice to our world. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

If Roe is overturned, policy decisions about abortions will be made by the citizens of each state through the democratic process, rather than by courts. Some states no doubt would place limits on abortion; in others there would likely be few limits. However, it would be determined by the judgment and moral sense of the American people and their elected representatives rather than by judicial fiat.

But, here is the bottom line: As long as abortion is legal anywhere in our land, what was said through Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet, will continue to be fulfilled: “A cry was heard at Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation: Rachel bewailing her children; no comfort for her, since they are no more.” That is why each year on Jan. 22 the Church calls us to do penance that hearts will be converted and life from conception to natural death will have the protection of law.

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