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Abortion is the taking of innocent human life

Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston (U.S.A.)

The following is the text of an address delivered by Cardinal Bernard Law at the annual Assembly for Life which was held on Sunday 22 January 1989, at Faneuil Hall in Boston.

Slavery scarred the soul of this nation. The justification of that evil system dehumanized thousands of Africans torn from their families and continent to be brought in shackles to become the engine of other people's wealth and ease. Long after Emancipation, the lie continued that blacks were something a little less than human, and so a system of legal racial segregation found justification in a denial of the obvious fact that all human beings of whatever race or culture are inherently equal.

Within this past week I had a depressing conversation with a prominent Massachusetts politician whose remarks evoked the memory of the segregationist politicians of the old south. This leader of the Commonwealth indicated to me that he did not believe that abortion is the taking of innocent human life.

It is important to underscore his remark, for it places starkly before us the enormous challenge to the pro-life movement. Again: He did not believe that abortion is the taking of innocent human life -- he did not believe that that which is destroyed by abortion is human life.

Analyze with me this remark. Notice how the statement is framed as a matter of belief. He did not believe that abortion is the taking of innocent human life. So often in the past the pro-life position has been characterized solely as a position of religious belief. More often than not, it has been characterized as a Catholic position. For those who support abortion, it is most convenient to isolate the pro-life stance as a matter of religious judgment. Once this is done, the position can be safely dismissed as a question of personal belief which is quite separate from the realm of the State and its laws.

Politicians find in this tactic a ready means to evade responsibility for the protection of human life in the womb. If the pro-life position is a question of belief, then each citizen should be free to follow his or her own belief. The State, after all, is not to canonize a particular system of belief.

Our task is to say and say again that it is not a matter of belief that the expectant mother carries human life within her womb -- it is a matter of fact. We are dealing in abortion not with one life, but two: the life of the mother, and the life of the child within her womb. It is not faith which reveals that human life begins at conception, it is the inescapable conclusion manifest in the empirical biological evidence.

The depressing truth is that the evidence is either unknown or ignored, and that many people, like that politician, justify their position by placing the issue in the realm of belief. We cannot assume, as the public discussion of abortion accelerates in the coming months as it will, that the reality of abortion is understood. It is not. I know it and you know it as a fact that chills our bones that each year in this country one and one half million human lives are put to death through abortion. There are many people, however, who do not know this. Just as in the past there were those whose consciences were anaesthetized to the evil of slavery by the fiction that blacks were less than human, so today there are those who, like my politician friend, have their consciences anaesthetized by the fiction that abortion is not the taking of human life.

The task of the pro-life movement is to present the facts of abortion. The facts are not pleasant. The facts are not tasteful. The willful taking of human life by means often violent cannot be presented in an inoffensive way. Indeed, what could be more offensive to the human conscience than abortion? It is imperative that the curtain of ignorance, real or feigned, which hides the reality of abortion from popular consciousness be pulled down, and that we begin to deal with the fact that abortion is the taking of innocent human life.

A second objective of the pro-life movement is to make it unmistakably clear that our opposition is not simply to legal abortions -- it is an opposition to all abortions. A recent editorial cartoon on the announcement that the Supreme Court would consider a decision of the Missouri Supreme Court portrayed lady justice peeking over her blindfold, with one of the scales in her hand weighted down by a hanger. How often has the albatross of back alley abortions been hung around the neck of the pro-life movement! I resent that caricature, and I am certain you do. It is abortion which we oppose. It is the taking of innocent human life, which is a crime sapping the moral fiber of this nation. Whether the abortion mill has the dubious sanction of Roe vs. Wade, or the abortion mill is in a back alley, in both instances it is dealing out death, and those responsible should be held accountable by the law for their crime.

If the legality of abortions were to end, the work of the pro-life movement would not be over. As long as innocent human life within the womb is threatened by abortion, legal or otherwise, so long will the pro-life movement continue.

Some would criticize the pro-life movement as too singular in its focus. While it is certainly necessary to situate our concern for the right to life of the unborn in that continuum of life which ends with natural death, and while it is essential to recognize our concerns as one with concern for the poor, the disabled, the homeless, the sick, the elderly, new peoples, and for whoever it is who suffers assaults against human dignity, and while it is essential to be actively concerned for the mother -- and the father, we need not apologize if our efforts are particularly directed to protect the unborn, for they are those whose life is most vulnerable.

While the pro-life cause is an eminently righteous one, it is imperative that we should not be self-righteous. More than anything else we must be armed with compassion and love. We are about the business of affirming the right to life of the unborn because we are convinced of the dignity and worth of every human person. Every abortion is a tragic drama and never more so than when those involved -- the mother and father, and the medical agents of the abortion -- are impervious to what it is they are doing. Our effort must be to speak the truth in love to all those who have fallen victims to an abortion culture, for this is what we have developed, an abortion culture. Having envisioned the procuring of an abortion as a right, we have created a new culture, a culture which is built on the right to kill the unborn. The elites of our society have transformed what once was universally considered a crime into the lawful exercise of a right to choose, to choose one's convenience over another's right to life.

It might well be argued that the saddest victims of this culture are the mothers and fathers of the aborted, the medical agents of abortion, and our society as a whole. To speak the truth in love means to show the face of compassion to all who are victimized.

It is clear that the pro-life movement is here to stay. There is no way in which the human spirit will long endure a moral evil like abortion. Those of us who recognize abortion as the taking of innocent human life do not find that with the passage of time and millions of more deaths we are less committed. Far from it. I find myself today more convinced than ever that the killing must stop.

Operation Rescue expresses in one way, a way not suited to all, the frustration in the hearts of thousands of us as we realize that with each passing day more human lives are being destroyed through abortion. It is imperative that all forms of physical violence be avoided. Ours is not a movement of violence, and it must never be that. Ours is a movement of justice, of compassion, of love, of life. Those who engage in prophetic action, such as Operation Rescue, need special discipline to ensure that our message of love and life is in no way distorted. Having said this, I must also add that those whom I know personally who have been involved in Operation Rescue are women and men outstanding in their desire to act non-violently in compassion and love. They have my admiration and prayerful support. They do not sanction physical violence, nor do they sanction the destruction of property. Any who might be involved in such negative acts are a discredit to the prolife movement. We who gather here deplore all forms of physical violence and destruction, but must be relentless in championing the right to life of the unborn.

Today Our President has asked that we pray for the nation. We do so gladly. We pray that we may become a kinder, gentler nation by living out the promise expressed in our Declaration of Independence when it speaks of life as an inalienable right with which each person has been endowed by God.

I began by stating that the pro-life position is a matter of fact not a belief. This is certainly so. I began by pointing out that abortion, like slavery rests on a denial of fact about the inherent dignity of every human being. For many of us, however, the facts revealed by empirical, biological evidence are illumined by faith. Faith, as it were, carries us beyond reason, and reinforces the facts revealed by the empirical evidence. How poignantly is this so in this passage from Isaiah in which the inspired prophet attempts to express in human categories the love which God has for every man, woman, and child -- the love which we are to strive for in out relationship with one another.

Isaiah writes:

"Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of the womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you".

May God grant us the grace never to forget.

Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion

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