Testimony before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments
of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
March 7, 1974
His Eminence John Cardinal Krol
Archbishop of Philadelphia
I am Cardinal John Krol, Archbishop of Philadelphia. I appear before this
Subcommittee today in my capacity as President of the United States Catholic
Conference, the official, national-level agency of the 300 American bishops who
minister to the spiritual and religious needs of nearly 50 million American
Catholics. I am accompanied by Cardinal John Cody, Archbishop of Chicago and
Chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities; by Cardinal
Timothy Manning, Archbishop of Los Angeles; and by Cardinal Humberto Medeiros,
Archbishop of Boston.
Each of us will present a brief oral statement, after which we shall be happy
to respond to the questions of the Subcommittee. We also ask your permission to
submit for the record a longer written statement of the position of the United
States Catholic Conference, in which we express the enduring principles of the
Catholic Church on this question.
We are pleased at this opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee. We are
pleased, too, that the Subcommittee has decided to conduct hearings on proposed
constitutional amendments to protect the life of unborn human beings from
conception onward. This is an encouraging sign of forward movement which, we
hope, will soon lead to congressional enactment of such an amendment.
I emphasize the word "soon," for this issue has an urgency shared by few
others now confronting the nation. Each day that passes without such an
amendment signals further massive destruction of unborn human beings in this
country. It has been estimated that there is one abortion every 20 seconds in
the United States -- three every minute. Every week, since the Supreme Court's
decisions of January 22, 1973, there have been as many deaths from abortion as
there were deaths at Nagasaki as a result of the atomic bomb. Every nine days
there are as many deaths from abortion as there were American deaths in the 10
years of the Vietnam war.
Last month Mr. Justice Blackmun was quoted as saying that the court's
abortion ruling "will be regarded as one of the worst mistakes in the Court's
history or one of its great decisions, a turning point." I agree with Justice
Blackmun at least to this extent, that the abortion decisions will be viewed as
a tragic mistake. But I am convinced that they will ultimately be seen as the
worst mistake in the Court's history. Only a constitutional amendment can
correct this mistake.
At the same time, we are aware that amending our Constitution is not a step
to be taken lightly. Congress and the states are obliged to reflect seriously on
such an action. In this process of reflection it is essential to consider the
views of many concerned Americans. It is precisely as concerned Americans who
are moral leaders that we appear here today.
We do not propose to advocate sectarian doctrine but to defend human rights,
and specifically, the most fundamental of all rights, the right to life itself.
While we are leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States, we believe
that what we say expresses the convictions of many Americans who are members of
other faiths and of no faith.
I do not intend to dwell at length on this point, but I believe it is
important at least to raise it, in order to dispose of a facile but misleading
slogan often directed against those who speak against abortion. We reject any
suggestion that we are attempting to impose "our" morality on others. First, it
is not true. The right to life is not an invention of the Catholic Church or any
other church. It is a basic human right which must undergird any civilized
society. Second, either we all have the same right to speak out on public policy
or no one does. We do not have to check our consciences at the door before we
argue for what we think is best for society. We speak as American citizens who
are free to express our views and whose freedom, under our system of government,
carries with it a corresponding obligation to advocate positions which we
believe will best serve the good of our nation. Third, in our free country,
decisions concerning issues such as the one before this Subcommittee are made by
legislators who themselves are free to act according to their own best judgment.
We dare not forget, however, that to separate political judgment from moral
judgment leads to disorder and disaster.
In order to grasp what is at stake in the issue before us, it is essential to
understand the nature of the being whom an abortion kills. There is an
impression in some quarters that the child before birth is simply a lump of
tissue, an undifferentiated part of its mother's body, rather like an appendix.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
What comes into existence at the moment of conception is nothing less than a
human being in the earliest stages of development. As our detailed statement
shows, medical science has amply documented the humanity of the fetus. There
would be no question about the humanity of the unborn except that some wish to
Before a woman ordinarily knows that she is pregnant, the new human being has
developed thousands of cells, a heart which began beating within 25 days from
conception, veins and circulating blood, a backbone and skeletal system, a brain
with traceable brain waves, rudimentary organs, arms and legs, fingers and toes,
eyes and ears and a mouth. At the very moment of fertilization, all of the
unique genetic characteristics of an individual are determined: eye, skin and
hair coloring, height and bone structure, intellectual potential, inherited
emotional makeup, etc. From conception on, 46 chromosomes are present, 23 from
each parent. This is the chromosomal content defined by biologists as that of a
normal human being. Furthermore, this new individual's chromosomal pattern is
utterly unique, absolutely its own and unlike that of any other human being in
the world, including either of its parents. The scientific evidence points to
only one possible conclusion: this is a new, unique, human individual. When this
individual is killed, human life is destroyed.
It is true that new human life is uniquely defenseless. But defenselessness
is not an argument for killing.
I do not impute evil motives to those who seek to justify abortion. I do
contend that the legalization of abortion is a tragic error which cries out for
correction. The only avenue of correction is a constitutional amendment to
protect the unborn.
Mr. Chairman, Cardinals Manning, Medeiros, and Cody will address themselves
to other aspects of this question as they are viewed by the United States
Catholic Conference. I say, in conclusion, that the fundamental question facing
this nation in the abortion issue is whether or not we, as Americans, reverence
human life in all its stages and are prepared to protect it. All human life is
sacred. It is the best part of the American tradition not only to recognize this
principle in the abstract but to embody it in our laws and institutions.
I thank you for the opportunity to appear before this Subcommittee and I pray
that these hearings will prove to be the first step in a successful effort to
re-extend the protection of law to the unborn.