A Baby Is a Baby Is a Baby
Bishop James V. Johnston
Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
Bishop's column for September 26, 2008
Abortion always wrong
Recently, when the Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, was announced as John McCain’s running mate, media and political types immediately focused on her pro-life positions, branding them extreme. Astonishment was expressed time and again in commentary such as: “She is against abortion even in cases of rape or incest!”
Were it not for Palin’s son Trig, who was born this past April with Down Syndrome, these same commentators might likely have added incredulously: “She’s even against abortion when the child has abnormalities or special needs!” When the dark eyes of this little boy looked out at the millions of American television viewers following his mother’s speech at her party’s convention, it may have been the most significant pro-life moment in American history. There were no words. There was a human face. There was no rhetoric. There was a baby.
As Catholics, this deserves our attention for several reasons. Firstly, when it comes to contentious issues in public life such as abortion, one is often led to consider a compromise position. For example, we often hear people add to their pro-life positions, “except in the cases of rape or incest.” This position appears at first to have an air of reasonableness about it. It also plays into the erroneous notion that the truth is always found somewhere in the middle of two extremes. But such is often not the case, as with abortion. Abortion is wrong in every instance. Why? Because in every instance, abortion is the taking of an innocent human life.
Children conceived as a result of the terrible crimes of rape or incest are still children. Likewise, children with special needs or abnormalities are still children. A baby is a baby is a baby. We should be outraged at the criminals who commit crimes such as rape or incest, and compassionate toward their victims, but neither outrage nor compassion bestow a right to kill the innocent. The same applies to those children who are diagnosed with an abnormality or deficiency in the womb: A baby is a baby is a baby.
Some acts, such as abortion, are wrong under any circumstances or in any situation. The church often refers to these types of acts as intrinsically evil. Abortion is not the only intrinsically evil act. Let’s use racism and adultery as other examples. What if I told you that I was against racism, except in some special cases? What if I told you I believed adultery was wrong, except in special cases such as when one’s marriage was unfulfilling? You get the point. Some moral issues and actions (those which are intrinsically evil) admit no middle ground or exceptions, even if one perceives some other good that might result from them. They are always wrong and there is no middle ground.
As the bishops of the US have pointed out in our document “Faithful Citizenship,” these acts have “a special claim on our conscience and our actions.” (FC, 37) Importantly, the bishops also point out that one cannot make the destruction of innocent human life morally equivalent to other issues involving human life and dignity: “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” (FC, 28, emphasis added)
Catholics believe that each human being is created in the image of God, and thereby recognize that every person has a special dignity bestowed by God which no other person can take away, and which all other persons must recognize. This is the foundation of all of our human rights, and these have been enshrined in the foundational documents of our nation and in the civilization that is America.
Pope John Paul II affirmed this truth that protecting the right to life is crucial to upholding all of our other rights: “The common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights is not defended with maximum determination” (“Christifideles Laici” [“On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World”], 38). When it comes to loving God and loving one another, when it comes to embracing what is good and rejecting what is evil, it’s good to be an extremist.
Respect Life Sunday
The first Sunday in October is Respect Life Sunday. It is a time for us to pray for a deeper respect for human life in our nation. It is a time for us to recommit ourselves to working for causes that protect human life and dignity and to oppose those movements which diminish or seek to destroy innocent human life: abortion, euthanasia, the destruction of human embryos for research purposes. Other issues touch on human life too: racism, torture, and the death penalty. Let us align ourselves with Jesus, the Lord of Life, and strengthened by him, be witnesses and advocates for human life.