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Human life: a precious gift to love, defend in each one of its stages

By Bishop Michael Pfeifer

Diocese of San Angelo, TX

January 1, 2007

Pope John Paul II, in his Lenten Message 2005 affirmed that "Human life is a precious gift to be loved and defended in each of its stages. The Commandment, `You shall not kill!' obviously requires respecting and promoting human life, from its beginning to its natural end. It is a command that applies even in the presence of illness and when physical weakness reduces the person's ability to be self-reliant."

In its 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe V. Bolton rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court created a new "right" to abortion. The Court made abortion legal nationwide throughout the full nine months of pregnancy with no meaningful limitation.

A Seismic Shift has occurred

Roe v. Wade was a watershed event. One day, we were a nation that protected the lives of unborn human beings. The next day, seven justices of the U.S. Supreme Court said that throughout pregnancy, abortion is a fundamental constitutional right.

Many people sensed that a seismic shift had occurred. The Court had said, in essence, that we were a people who could not be expected to commit to care for the children we helped to create. And we began quickly to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy, as over the next decade the number of abortions skyrocketed to 1.6 million a year.

Now, let us jump ahead some 27 years. Another major shift occurred, as in June 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the right to kill, from children in the womb (Roe v. Wade) to children almost completely born (Stenberg v. Carhart).

It is this, partial-birth abortion, that the U.S. Supreme Court has now wrapped in the mantle of our nation's Constitution. The Court overrode the judgment of the American Medical Association and respected specialists that partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary.

With its decision in Carhart, the U.S. Supreme Court has moved beyond abortion to near infanticide. And in doing so it has created a new level of moral blindness and insensitivity. How much killing can we stand without losing our humanity?

Thank God that our President, after listening to the Congress, has proposed a ban on partial-birth abortion, but now this is being challenged in the courts.

As the Supreme Court debates this issue, hopefully this highest court of our land will take the high road of common sense and morality and finally decide in favor of a ban of partial-birth abortion.

 Roe's Legacy

Since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, more than 45 million unborn children have lost their lives and untold numbers of women have suffered the aftermath of abortion. The practice of medicine has been degraded by those in the profession who participate in destroying life. And society as a whole has been coarsened and degraded by the toleration and even acceptance of the widespread taking of innocent human life. Roe v Wade has poisoned all it has touched.

Legal and Moral Issue

As regards abortion, the moral issue is clear: human beings deserve respect and protection from harm. The legal issue is clear: Roe v. Wade is bad law. The effects are clear: bad medicine and bad social policy. No wonder the vast majority of Americans believe that an unlimited right to abortion is wrong. Science is clear that human life begins at conception when a new human being is formed.

We who are Christian Americans believe in an anthropology that views all persons as members of a community who are made in the image of the Triune God and who have both rights and responsibilities. Therefore, we cannot endorse a woman's right to abort an unborn child as a morally neutral decision because we understand that the child also has a right to live and the community has a responsibility to care for this child if the mother is unable to rear it.

Some people would want us to think that "legal abortion is safe, and illegal abortions are dangerous." The fact is that abortion is more dangerous to more women now than before it was legal. Former abortionist Bernard Nathanson has admitted that he helped invent the story about back alley abortion fatalities. Legal is not safe. Besides, the best doctors don't aspire to be abortionists.

Some continue to dispute, in spite of scientific research, that human life exists from the moment of conception. However, when there is any doubt that there exists a human being's life to preserve and protect, such doubt shall be resolved in favor of the existence of a human being, and when two or more human beings are in a situation in which their lives are mutually endangered, all available ordinary means and reasonable efforts shall be used to preserve and protect the life of each and every human being endangered.

The Politician's Song

As regards abortion, the politician's song has been sung so often for so long that it sounds quite logical – and sadly some pro-lifers believe it. "I'm absolutely against abortion," they insist, "except, of course, in the cases of rape and incest." They argue that it's somehow "compassionate" to offer the woman victim the opportunity to eliminate the results of an attack. The ultimate question, however, is: "What about the baby?"

In simple terms, two wrongs do not make a right. A second wrong only makes a bad situation worse. Abortion for rape cases punishes the innocent child more severely than the guilty rapist. An "innocent bystander," if you will, is given the death sentence while the criminal has the opportunity to amend his life.

The Greatest Human Rights Movement

The pro-life movement is the greatest human rights movement on earth – a struggle founded on unconditional love - even for the pro-abortionists - unconditional empathy for the victims, both the child and his or her mother, and unconditional courage.

With each passing year, the horrific toll on women's lives becomes more evident. And it's time the media stopped censuring this truth. Women deserve better than abortion and the compelling stories of the brave post-abortive women who are silent no more need to be heard. These very special women bear witness not only to the agony and trauma of their own abortion but to the hope of healing, reconciliation, and inner peace as well.

Now what can you and I do each day to help love and defend human life that is a precious gift to be loved and defended in each and every one of its stages? Here are some concrete recommendations that I present for your reflection, and hopefully for your implementation.


Pray every day that our nation will again respect the lives of every human being from the moment of conception to natural death. I ask that at every Sunday Mass, prayers be offered for peace, for a new respect for human life, and for an end to abortion. 

Learn the facts about abortion. Read Catholic magazines and the West Texas Angelus. The newsletter Life Insights, and other educational materials are available from the bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. Also visit  and

Communicate with others. Believing in our hearts that abortion and infanticide are evil and beneath us as a people is not enough. We need to speak out when we

can. It is in speaking with others that we can help them to understand and touch their hearts with a message of respect for human life.

Serve with your gifts. Programs that serve pregnant women and children always need extra hands. Offer to help. Help for women and men suffering because of abortion requires special expertise. You may want to help financially, or in other ways.

Organize on behalf of life. The most effective vehicle for building a community that respects each and every human life is to establish a Parish Respect Life Committee or similar committee. Together parishioners can encourage prayer, educational activities, and involvement in the public realm. Through parish Respect Life Committees we can make a difference.

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