Further considerations regarding the abortion bill
Blase J. Cupich, S.T.D., Bishop of Rapid City, SD
Note: Last month I noted that the fall referendum on HB1215
provides us with the chance to debate what kind of a society we want to have. In
the first part I discussed: 1) the role of the Catholic Church in public debate;
2) the role of the government in protecting the rights of all; and finally, 3)
how the issue of abortion involves a moral principle that affects all of
society, but is not based on just one religion’s dogma. This month I conclude
with some reflections on the merits of HB1215 and I also emphasize the need to
respectfully listen to others about how best to achieve the goal of protecting
innocent human life and the need to look for new opportunities to advance the
The Merits of HB 1215
There are a number of facts about HB1215 that cannot be
ignored. First, the bill was passed after public debate by the duly elected
representatives of our state legislature and with an affirmative vote by a
majority of legislators in both parties. Then it was signed by the governor. Our
elected officials have made a serious attempt to deal with an important moral
dilemma facing society: When does human life deserve legal protection from the
state? The Catholic Church has a long record of supporting the legitimate
exercise of government, encouraging it to use its power to protect the rights of
each citizen, particularly the most vulnerable.
Secondly, it is also true that real lives are at stake and
that HB1215 includes measures that will protect the unborn. We cannot overlook
the fact that 814 children were aborted in our state in 2004 (South Dakota
Department of Health report, 2004). While some have criticized HB1215 for not
having rape and incest exceptions, it is worth emphasizing that 96 percent of
those 814 abortions were performed for reasons unrelated to rape and incest.
Finally, the 2005 South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion provided new
information that is worth consideration. Eventually, the courts will need to
confront the data, which shows that abortion not only takes the life of a child,
but is also devastating for the mother.
Protecting the Unborn
People of good will can honestly disagree about the best way
to achieve the goal of protecting human life, including the life of the unborn
child. Some argue that bills which are not mature will inevitably be overturned
by the courts. These pro-life advocates fear that such setbacks may actually
contribute to the perception that what is judged legally acceptable is also
morally acceptable. They also note that the goal is to establish measures
protecting the lives of children which rest on a firm foundation and hold a
reasonable promise of permanence.
While I genuinely trust the good will of those who disagree
in good conscience with the approach of HB1215, it is important to emphasize
that the obligation to promote serious alternative measures to protect the
innocent human life of an unborn child remains. If HB1215 is voted down in the
referendum, then some other measure that protects innocent human life will have
to be crafted, supported and enacted. It is not unreasonable to insist that this
happen with those who disagree with the approach of HB1215.
As I noted last month, we have other laws requiring the
government to speak on behalf of and to protect certain groups of people who are
voiceless and vulnerable, such as orphans, the mentally challenged, or those who
are unable to mount a legal defense on their own behalf. Yet, when it comes to
protecting the unborn, the most vulnerable and voiceless among us, there is a
gap in this system of protection. Again, as a society, we cannot escape what is
essentially a moral dilemma: When does human life deserve legal protection from
Respecting Human Dignity
A change in law or structures is necessary, but not
sufficient, if human dignity is to be defended and promoted in our society
today. Our fellow citizens need to be convinced in their hearts and minds about
the dignity of human life; in all of its stages. We must look for new
opportunities to build a culture of life; otherwise, new laws will rest on a
weak foundation. Let me cite three important opportunities.
First, our commitment to the dignity of human life and the
human person must include support for other measures that will ensure a living
wage for workers, adequate health care for families, the education of our youth
and an end to the death penalty. When our society promotes education, literacy,
employment, etc., the resulting social stability will contribute to a
diminishment in the number of abortions.
Second, we need to begin a dialogue with those who are
concerned that laws crafted to protect the unborn oftentimes fall more heavily
on women and the poor than on the men who father these children or on people of
means. Laws protecting the unborn must be accompanied by additional legislation
that provides government support for basic subsistence to mothers, as well as
appropriate sanctions for irresponsible fathers. Doing this is a matter of
justice, but it also advances the pro-life cause among those who have genuine
concerns about mothers and the poor. In a word, we need to create the conditions
for others to hear us.
Third, we need to call each other to accountability as adults
for our personal behavior, which too often today can contribute to a situation
which is permissive of abortion and even makes abortion an easy or an entitled
option. Individuals must exercise their own personal responsibility with regard
to respecting the dignity of human life of each and every person. This is
essential to reversing the erosion of the limits of human relationships which
have made it acceptable for both men and women to act out sexually without
restraint or regard for consequences.
I offer these reflections in this two-part series, but not
with the intention of telling anyone how to vote on the HB 1215 referendum.
Going into the voting booth in many ways is like going into the confessional.
What we need at this time is honest and reasonable debate on the serious issue
of promoting justice in our society and a call for personal responsibility.
The church’s contribution, as Pope Benedict XVI said it so
well, is “…aimed solely at enlightening consciences, enabling them to act freely
and responsibly, according to the true demands of justice, even when this should
conflict with situations of power and personal interest.” As believers, we carry
on this work, always insisting on and promoting the exercise of charity in the
face of disagreement. Charity is essential, lest the political debate and
activity surrounding this important issue damage the social solidarity that is
required for both the common good and the communion of the church.
I genuinely hope and pray that people act in good faith and
with charity, using the reasoning powers God has given them, so that, as the
Holy Father puts it, we can “contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and
attainment of what is just.”
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