Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities
Issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops
November 20, 1975
"All should be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it are
not realities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot be measured or
perceived only in terms of it, but always have a bearing on the eternal destiny
of men... For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing
ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from
the moment of its conception, life must be guarded with the greatest care, while
abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes."
(Constitution on the Church in the Modern World)
1. Respect for human life has been gradually declining in our society
during the past decade. To some degree this reflects a secularizing trend
and a rejection of moral imperatives based on belief in God and His plan for
creation. It also reflects a tendency for individuals to give primary
attention to what is personally rewarding and satisfying to them, to the
exclusion of responsible concern for the well-being of other persons and
society. These trends, along with others, have resulted in laws and judicial
decisions which deny or ignore basic human rights and moral responsibilities
for the protection and promotion of the common good. In this category are
efforts to establish permissive abortion laws, the abortion decisions of the
United States Supreme Court in 1973 denying any effective legal protection
to the unborn child, and the growing attempts to legitimatize positive
euthanasia through so-called "death with dignity" laws.
2. In the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers point to
the right to life as the first of the inalienable rights given by the
3. In fulfillment of our pastoral responsibilities, the members of the
National Conference of Catholic Bishops have repeatedly affirmed that human
life is a precious gift from God; that each person who receives this gift
has responsibilities toward God, toward self, and toward others; and that
society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and sustain
human life at every stage of its existence. Recognition of the dignity of
the human person, made in the image of God, lies at the very heart of our
individual and social duty to respect human life.
4. In this Pastoral Plan we hope to focus attention on the pervasive
threat to human life arising from the present situation of permissive
abortion. Basic human rights are violated in many ways: by abortion and
euthanasia, by injustice and the denial of equality to certain groups of
persons, by some forms of human experimentation, by neglect of the
underprivileged and disadvantaged who deserve the concern and support of the
entire society. Indeed, the denial of the God-given right to life is one
aspect of a larger problem. But it is unlikely that efforts to protect other
rights will be ultimately successful if life itself is continually
diminished in value.
5. In focusing attention on the sanctity of human life, therefore, we
hope to generate a greater respect for the life of each person in our
society. We are confident that greater respect for human life will result
from continuing the public discussion of abortion and from efforts to shape
our laws so as to protect the life of all persons, including the unborn.
6. Thus this Pastoral Plan seeks to activate the pastoral resources of
the Church in three major efforts:
(1) an educational/public information effort to inform, clarify, and deepen
understanding of the basic issues;
(2) a pastoral effort addressed to the specific needs of women with problems
related to pregnancy and to those who have had or have taken part in an
(3) a public policy effort directed toward the legislative, judicial, and
administrative areas so as to insure effective legal protection for the right to
7. This Pastoral Plan is addressed to and calls upon all
Church-sponsored or identifiably Catholic national, regional, diocesan, and
parochial organizations and agencies to pursue the three-fold effort. This
includes ongoing dialogue and cooperation between the NCCB/ USCC on the one
hand, and priests, religious, and lay persons, individually and
collectively, on the other hand. In a special way, we invite the continued
cooperation of national Catholic organizations.
8. At the same time, we urge Catholics in various professional fields
to discuss these issues with their colleagues and to carry the dialogue into
their own professional organizations. In similar fashion, we urge those in
research and academic life to present the Church's position on a wide range
of topics that visibly express her commitment to respect for life at every
stage and in every condition. Society's responsibility to insure and protect
human rights demands that the right to life be recognized and protected as
antecedent to and the condition of all other rights.
9. Dialogue is most important–and has already proven highly
fruitful–among churches and religious groups. Efforts should continue at
ecumenical consultation and dialogue with Judaism and other Christian
bodies, and also with those who have no specific ecclesial allegiance.
Dialogue among scholars in the field of ethics is a most important part of
this interfaith effort.
10. The most effective structures for pastoral action are in the
diocese and the parish. While recognizing the roles of national, regional,
and statewide groupings, this Plan places its primary emphasis on the roles
of diocesan organizations and the parish community. Thus, the resources of
the diocese and parish become most important in its implementation.
I. Public Information/Education Program
11. In order to deepen a respect for human life and heighten public
opposition to permissive abortion, a two-fold educational effort presenting the
case for the sanctity of life from conception onwards is required.
12. The first aspect, a public information effort, is directed to the
general public. It creates awareness of the threats to human dignity
inherent in a permissive abortion policy, and the need to correct the
present situation by establishing legal safeguards for the right to life. It
gives the abortion issue continued visibility, and sensitizes the many
people who have only general perceptions of the issue but very little by way
of firm conviction or commitment. The public information effort is important
to inform the public discussion, and it proves that the Church is serious
about and committed to its announced long-range pro-life effort. It is
accomplished in a variety of ways, such as accurate reporting of newsworthy
events, the issuance of public statements, testimony on legislative issues,
letters to editors.
13. The second aspect, an intensive long-range education effort, leads
people to a clearer understanding of the issues, to firm conviction, and to
commitment. It is part of the Church's essential responsibility that it
carry forward such an effort, directed primarily to the Catholic community.
Recognizing the value of legal, medical, and sociological arguments, the
primary and ultimately most compelling arguments must be theological and
moral. Respect for life must be seen in the context of God's love for
mankind, reflected in creation and redemption, and man's relationship to God
and to other members of the human family. The Church's opposition to
abortion is based on Christian teaching on the dignity of the human person,
and the responsibility to proclaim and defend basic human rights, especially
the right to life.
14. This intensive education effort should present the scientific
information on the humanity of the unborn child and the continuity of human
growth and development throughout the months of fetal existence; the
responsibility and necessity for society to safeguard the life of the child
at every stage of its existence; the problems that may exist for women
during pregnancy; and more humane and morally acceptable solutions to these
15. The more intensive educational effort should be carried on by all
who participate in the Church's educational ministry, notably:
(a) Priests and religious, exercising their teaching responsibility in the
pulpit, in other teaching assignments, and through parish programs.
(b) All Church-sponsored or identifiably Catholic organizations, national,
regional, diocesan, and parochial, carrying on continuing education efforts that
emphasize the moral prohibition of abortion and the reasons for carrying this
teaching into the public policy area.
(c) Schools, CCD, and other Church-sponsored educational agencies providing
moral teaching, bolstered by medical, legal, and sociological data, in the
schools, etc. The USCC Department of Education might serve as a catalyst and
resource for the dioceses.
(d) Church-related social service and health agencies carrying on continuing
education efforts through seminars and other appropriate programs, and by
publicizing programs and services offering alternatives to abortion.
16. Although the primary purpose of the intensive educational program
is the development of pro-life attitudes and the determined avoidance of
abortion by each person, the program must extend to other issues that
involve support of human life: there must be internal consistency in the
17. The annual Respect Life Program sets the abortion problem in the
context of other issues where human life is endangered or neglected, such as
the problems facing the family, youth, the aging, the mentally retarded, as
well as specific issues such as poverty, war, population control, and
euthanasia. This program is helpful to parishes in calling attention to
specific problems and providing program formats and resources.
II. Pastoral Care
18. The Church's pastoral effort is rooted in and manifests her faith
commitment. Underlying every part of our program is the need for prayer and
sacrifice. In building the house of respect for life, we labor in vain without
God's merciful help.
19. Three facets of the Church's program of pastoral care deserve
20. 1) Moral Guidance and Motivation. Accurate information regarding
the nature of an act and freedom from coercion are necessary in order to
make responsible moral decisions. Choosing what is morally good also
requires motivation. The Church has a unique responsibility to transmit the
teaching of Christ and to provide moral principles consistent with that
teaching. In regard to abortion, the Church should provide accurate
information regarding the nature of the act, its effects and far-reaching
consequences, and should show that abortion is a violation of God's laws of
charity and justice. In many instances, the decision to do what is in
conformity with God's law will be the ultimate determinant of the moral
21. 2) Service and Care for Women and Unborn Children. Respect for
human life motivates individuals and groups to reach out to those with
special needs. Programs of service and care should be available to provide
women with alternate options to abortion. Specifically, these programs
(a) adequate education and material sustenance for women so that they may
choose motherhood responsibly and freely in accord with a basic commitment to
the sanctity of life;
(b) nutritional, pre-natal, childbirth, and post-natal care for the mother,
and nutritional and pediatric care for the child throughout the first year of
(c) intensified scientific investigation into the causes and cures of
maternal disease and/or fetal abnormality;
(d) continued development of genetic counseling and gene therapy centers and
neo-natal intensive care facilities;
(e) extension of adoption and foster care facilities to those who need them;
(f) pregnancy counseling centers that provide advice, encouragement, and
support for every woman who faces difficulties related to pregnancy;
(g) counseling services and opportunities for continuation of education for
(h) special understanding, encouragement, and support for victims of rape;
(i) continued efforts to remove the social stigma that is visited on the
woman who is pregnant out of wedlock and on her child.
22. Many of these services have been and will continue to be provided
by Church-sponsored health care and social service agencies, involving the
dedicated efforts of professionals and volunteers. Cooperation with other
private agencies and increased support in the quest for government
assistance in many of these areas are further extensions of the long-range
23. 3) Reconciliation. The Church is both a means and an agent of
reconciliation. As a spiritual entity, the Church reconciles men and women
to God. As a human community, the Church pursues the task of reconciling men
and women with one another and with the entire community. Thus all of the
faithful have the duty of promoting reconciliation.
24. Sacramentally, the Church reconciles the sinner through the
sacrament of Penance, thereby restoring the individual to full sacramental
participation. The work of reconciliation is also continually accomplished
in celebrating and participating in the Eucharist. Finally, the effects of
the Church's reconciling efforts are found in the full support of the
Christian community and the renewal of Christian life that results from
prayer, the pursuit of virtue, and continued sacramental participation.
25. Granting that the grave sin of abortion is symptomatic of many
human problems, which often remain unsolved for the individual woman, it is
important that we realize that God's mercy is always available and without
limit, that the Christian life can be restored and renewed through the
sacraments, and that union with God can be accomplished despite the problems
of human existence.
III. Legislative/Public Policy Effort
26. In recent years there has been a growing realization throughout the
world that protecting and promoting the inviolable rights of persons are
essential duties of civil authority, and that the maintenance and protection of
human rights are primary purposes of law. As Americans, and as religious
leaders, we have been committed to governance by a system of law that protects
the rights of individuals and maintains the common good. As our founding fathers
believed, we hold that all law is ultimately based on Divine Law, and that a
just system of law cannot be in conflict with the law of God.
27. Abortion is a specific issue that highlights the relationship
between morality and law. As a human mechanism, law may not be able fully to
articulate the moral imperative, but neither can legal philosophy ignore the
moral order. The abortion decisions of the United States Supreme Court
(January 22, 1973) violate the moral order, and have disrupted the legal
process which previously attempted to safeguard the rights of unborn
children. A comprehensive pro-life legislative program must therefore
include the following elements:
(a) Passage of a constitutional amendment providing protection for the unborn
child to the maximum degree possible.
(b) Passage of federal and state laws and adoption of administrative policies
that will restrict the practice of abortion as much as possible.
(c) Continual research into and refinement and precise interpretation of
subsequent court decisions.
(d) Support for legislation that provides alternatives to abortion.
28. Accomplishment of this aspect of this Pastoral Plan will
undoubtedly require well-planned and coordinated political action by
citizens at the national, state, and local levels. This activity is not
simply the responsibility of Catholics, nor should it be limited to Catholic
groups or agencies. It calls for widespread cooperation and collaboration.
As citizens of this democracy, we encourage the appropriate political action
to achieve these legislative goals. As leaders of a religious institution in
this society, we see a moral imperative for such political activity.
Means of Implementation of Program
29. The challenge to restore respect for human life in our society is a
task of the Church that reaches out through all institutions, agencies, and
organizations. Diverse tasks and various goals are to be achieved. The following
represents a systematic organization and allocation of the Church's resources of
people, institutions, and finances which can be activated at various levels to
restore respect for human life and insure protection of the right to life of the
1. State Coordinating Committee
30. A. It is assumed that overall coordination in each state will be the
responsibility of the State Catholic Conference or its equivalent. Where a State
Catholic Conference is in process of formation or does not exist, bishops'
representatives from each diocese might be appointed as the core members of the
State Coordinating Committee.
31. B. The State Coordinating Committee will comprise the director of
the State Catholic Conference and the diocesan pro-life coordinators. At
this level, it would be valuable to have one or more persons who are
knowledgeable about public traditions, mores, and attitudes and are
experienced in legislative activity. This might be the public affairs
specialist referred to under the Diocesan Pro-Life Committee, or, e.g., an
individual with prior professional experience in legislative or governmental
service. In any case, it should be someone with a practical understanding of
contemporary political techniques.
32. C. The primary purposes of the State Coordinating Committee are:
(a) to monitor the political trends in the state and their implications for
the abortion effort:
(b) to coordinate the efforts of the various dioceses; and to evaluate
progress in the dioceses and congressional districts;
(c) to provide counsel regarding the specific political relationships within
the various parties at the state level.
2. The Diocesan Pro-life Committee
33. a) General Purpose
The purpose of the committee is to coordinate groups and activities within
the diocese (to restore respect for human life), particularly efforts to effect
passage of a constitutional amendment to protect the unborn child. In its
coordinating role, the committee will rely on information and direction from the
Bishops' Pro-life Office and the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment.
The committee will act through the Diocesan Pro-life Director, who is appointed
by the bishop to direct pro-life efforts in the diocese.
34. b) Membership
(1) Diocesan Pro-life Director (bishop's representative)
(2) Respect Life Coordinator
(3) Liaison with State Catholic Conference
(4) Public Affairs Advisor
(5) Representatives of Diocesan Agencies (priests, religious, lay
(6) Legal Advisor-representative of pro-life groups
(7) Representatives of Parish Pro-life Committees
(8) Congressional District Representative(s)
35. c) Objectives
(1) Provide direction and coordination of diocesan and parish
education/information efforts and maintain working relationship with all groups
involved in congressional district activity.
(2) Promote and assist in the development of those groups, particularly
voluntary groups involved in pregnancy counseling, which provide alternatives
and assistance to women who have problems related to pregnancy.
(3) Encourage the development of "grassroots" political action organizations.
(4) Maintain communications with National Committee for a Human Life
Amendment in regard to federal activity, so as to provide instantaneous
information concerning local senators and representatives.
(5) Maintain a local public information effort directed to press and media.
Include vigilance in regard to public media, seek "equal time," etc.
(6) Develop close relationships with each senator or representative.
3. The Parish Pro-life Committee
36. The Parish Pro-life Committee should include a delegate from the
Parish Council, representatives of various adult and youth parish organizations,
members of local Knights of Columbus Councils, Catholic Daughters of America
Chapters, and other similar organizations.
37. (a) Sponsor and conduct intensive education programs touching all
groups within the parish, including schools and religious education efforts.
38. (b) Promote and sponsor pregnancy counseling units and other
alternatives to abortion.
39. (c) Through ongoing public information programs, generate public
awareness of the continuing effort to obtain a constitutional amendment. The
NCCB, the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, and the State and
Diocesan Coordinating Committees should have access to every congressional
district for information, consultation, and coordination of action. A
chairperson should be designated in each district who will coordinate the
efforts of parish pro-life groups, K of C groups, etc., and seek ways of
cooperating with nonsectarian pro-life groups, including right-to-life
organizations. In each district, the parishes will provide one basic
resource, and the clergy will have an active role in the overall effort.
40. (d) Prudently convince others--Catholics and non-Catholics--of the
reasons for the necessity of a constitutional amendment to provide a base
for legal protection for the unborn.
4. The Pro-life Effort in the Congressional District
41. Passage of a constitutional amendment depends ultimately on
persuading members of Congress to vote in favor of such a proposal. This effort
at persuasion is part of the democratic process, and is carried on most
effectively in the congressional district or state from which the representative
is elected. Essentially, this effort demands ongoing public information activity
and careful and detailed organization. Thus it is absolutely necessary to
encourage the development in each congressional district of an identifiable,
tightly-knit, and well-organized pro-life unit. This unit can be described as a
public interest group or a citizens' lobby. No matter what it is called:
(a) its task is essentially political, that is, to organize people to help
persuade the elected representatives; and
(b) its range of action is limited, that is, it is focused on passing a
42. As such, the congressional district pro-life group differs from
the diocesan, regional, or parish pro-life coordinator or committee, whose
task is pedagogic and motivational, not simply political, and whose range of
action includes a variety of efforts calculated to reverse the present
atmosphere of permissiveness with respect to abortion. Moreover, it is an
agency of citizens, operated, controlled, and financed by these same
citizens. It is not an agency of the Church, nor is it operated, controlled,
or financed by the Church.
43. The congressional district pro-life action group should be
bipartisan, nonsectarian, inclined toward political action. It is
complementary to denominational efforts, to professional groups, to
pregnancy counseling and assistance groups.
44. Each congressional district should have a chairperson who may
serve as liaison with the Diocesan Coordinating Committee. In dioceses with
many congressional districts, this may be arranged through a regional
5. Objectives of the Congressional District Pro-life Group
45. (1) To conduct a continuing public information effort to persuade all
elected officials and potential candidates that abortion must be legally
46. (2) To counterbalance propaganda efforts opposed to a
47. (3) To persuade all residents in the congressional district that
permissive abortion is harmful to society and that some restriction is
48. (4) To persuade all residents that a constitutional amendment is
necessary as a first step toward legally restricting abortion.
49. (5) To convince all elected officials and potential candidates
that "the abortion issue" will not go away and that their position on it
will be subject to continuing public scrutiny.
50. (6) To enlist sympathetic supporters who will collaborate in
51. (7) To enlist those who are generally supportive so that they may
be called upon when needed to communicate to the elected officials.
52. (8) To elect members of their own group or active sympathizers to
specific posts in all local party organizations.
53. (9) To set up a telephone network that will enable the committee
to take immediate action when necessary.
54. (10) To maintain an informational file on the pro-life position of
every elected official and potential candidate.
55. (11) To work for qualified candidates who will vote for a
constitutional amendment, and other pro-life issues.
56. (12) To maintain liaison with all denominational leaders (pastors)
and all other pro-life groups in the district.
57. This type of activity can be generated and coordinated by a small,
dedicated, and politically alert group. It will need some financial support,
but its greatest need is the commitment of other groups who realize the
importance of its purposes, its potential for achieving those purposes, and
the absolute necessity of working with the group to attain the desired
58. The challenges facing American society as a result of the legislative
and judicial endorsement of permissive abortion are enormous. But the Church and
the individual Catholics must not avoid the challenge. Although the process of
restoring respect for human life at every stage of existence may be demanding
and prolonged, it is an effort which both requires and merits courage, patience,
and determination. In every age the Church has faced unique challenges calling
forth faith and courage. In our time and society, restoring respect for human
life and establishing a system of justice which protects the most basic human
rights are both a challenge and an opportunity whereby the Church proclaims her
commitment to Christ's teaching on human dignity and the sanctity of the human