ABORTION: QUESTIONS AND
BY JOHN CARDINAL O'CONNOR
ARCHBISHOP OF NEW YORK
Each week in Catholic New York, the
newspaper of the New York Archdiocese, His Eminence John Cardinal O'Connor
reflects on issues pertinent to the faithful in his column From My Viewpoint. In
July of 1990, he dedicated an expanded version of that column to the subject of
abortion. Since that time, this column has proven to be a useful educational
resource. We therefore make it available to you.
--Fr. Frank Pavone
The following edition of "From My Viewpoint" is provided for Catholics in
the Archdiocese of New York. Other readers, in New York and elsewhere, may find
it of some interest, but I wish to make clear that I offer it as Archbishop of
New York to try to meet needs within my own archdiocese. I do not offer it in my
capacity as Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is not intended to represent that committee,
and does not pretend to speak for the Bishops of the United States. It is
reprinted with the permission of Catholic New York.
C O N T E N T S
BY JOHN CARDINAL O'CONNOR
ARCHBISHOP OF NEW YORK
Over the course of the years I have been asked many questions about life
and abortion by many well-meaning people. Today I still find that many good
people are confused. They really believe they are doing the right thing--or, at
least, the best thing--when they support, or encourage, an abortion. Such is
certainly the case with some parents who love a daughter and, as they put it,
"don't want to see her life ruined by an unintended pregnancy." I believe the
same is true of a number of social workers and other advisers of the young, who
believe that in promoting abortions they are performing a truly humane service,
to the mothers of the unborn, to unborn babies whose lives they feel will not be
happy (especially if they will be poor), and to society at large.
I received a letter recently, for example, from a set of anguished parents.
Their talented young daughter is all set for college, but she has become
pregnant. They tell me they are encouraging her to have an abortion because they
don't want to see her career ruined. They say they are afraid abortion is a
"sin," but that it would be a worse sin if their daughter couldn't go to
college, "just because she made a mistake and got pregnant." I know many people
feel that way.
Then there are those who honestly believe it is only "fair" to permit
pregnant girls or women to decide for themselves whether to carry or to abort a
baby. They say: "A woman should have control over her own body. Nobody has the
right to invade her privacy." They see free choice in all things as an essential
characteristic of the American way of life, and regardless of how they,
themselves, see abortion, they do not feel they have the right "to impose their
beliefs on others."
There are at least three other kinds of people who consider abortion
acceptable. There are those who believe that a baby in the womb is not really
fully human, that only with birth does the baby achieve this status. Others
believe that because the law permits abortion, it must be morally acceptable.
Then there are those--and I believe they are many--who simply don't think about
the subject at all. They don't see it as a serious issue. It has never
personally touched their lives. Or perhaps they deliberately refuse to think
about it because they would only become further confused.
While one finds a certain number of Catholics holding various of these
positions, it's probably necessary to add another category altogether for those
who argue that they are good Catholics but believe the Church is wrong in its
position on abortion, or that the Church has no right to "dictate" to them on
this matter. I would distinguish this group from those Catholics who simply
don't know or don't understand what the Church teaches or why.
One can be compassionate and understanding about all these positions, but
sadly nothing changes the objective reality: abortion kills babies in their
mothers' wombs. It pains me to say that, as I know it pains all people of good
will, but it is the tragic reality. And there is another tragic reality that has
nothing whatever to do with compassion, and that is that abortion is big
business, netting hundreds of millions of dollars for abortionists.
I know that many are offended by the use of the word "killing." Actually, it
is the word used in a famous editorial published in 1970 in the California
Medical Association Journal:
"Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been
necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which
continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance
of the scientific fact which everyone really knows, that human life begins
at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death.
The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize
abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were
not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that
this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic
is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected." (Emphasis added.)
(From California Medicine, 113: 67, 1970.)
This editorial was not written to oppose abortion. It was simply an
exceptionally frank warning to doctors that they had better adopt the new ethic
and gear up for the brave new world of abortion ahead of them. As the editorial
pointed out, some real twisting of words would be required to make people forget
that abortion is the taking of human life. In other words, they would have to
come up with another word for "killing" if they were ever to make abortion
socially acceptable. But a change in words, unfortunately, does not change the
In any event, it seems to me time to list some of the questions I have been
asked about abortion, and to try to suggest some answers, recognizing that some
may require lengthier and more complicated answers than space permits, and that
there are many other questions that might be asked. Following that, I would like
to propose some ways of helping to restore a sense of sacredness about the life
of the unborn and, indeed, of all human life.
1. What is
This can sound like a foolish question. But it is
my experience that there are a number of young people who undergo abortions and
do not understand what is happening to them. As a matter of fact, doctors who
perform abortions generally prevent the woman or girl from seeing what is
happening, and pro-abortion organizations have consistently resisted any
legislation which would require that a young girl be told what an abortion is,
or be required to wait even 24 hours before having an abortion.
The important thing, perhaps, is to emphasize what abortion is not. Abortion
is not merely the removal of some tissue from a woman's body. Abortion is not
the removal of a living "thing" that would become human if it were allowed to
remain inside the woman's body. Abortion is the destruction of an unborn baby.
A new human life begins as soon as the egg has been fertilized. Science
reveals without question that once the egg is fertilized every identifying
characteristic of a brand-new human being is present, even the color of the eyes
and the hair, the sex and everything else. Pregnancy is the period for this new
human life to mature, not to "become human"—it already is. This is why the
Church considers abortion the killing of a human being, and why the Second
Vatican Council called it an "unspeakable crime."
The World Medical Association adopted in September 1948 the Declaration of
Geneva: "I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of
conception; even under threat I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to
the laws of humanity." In October 1969 the International Code of Medical Ethics
stated: "A doctor must always bear in mind the importance of preserving human
life from the time of conception until death." Again in 1970 the world Medical
Association reaffirmed its position by way of the Declaration of Oslo: "The
first moral imposed upon the doctor is respect for human life as expressed in
the Declaration of Geneva: 'I will maintain the utmost respect for human life
from the first moment of conception."'
In 1974 the Declaration on Procured Abortion (by the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith) stated: "Respect for human life is called for from
the time that the process of generation begins. From the time that the ovum is
fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the
mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with its own growth. It would
never be made human if it were not human already. .." This declaration was
ratified by Pope Paul Vl, who confirmed it and ordered it to be promulgated.
When the Church uses the phrase "procured abortion', it means, in
nontechnical terms, deliberately terminating a pregnancy at any stage before the
child in the womb can live outside the womb.
2. Don't the
majority of Americans support abortion?
Based on my experience, the majority of Americans
do not support abortion on demand. For example, most Americans would not support
abortion in cases where a woman does not want a baby of a particular sex. The
majority of those who support abortion seem to limit that support to cases of
rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.
Certainly there are polls which seem to suggest that the majority do favor
abortion and abortion funding. Many who feel that if they are a minority they
must be wrong can feel intimidated by these findings. We must remember, however,
that the timing of a poll, the kinds of questions asked, who asks the questions,
and who is asked, all influence the results. This has been demonstrated
frequently in relation to polls on abortion.
Polls, however, whatever the results, do not determine what is morally right
or wrong. If abortion is the taking of innocent life, it is wrong, no matter
what the polls might say, or how many people might vote for it.
Despite some recent reports of psychological studies, I personally receive
letters from all over the United States from women who have suffered the pain of
an abortion, or who, in the moments shortly before having an abortion, came to
see that abortion is the killing of a baby. These letters are deeply moving, and
most end by encouraging me to continue to speak out, and to do whatever I can to
help restore a sense of sacredness of the child in the womb.
Some feel that the right to be born is dependent on being wanted. They
suggest that if a mother does not want her baby, the baby will be deprived of
love, care and nurturing and may even be subject to abuse. Yet, how many
unplanned children have been born to parents who initially did not want them,
but whose attitudes changed completely to total acceptance and love? How many
unwanted children have made enormous contributions to the world, as musicians,
writers, doctors, entertainers, teachers, parents, or in other capacities?
Is an unborn baby to be denied the right to life because it is not wanted?
Candidates for political office spend much campaigning time and often a great
deal of money in trying to convince voters who don't want them to vote for them.
Is an unborn baby to be denied even the opportunity to have someone plead with a
mother to let the baby live, wanted or not? Is the unwanted baby to be denied
the opportunity given to millions of refugees who have been admitted to the
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is world famous for her concern for the poor, the
abandoned, the dying, the homeless, the institutionalized, the forgotten. Far
from seeing a solution to the problems of such in abortion, however, she
startled the world by her address when she received the Nobel Peace Prize in
1979. One of the most important statements she made is, "Today the greatest
destroyer of peace is abortion."
For Almighty God there is no such thing as an "unwanted baby" Every one is
made in His image and likeness and is uniquely part of the Divine Plan. If there
is a woman anywhere who does not "want" her baby, I plead with her to
nevertheless let that baby live. A great number of people want that baby as does
the Church--we love that baby from the moment it is conceived.
For it was you who created my being,
Knit me together in my mother's womb,
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation.
3. Why do people in
the pro-life movement want to change the law?
Some people argue that changing laws will not
eliminate abortions. It is certainly true that a change of heart is more
important than a change of law. What is forgotten, however, is that the law is
the great teacher. Children grow up believing that if a practice is legal, it
must be moral. Adults who live in a society in which what was illegal and
believed to be immoral is suddenly declared legal, soon grow accustomed to the
new law, and take the "new morality" for granted. In fact, many people seem to
fear that if they don't support the new law and the "new morality" it has
introduced, they will be considered undemocratic and "unAmerican."
It is amazing, for example, how smoking habits have been turned around. With
the deluge of media advertising and the strict legal limitations put on smoking
in places like New York City, many people now even feel embarrassed to smoke in
public. Suddenly, with new laws in jurisdiction after jurisdiction, smoking is
seen as less acceptable than ever before--actually immoral and irresponsible in
the eyes of many. Now a law is being proposed that a state should divest itself
of all investments in tobacco companies. There is no question: law and changes
in law constitute a mighty force if there is a determination to enforce it.
I have no doubt that a change in the law would go a long way toward changing
the attitude of Americans toward the rights of the unborn, at least over the
long haul. It is effective regarding virtually every other issue. For example,
in 1966 at the White House Conference on Civil Rights, then Solicitor General of
the United States Mr. Thurgood Marshall…had this to say about the effect a
change in law can bring about:
"Of course law--whether embodied in acts of Congress or judicial
decision--is, in some measure, a response to national opinion, and, of course,
non-legal, even illegal events, can significantly affect the development of the
law. But I submit that the history of the Negro demonstrates the importance of
getting rid of hostile laws and seeking the security of new friendly
laws..."Provided there is a determination to enforce it, law can change things
for the better. There's very little truth in the old refrain that one cannot
legislate equality. Laws not only provide concrete benefit, they can even change
the hearts of men, some men anyway, for good or evil...The simple fact is that
most people will obey the law and some, at least, will be converted by it."
There are those who argue that we can not legislate morality, and that
the answer to abortion does not lie in the law. The reality is that we do
legislate behavior every day. Our entire society is structured by law. We
legislate against going through red lights, smoking in airplanes and
restaurants, selling heroin, committing murder, burning down peoples' homes,
stealing, child abuse, slavery and a thousand other acts that would deprive
other people of their rights. And this is precisely the key: law is intended to
protect us from one another regardless of private and personal moral or
religious beliefs. The law does not ask me if I personally believe stealing to
be moral or immoral. The law does not ask me if my religion encourages me to
burn down homes. As far as the law is concerned, the distinction between private
and public morality is quite clear. Basically, when I violate other peoples'
rights, I am involved in a matter of public morality, subject to penalty under
Is it outlandish to think that laws against abortion might have some
protective effect? It is obvious that law is not the entire answer to abortion.
Nor is it the entire answer to theft, arson, child abuse, or shooting police
officers. Everybody knows that. But who would suggest that we repeal the laws
against such crimes because the laws are so often broken?
4. If abortion
were again declared illegal, wouldn't many women risk their lives in back alley
It should not be taken for granted that merely
because an abortion is performed legally, it is performed under medically
favorable circumstances, in sterile operating rooms, by expert physicians.
Stories of "botched" abortions are sadly plentiful. That many abortions are
carried out by highly competent doctors under clinical conditions as physically
safe for the mother as in other forms of surgery can not be questioned. But
legality is no guarantee of safety or concern.
The question itself suggests that a pregnant woman must have an abortion for
one reason or another. Obviously, there will always be people who will take
their own route to try to solve their problems, but legalizing abortion lies
encouraged many women to follow the abortion route because it now seems
respectable. They would never have considered an illegal abortion.
Who can do more than speculate about what might happen? If we turn to the
pre-1973 record, even the highest estimates of abortions annually were but a
tiny fraction of the million-and-a-half a year since 1973, the year abortions
were legalized for the nation.
I quote Dr. Bernard Nathanson, M.D., once the hero of the abortion movement,
now firmly committed to the right to life of every unborn. In his book,
"Aborting America," Dr. Nathanson addresses the question of "back alley"
"The favorite button of the pro-abortionists is the one showing the
coathanger symbol of the self-induced abortion and the carnage that results from
it, or the similar problem of botched illegal abortions done by 'back-alley
"How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In NARAL
(National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) we generally emphasized
the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of
the latter it was always '5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.' I confess that I knew
the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped
to think of it. But in the 'morality' of our revolution, it was a useful figure,
widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?
The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within
reason that had to be done was permissible. Statistics on abortion deaths were
fairly reliable...but not all these deaths were reported as such if the
attending doctor wanted to protect a family by listing another cause of death.
In 1967...the federal government listed only 160 deaths from illegal abortion.
In...1972, the total was only 39 deaths. Christopher Tietze estimated 1,000
maternal deaths as the outside possibility in an average year before
legalization; the actual total was probably closer to 500."
Are 1,000 deaths meaningless? Are 39? Of course not. One death is
meaningful. But once again, the mothers involved could have chosen not to abort.
Moreover, there is no guarantee that they would have survived legal abortions
Can there really be any doubt that legalization has multiplied the number of
abortions almost infinitely beyond anyone's expectations? I go back to what I
said above about smoking. Who would ever have believed that the day would come
that smoking, such a widespread habit, would be so severely restricted by
law--and in relatively such a brief period of time? Have the advertising
campaigns and the governmental regulations reduced smoking? Remarkably.
God forbid that making abortion illegal would result in the death of even one
woman. It seems to me that the way to avoid such is to help make life livable
for every pregnant woman and help make her bringing her baby into the world a
socially desirable event, in which she is praised rather than condemned.
5. Why did the
bishops hire a communications firm? Don't we read and hear enough about abortion
in the media?
I could answer this simply by quoting from a
letter I received only one week ago. I am quoting verbatim:
"I am writing to express my appreciation of the decision of the
American Catholic bishops to give financial support of up to $5 million to
the pro-life movement. I was told this money is being raised to hire a
professional media firm to 'get the truth out.'
"As a woman who has been through the abortion experience and who
knows others who have been through it repeatedly, I am particularly aware
and grateful. It is not something I would wish on anyone. Its repercussions
are widespread, packed with emotion, and sometimes despair. This may be true
to a greater or lesser degree according to the woman, her history and/or her
personality type. But the abortion experience is just one more hardening of
the heart. Hardening my heart to my own flesh conditions me to do it to
others and even justifies it in my mind. This is the kind of subconscious
thinking, and feeling, and rationale that the abortion experience has the
capability of fostering. Also, the woman may become almost hopelessly
self-destructive through alcoholism, drug addiction or bulimia, to name a
few. In addition, I wonder is it just a coincidence that aborted women I
know have gone through tumultuous relationship after relationship and have
had trouble initiating, developing, and sustaining happy, healthy, workable
"To get the truth out." That's precisely the reason. The fact is that we
don't read and hear enough about abortion in the media. One of the most serious
problems facing the pro-life movement is the way much of the press reports this
issue. For the most part, for example, for whatever reason, the media have
habitually used the term "antiabortion," instead of "pro-life," for people who
believe in the right to life for the unborn. Yet those who support abortion are
labeled "pro-choice." Even to change the emphasis in terminology would be worth
the effort of a professional communications firm.
I have given countless interviews to the media in an attempt to share with
people what our efforts are all about, but have fallen short of the mark. I
support the right of the media to make whatever editorial judgments they deem
appropriate. But it is critical that our positions are really understood if they
are to be reported evenhandedly and without bias.
Additionally, we have to try to assure that pro-life news stories are not
buried—in the middle of a newspaper, or as a 30-second sound bite in the middle
of a newscast. Fairness in reporting on pro-life issues is imperative. Some
courageous journalists—even some who disagree with the pro-life position—have
made the effort to report in an unbiased manner. It is hoped that a professional
communications campaign will encourage many more journalists to do the same.
For example, I have frequently repeated in public addresses, in writing and
in press conferences, the offer I made in 1984 about any woman who is pregnant
and in need coming to the Archdiocese of New York for free assistance. In the
almost six years since I made that offer—during which time many women have been
helped at great cost to the archdiocese—I have seen a reference to it only once
in the secular press, and even then in only one newspaper. It is frustrating, to
say the least, when the Church is constantly accused of not doing anything for
women while programs such as this exist not only here in New York, but in
similar efforts around the country.
What we believe about life is truly good news. I believe that every person
has the right to know about that good news, to be given a fair representation of
what we're about, and then to study our position and, hopefully, recognize not
only the reasonableness of the position, but also the charity and love which it
It would be unfair to suggest that the failure to get the word out is only
because of the bias of the press. As a Church, we have not, in my judgment,
broadly disseminated our belief that every human life is sacred because made in
the image and likeness of Almighty God and that our concern for the unborn flows
from this fundamental belief. If this is to change, and with it the hearts of
all people of good will, we will have to improve our means of educating people,
including more widespread preaching on the issue of human life. In the first
instance, we must concentrate on instructing Catholics about the principles
regarding human life. In my experience, I have found people very responsive once
they understand what it is we're talking about when we discuss abortion: the
taking of an innocent human life.
In my judgment, most of the criticisms against the communications campaign
are misleading and unfair. To insist, for example, that the monies to be used in
communicating the message about life should be used for the poor, or to help
pregnant women, to combat racism, etc., is to assert arbitrarily that human
beings who are visible deserve support more than human beings who are invisible.
Further, it is a rehash of the gratuitous assertion that the Church ignores
other needs. (It is amazing, for example, to read that if the Church were
serious about racism, it would put this money into that battle, instead of into
abortion. The black bishops of the United States have called abortion genocide
against blacks. What could be more racist than genocide?)
There are more than one and one-half million unborn babies put to death every
year in the United States. If we spent two dollars to let the world know about
each one, that would be three million dollars—the cost of the current contract
with the communications company. Actually, the money is coming from a Catholic
organization, and not from the Church or people at large. If it were coming from
the Catholic people of the United States it would mean less than six cents per
I find most amazing of all, however, the objection to using modern means of
communications. If we didn't have sound systems in our churches, hardly anyone
would ever hear a homily. In printing religious textbooks we rely on the most
clever graphics the publishers can find to get the message across. Prior to the
year 1454 A.D., the Bible was available essentially only in rare manuscript
form. Then came Gutenberg and movable type. Suppose the Church had said: "No way
we are going to let the Holy Bible be published on such a modern invention"? The
greater number of people in the world would never have had a Bible in their
hands. Is it less important to spread the word on unborn babies? Are we not to
use the best method we can find to publicize what is happening to them?
Our Lord never used a telegram or a fax machine. He never flew in an airplane
or even rode in an automobile. Who is to say he would not do so were he walking
the earth today?
Is it fair to demand that the Church not use newspaper ads, for example, to
try to protect human life, when organizations like Planned Parenthood use them
to promote abortion?
I really suspect that from the very outset the announcement of the
communications campaign was misinterpreted, intentionally or unintentionally.
The campaign has been portrayed by its critics as an effort to elect or defeat
candidates for political office. In no way is that its intention. It is not a
political campaign. It is a communications campaign to publicize the truth about
human life and abortion.
When our message is heard—the message of life and love for both mother and
child—I believe most Americans, whatever their religious persuasion, will want
to join in a commitment to the sacredness of every human life.
6. But do
Catholics have the right to impose their beliefs on others?
Life is a right which must be acknowledged by a
civil society as a given; it is never the concession of the state. Indeed, the
state has as its primary purpose the defense of the lives of its citizens;
Thomas Jefferson called it, "the first and only legitimate object of good
government—the care of human life, and not its destruction." Those who are
weakest or most defenseless have traditionally been given even higher degrees of
protection. As former Speaker of the House Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. said, quoting
the truly noble words of Senator Hubert Humphrey, "The moral test of
government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children;
those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the
shadows of life, the sick, the needy, the handicapped." Human life must be
protected from its inception until natural death; any other point which is
determined by law is purely arbitrary and wrongly allows the state to take upon
itself mastery over human life.
Those who accuse the Church of imposing its beliefs on others assume that the
Church's teaching on human life has been created by the Church. Not so. All who
accept the Ten Commandments, that is, Divine Law, know that it is never lawful,
under any circumstances, deliberately or directly to take the life of any
innocent human being. (This is one of the key principles, for example, in the
tradition of "Just War"—it is never "just" to attack innocent civilians.) Unborn
babies are innocent of any aggression against anyone.
Abortion is also forbidden, however, by Natural Moral Law, which governs all
peoples, of all religions. The Greek playwright, Sophocles, and the Roman
official, Cicero, spelled out the universal character of Natural Law long before
Christ. Our own Declaration of Independence was declared, not on the basis of a
particular religion, but on the basis of Natural Moral Law. It appealed to "the
Laws of nature and of Nature's God" and on this basis declared it self-evident
that all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that
the first of these is the right to life.
To argue on the basis of Natural Moral Law takes us back to the question of
whether the unborn is human. If it is human, it is in the very nature of things
that we should not deliberately destroy it, just as it is in the very nature of
things that we have no right to go around killing children already born. No one
ever hears a woman who learns she is pregnant say: "I am going to have a fetus."
She says: "I am going to have a baby." It would be "unnatural" for a mother to
put her baby to death after birth. It goes against the very nature of things. If
the baby is a baby before birth, to destroy it is equally unnatural. Yet science
today, and not only religion, reveals without reasonable doubt that an unborn
baby is a baby. The other night I heard a woman arguing on television that it is
"unnatural" to take the skin off an animal in order to make a fur coat. The
program went on to talk about how cruel we are to raise foxes and minks for that
purpose. Is it only the destruction of an unborn human being that is considered
7. Isn't it
un-American to deny people the right to choose?
No one has a right to choose to put an innocent
human being to death. The use of ambiguous language and euphemisms has been
tragically successful in switching the emphasis from "life" to "choice," so that
those who are trying to defend life are accused of trying to deprive people of
choice. The argument then becomes: "In a pluralistic society, what authority do
you have to deprive me of my reproductive rights?" Reproductive rights, however,
are not the issue; killing human beings is.
The Church understands that there are circumstances in which some people
believe that abortion is the lesser of evils. They believe, for example, that it
would be better to have an abortion if a baby will be born retarded or deformed;
or if a mother is poor, or already has several children; or, as we noted above,
if a young girl's education or career would be disrupted by a baby, or her
reputation damaged. (Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood is quoted as
saying, "the most merciful thing a large family can do to one of its infant
members is to kill it." "Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood,"
by George Grant. Wolgermuth & Hyatt. 1988)
The Church recognizes that many hardships can occur with a pregnancy. But
there is a fundamental principle which must always prevail: The end never
justifies the means if the means are evil. In other words, no matter how
difficult the alternatives, they can not justify the direct killing of an
innocent human being. What kind of world would it be if we were not faithful to
that principle? Where would the killing stop?
Many people reject capital punishment. Yet before capital punishment is
administered to someone who is charged with a heinous crime like murder, he or
she is first tried by jury and found guilty. Yet, many who reject capital
punishment accept, support, and consider it a "right" to take the life of an
innocent unborn baby, who has never had a trial, or been found guilty. To the
Church this is inconsistent.
American laws deny the right to kill innocent human beings, or even various
"endangered species'" like certain fish, birds or animals. Why is it
"un-American" to argue against the "right" to kill the unborn? The Church mourns
the ravages of the environment, pollution of the air, the rivers and lakes and
oceans, the poisoning of wildlife, the potential of nuclear war and an
accompanying holocaust. But sheer common sense, if not mercy for the helpless,
demands that a society address before all else the destruction of its own
Some people say abortion is a right because it hasn't been proved that the
unborn is human. Even some who accept the fact that the unborn is fully human,
however, insist that a woman's "right" to have an abortion prevails over the
right of the unborn to live. For example, a recent poll found that 76 percent of
the women questioned believe that abortion is murder, yet 55 percent of the
women who considered abortion murder still assert that it is a woman's right.
Can there really be a "right" to commit murder? Is it "un-American" to say that
no one has a right to commit murder? (Incidentally, I neither use nor encourage
the use of the term murder for abortion. Here I am simply quoting the word used
in the poll.)
The same frightening inconsistency is at work in the euthanasia movement,
with many people believing that the elderly, the cancer-ridden, the deformed,
the retarded should be "put out of their misery," because their "quality of
life" doesn't warrant their continuing to live.
But unfortunately there is, at times, another subtle, anti-Catholic bias at
work in this whole argument. Some people still believe Catholics are
second-class citizens, who owe their allegiance to a foreign power (the pope),
and are dangerous to the "American way of life." To such people, it is
acceptable for non-Catholics, or Catholics who dissent from Church teaching, to
do everything they can to promote abortion, including influencing public
officials to pass pro-abortion legislation. Those who support "abortion rights"
are considered perfectly American in using the media, advertising and other
means to promote abortion.
Catholics and others convinced that the unborn has rights, and should be
allowed a free choice—that is, to choose life—are branded, on the contrary, as
"un-American." Is that fair?
8. Hasn't Church
teaching changed on the subject of abortion?
The Church has never changed its teaching that
abortion is evil. What has confused some people is that the Church's penalty for
abortion has changed from time to time. Pope Paul Vl declared that the teaching
of the Church about the morality of abortion "has not changed and is
unchangeable." Although some people point out that Saint Thomas Aquinas thought
the soul did not come to the fetus ("ensoulment") until sometime after
conception, the fact is that he considered abortion gravely sinful even before
this time. He taught that it was a "grave sin against the natural law" to kill
the fetus at any stage, and a graver sin of homicide to do so after ensoulment.
Our present Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, clearly stated the consistent
teaching of the Church in 1979 when he said:
"I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world
that all human life—from the moment of conception and through all subsequent
states—is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of
God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. . . If a
person's right to life is violated at the moment in which he is first
conceived in his mother's womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole
of the moral order, which serves to ensure the inviolable goods of man.
Among those goods, life occupies the first place...And so we will stand up
every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before
birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the
authority to destroy unborn life." (Homily on the Capitol Mall, Washington,
D.C., October 7, 1979 )
It is unfortunate that some Catholics in the United States, sometimes
under the guise of "pluralism," assert that Church teaching on certain critical
moral issues is open to individual opinion. In the case of abortion this is
simply not so. The Church teaches that abortion is a grave moral evil. This is
the unquestionable teaching of the Church, the Catholic position. Those who
disagree are simply rejecting the teaching of the Church. In so doing they are
not presenting the authentic Catholic position.
9. What is the
Church's current penalty for abortion?
Current Church law states: "A person who procures
an abortion, where the effect follows, incurs an automatic excommunication."
(Canon 1398) This law is normally interpreted to include the adult woman who
knowingly has the abortion and anyone who assists willingly and directly, such
as the doctor, the nurse or others. Recently, the Pontifical Commission for the
Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law (January 19, 1988) ruled that
the "abortion" mentioned in Canon 1398 embraces the "killing of the fetus in
whatever way or at whatever time from the moment of conception." In such cases,
the excommunication occurs immediately after the knowing and willful act of the
individual. The excommunication occurs without any action by the bishop.
(Excommunication means, basically, that one is cut off from full communion with
the Church and is forbidden to receive any of the Sacraments except Penance,
which requires confession and rejection of one's sins, an act of penance, and
reconciliation with the Church.)
Automatic excommunication is to be distinguished from penalties that
individual bishops might impose on those who support abortion in a general way.
There are impermissible forms of cooperation, inconsistent with being a
practicing Catholic, which give active scandal within the Church and within
society. In such cases, Church law gives the bishop the authority to impose
excommunication on an individual. Should the Church exercise public sanctions
against such a person, obviously the purpose would be to counteract scandal,
that is, to make clear to the world that it does not approve such conduct. But
it must be understood that in the final analysis excommunication is the choice
of the individual excommunicated; it is not the choice of the Church.
To have the power to impose penalties and to use that power, however, are two
different things. The Scriptures say: "I will not the death of the sinner, but
that he be converted and live." And our Lord speaks of letting wheat and weeds
grow side by side until the harvest time. when the weeds will be burned, but the
wheat used for bread. The purpose of penalties is not simply to punish the
wrongdoers. Penalties are intended to encourage the faithful as well as to deter
Sometimes, however, if ordinary Catholics see a prominent individual ignore
the Church's teaching and go unpunished by the Church. they are confused and
scandalized. At the same time, the Church does not want to make "martyrs" out of
individuals by punishing them. It is up to the local bishop to use his best
judgment concerning particular cases in his area.
Where Catholics are perceived not only as treating Church teaching on
abortion with contempt, but helping to multiply abortions by advocating
legislation supporting abortion, or by making public funds available for
abortion, bishops may decide that, for the common good, such Catholics must be
warned that they are at risk of excommunication. If such actions persist,
bishops may consider excommunication the only option. Undoubtedly bishops would
engage in considerable prayer and discussion before moving in such a direction.
Some bishops, wanting to avoid imposing severe penalties like
excommunication, are beginning to impose lesser penalties, which do not separate
public wrongdoers from the communion of the faithful as does excommunication,
but serve as warnings and help to reduce scandal. For example, some bishops have
directed that no one who supports abortion, or holds that abortion is a right,
or a matter of choice, may speak at Catholic functions (except, perhaps, at an
academic symposium where both sides of the issue might be fairly presented),
receive honorary degrees, be appointed special ministers of the Eucharist, serve
as rectors in church, or be otherwise honored by the Church.
One significant reason a number of bishops are taking such steps is that they
want to make clear that an individual's position on abortion does make a
difference to the Church. The Church can hardly be expected to treat those who
publicly violate its teachings in serious matters the same as those who observe
10. Don't some Catholics claim that they "personally oppose" abortion but that
they can not "impose" that belief on others?
A peculiar problem has arisen over the past three
decades, particularly involving Catholics in political life. The problem stems
from the positions, "I am personally opposed to abortion, but can not impose my
morality on others," or "I can not permit my personal beliefs to deprive a woman
of her right to choose." The "personally opposed phrase says, in effect, "In
public life I will act indistinguishably from someone who sees abortion as a
positive social good, but please know that I will do so with personal regret."
This regret is hardly effective, since, whatever its intention, it serves the
agenda of those who actively favor abortion. It seems to me that the "personally
opposed, but" position is equivalently a "pro-choice" position. In November of
1989, the bishops of the United States unanimously resolved that "No Catholic
can responsibly take a 'pro-choice' stand when the 'choice' in question involves
the taking of innocent human life. "Pope Leo XIII remembered as the great
champion of the labor movement, repudiated such a position over a hundred years
ago when he taught:
"Further, it is unlawful to follow one line of conduct in private
and another in public, respecting privately the authority of the Church, but
publicly rejecting it: for this would amount to joining together good and
evil, and to putting man in conflict with himself; whereas, he ought always
to be consistent, and never in the least point nor in any condition of life
to swerve from Christian virtue." (Immortale Dei, November 1, 1885).
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed the question of
political action related to abortion in its "Declaration on Procured
Abortion" (November 18, 1974).
This declaration not only condemns the immorality of all direct abortion
(n.7), it commends all positive efforts to combat its causes "including
political action, which will be in particular the task of law." (n.26) Further,
the declaration is most explicit that one can never obey a law which is in
itself immoral, "nor can one take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such
a law, or vote for it," nor can one "collaborate in its application." (n.22) On
the contrary, "it is at all times the task of the State to preserve each
person's right to protect the weakest." (n.21 )
It seems to me that those who say, "I am personally opposed to abortion but I
will not impose my moral or religious beliefs on others" have the obligation to
demonstrate that their position is not rooted simply in political expediency.
I can not judge anyone's conscience, but surely I may ask if a public
official is being morally consistent if he or she personally believes abortion
is killing, but simultaneously believes his or her office requires supporting
it, funding it, or refusing even to work for legislation opposed to it. While it
is true that there are varying political strategies for changing any law which
allows the unborn to be killed, in my view, it can not be seriously debated that
the law must be changed.
As much as I want to be understanding of the complexities of political life
and its responsibilities and pressures, and not jump to harsh conclusions, I
simply can not find anything in authentic Catholic teaching that can support a
"personally opposed, but" position. Nor can I find it consistent with Catholic
teaching or the Natural Moral Law to support abortion in any way, by
legislation, a call for funding, or silence born of a refusal to seek a reversal
of legislation supporting abortion. It does not seem harsh to suggest that if we
are to call ourselves Catholic, we should be acting in consistence with Catholic
teaching. I would think that to be simply a matter of integrity. I would think
it a requirement, as well, for those who are not Catholic, at least to think
through the real meaning of abortion and how it violates nature and the Natural
Moral Law, which is not a question of religious faith.
St. Thomas More, who was an accomplished statesman and an exemplary Catholic,
had the courage to withstand the pressure of "privatizing" his conscience. And
while he remained committed to his king, his first obligation was to Almighty
God. What greater thing could be said of a statesman than what Thomas More said
prior to his death, "I die the king's good servant, but God's first." Catholics
in political office must also have this commitment to serve the state; but
service to God must always come first.
11. The Church
forbids the use of birth control. What does the Church offer as an alternative?
With all the talk about Catholics imposing their
morality on others, it is fascinating to note that anti-contraception laws of
19th-century America were passed by Protestants for a largely Protestant
America. It is startling to read:
"When a committee of the Federal Council of Churches endorsed in
1931 'the careful and restrained use of contraception by married people,' a
Washington Post editorial replied, 'Carried to its logical conclusion, the
Committee's report, if carried into effect, would sound the deathknell of
marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which
would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of
legalized contraceptives would be "careful and restrained" is
preposterous."' ("Fifty Questions on Abortion, Euthanasia and Related
by Charles E. Rice, Cashel Institute, 1986.)
Birth control and abortion are not "equal evils," except when abortion is
used as "birth control." Contraception prevents the conception of life. Abortion
destroys life already conceived. There is clear evidence that certain devices
called contraceptives, such as the IUD, do not prevent conception. They work as
"abortifacients;" that is, they destroy the fertilized ovum. In other words,
they are a means of abortion, not contraception. Except for efforts to exclude
abortifacients, I do not know a single Catholic bishop who would favor civil
legislation against birth control. It is either ignorance or trickery to pretend
that the bishops would try to bring about such legislation.
The position of the Catholic Church is quite clear on this matter. Family
planning is not only a right; in certain circumstances it is an obligation. The
question is one of the means used. The Church does not accept the use of
artificial means. The Church encourages, supports, teaches and helps finance
Natural Family Planning. NFP is a highly reliable and easy-to-learn method of
planning a family. It involves the observation and interpretation of the natural
bodily signs (fertility signs) in order to determine accurately when a child can
or can not be conceived. NFP supports the Church's total vision of the dignity
of the human person and of the unitive and procreative dimensions of marriage.
It is unfortunate that some people no longer consider abstinence an "option"
in family planning. Love, patience, and even sacrifice are required in giving up
sexual relations for a period of time but this can help marriages grow stronger
Periodic abstinence can be a selfless expression of love for a spouse and
The Church is not dedicated to a world without sex and the legitimate joys it
can bring to those who engage in sexual activity responsibly in marriage. The
Church teaches very explicitly that married couples need not intend to conceive
a child to enjoy the sexual relations of marriage. It sees the sexual as
beautiful, sacred, meaningful, joyous. It would add what some others might
deny--that it must also and always be responsible.
12. Isn't the
Church's position on abortion anti-woman?
I can understand why such allegations find a
degree of acceptance. First, there is a carryover from other issues, such as the
question of the ordination of women, and of the role of women in the Church in
general. Secondly, there is the reality that bishops and priests are themselves
unmarried and do not have to face personally the demands of marriage and the
responsibilities of children. A third reason is that so many homilies and
published denunciations of abortion seem to focus almost exclusively on the
responsibilities of women. Men seem to go unscathed, or even unnoticed. Other
such arguments could be raised, all seeming to demonstrate that the Church and
the bishops are biased against women, and that this bias affects their view of
I am familiar with these sentiments and sincerely believe that the Church's
position on abortion is totally unrelated to such issues. On the contrary, the
Church sees in abortion a grave exploitation of women, particularly of the poor
and minorities. One reason for this is that the immediate cost of an abortion is
seen as less than the long-range cost of support for mother and child.
We see, too, the ease with which fathers of unborn children can evade
long-range responsibilities by encouraging abortions. Rather than "liberation"
for women, we see women used for mere gratification, then encouraged to undergo
the risks of abortion and the years of emotional trauma that many women feel
after an abortion. I note, as well, that the overwhelming number of those who
perform abortions are men. Many male doctors, I am sure, sincerely believe that
they are acting in the best interest of their patients. There is no doubt,
however, but that abortion has become big business and that relatively few
abortions seem to be performed without a fee even by those sympathetic with the
poor. It is interesting also to note that unborn female children are aborted as
freely as unborn male, without protest that this is anti-woman.
Another important point: most pro-abortion organizations argue that the
pro-life movement is a bishops' movement, or a male-dominated movement. This is
far from the truth. Eighty percent of pro-life activists are women. Recently I
read an excellent paper on the subject by an organization of highly educated
women, called "Women Who Affirm Life, Inc.," headquartered in Boston. It
responds to the false stereotype of "the narrowness of so many in the pro-life
movement, their tactics, their non-acceptance of the consistent ethic approach,
their lack of compassion, their alliances with groups that often are very
anti-Catholic in other areas, their lack of civility, and so on." The paper
"This characterization fails to recognize the work of over 3,400
pro-life organizations staffed primarily by women volunteers, who provide
compassionate care and assistance to women facing crisis pregnancies. Many
thousands of others, from a wide variety of backgrounds, devote themselves
to pro-life education and public policy advocacy. Rather than narrowness and
nonacceptance, this work is conducted with reason, dignity and respect for
the views of others."
That men, too, suffer because of abortion, however, is illustrated by the
bitter reply of a man standing outside an abortion clinic with his pregnant
wife. When asked by a sidewalk counselor if he wanted help, he answered, "No,
I'm only the father."
13. What about
abortion in cases of rape or incest?
Some evils are what we call intrinsic evils, that
is evil in themselves, so that no circumstances can justify them. Direct
abortion is such an evil. For example, a mother of a pregnant teenager does not
want her daughter to have an abortion because of the emotional and spiritual
damage it will cause her daughter. At the same time the mother does not want her
daughter to have a baby and perhaps have to give up her future dreams. Is there
a legitimate choice here? Can abortion be considered a "lesser evil"? No, it is
an intrinsic evil. It simply can not be morally justified. This principle holds
even in regard to rape or incest. An unborn baby is an innocent human being who
has committed no crime, regardless of how conception came about. It is never
morally right to destroy an innocent human being.
It is true that many in the pro-life movement temporarily settle for
"imperfect" law, that is, law which permits abortion under severely limited
circumstances, such as in cases of rape or incest. Such legislation is
"supported" only as the lesser of evils and those who support it will continue
to work toward legislation which prohibits the killing of any unborn, for any
This does not imply that abortion in cases of rape or incest is less of an
"intrinsic" evil than in other cases, or that pro-life people accept it as a
morally lesser evil. One might call it a legally lesser evil. It implies that at
a particular point the political reality may be that it is impossible to bring
about legislation that prohibits all abortion. In such circumstances, moral
theologians point out that it is better to achieve "imperfect" legislation that
may save the lives of a great many unborn babies now, while continuing to work
strenuously for "perfect" legislation that may save the life of every unborn
baby at some future date. In my judgment, it is unfair to accuse those who fight
for imperfect legislation, as the best they can get at a given time, of
"sacrificing the lives" of those unborn they know they can not protect at the
same time. I personally know public officials who have spent their entire
political lives fighting to protect all unborn children. To date they have not
been successful, but I thank God that they have succeeded in protecting huge
numbers. Moreover, they have helped keep alive in our country the belief that
all abortion is evil. They have helped keep the entire pro-life movement alive.
Many of them have consistently risked their political futures to do this, and
have taken bitter abuse from the pro-abortion movement. For anyone in the
pro-life movement to accuse them of "trading off" babies conceived by rape or
incest, as though they were callous to the sacredness of human life, or simply
trying to protect themselves politically, would be unjust, uncharitable and
terribly counterproductive to the cause of life.
The conflict over imperfect law has definitely been divisive to the pro-life
movement. It seems to me that our goal must always be to advance protection for
the unborn child to the maximum degree possible. It certainly seems to me,
however, that in cases in which perfect legislation is clearly impossible, it is
morally acceptable to support a pro-life bill, however reluctantly, that
contains exceptions if the following conditions prevail:
A. There is no other feasible bill restricting existing permissive
abortion laws to a greater degree than the proposed bill;
B. The proposed bill is more restrictive than existing law, that is,
the bill does not weaken the current law's restraints on abortion; and
C. The proposed bill does not negate the responsibility of future,
more restrictive laws.
In addition, it would have to be made clear that we do not believe that a
bill which contains exceptions is ideal and that we would continue to urge
future legislation which would more fully protect human life.
I recognize that some in the pro-life movement may consider it politically or
strategically unwise to take the course outlined above, but that is a matter of
prudential judgment. It is not a matter of supporting intrinsic evil as such.
I agree with and strongly encourage the following from the Joint Committee on
Bio-Ethical Issues of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Great Britain:
"In a society which widely permits and procures abortion (e.g. by
publicly funding it), some may judge that justice and the common good are
most fittingly served by campaigning uncompromisingly for the 'politically
impossible:' full equal legal protection for the unborn. Others may judge it
right to concentrate on pressing for a measure of protection which is less
than complete but which is greater than that accorded by today's unjust law
and has, they consider, a better prospect of being soon enacted and brought
"Those who chose the stricter course should not adversely judge
those who promote imperfect legislation, provided that the actions and
attitudes of the latter are consistent with all other guidelines...Nor
should those who promote imperfect legislation make adverse judgments on
those whose preference for the stricter course seems to hinder the pursuit
of the politically possible. Either group's adverse criticism of the other
may undermine the common effort—to extend the equal protection of the law to
all." (Briefing 89, Vol. 19, No. 14, July 7, 1989.)
14. Can aborted babies
be baptized or given Christian funerals?
Yes. Canon law directs us to baptize a miscarried or aborted fetus if there
is any chance he or she may still be alive. (Canon 871) Catholic funeral rites
include special funeral prayers for children who die before baptism, which can
be used in the case of a miscarried or stillborn child. American bishops have
held funeral and burial services for unborn children killed by abortion.
In the Archdiocese of New York we have a burial plot at Gate of Heaven
Cemetery called the Guardian Angel's Plot for the burial of children who died
after birth or before birth. This includes babies who were miscarried or
15. Don't the bishops neglect the needs of women and
children and the poor because of a preoccupation with abortion?
At the outset it must be noted that the Church does consider abortion the
most important issue of our day. The resolution on abortion unanimously endorsed
by the bishops of the United States in November, 1989 reads, in part: "At this
particular time, abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue for all
men and women of good will."
At any rate, I'm sorry, but I must call the question a "red herring." It's
like telling a fireman who is trying to save lives in a fire that he should
really be worrying about apartheid in South Africa, even while putting out fires
in New York.
The Church not only "worries" about many issues in addition to abortion, but
spends hundreds of millions of dollars on them—like trying to keep schools and
hospitals open, treating persons with AIDS, taking care of the physically and
emotionally disabled, the retarded, the deaf and the blind. The bishops have
published powerful pastoral letters on war and peace, on the economic and social
order, on racism. Bishops including myself have testified before the Congress on
housing and homelessness, on nuclear weapons, on injustices in Latin America.
But the question is particularly misleading when it implies that bishops
don't do anything to make abortion "unnecessary." In the Archdiocese of New
York, for example, as I have noted above, it was announced publicly on Oct. 15,
1984, and has been repeatedly announced publicly ever since, that any girl or
woman, of any religion, race, color or ethnic background, from anywhere, who is
pregnant and in financial need, can come to the archdiocese and be provided
medical care, hospitalization, legal and counseling help and related assistance.
If she wishes to keep her baby after birth, she is helped to do so. If she
wishes to have the baby adopted, arrangements are made accordingly. Many other
dioceses provide similar critical help.
The Church does not condemn the girl or woman who has had an abortion. On the
contrary, she is treated with compassion and love. There are post-abortion
counseling programs, such as Project Rachel. There are programs for both fathers
and mothers of aborted babies such as "At Peace with the Unborn," to help them
get over the traumatic effect abortion has on their lives, if sometimes only in
I am deeply concerned about women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant.
I have talked with many such women and have received countless letters from
others so I know of their fear and often their loneliness. Many times they are
abandoned by the father of their unborn child or they are ostracized by
embarrassed family members. There are heavy financial concerns and nagging
uncertainty about the future.
This is why I believe all efforts of the pro-life movement must include
greater support and assistance to women in crisis pregnancies. To support life
it is necessary to be actively involved in addressing the many problems which
tempt those in crisis pregnancies to abortion, such as poverty, homelessness and
sometimes abuse—physical and other forms of abuse—by men.
The Church throughout the country does a great deal to encourage decent
housing, to strengthen families, to take away the stigma of being a "single
parent." We also provide parenting programs which include prenatal care for the
Some people simply don't know the extent of charitable activities in which
the Church is engaged Some people, however, seem not to want the world to know.
It would show how false many of their charges are.
It is obvious that everyone could do more to help the poor. The millions of
dollars spent by most states in funding abortions could help considerably to
advance programs for pregnant women, prenatal care, sound education, and so on.
One major alternative to abortion is adoption. It is sad, indeed, that so
many couples who are childless are unable to adopt children because of abortion.
Since 1973, some 25 million unborn babies have been put to death. Millions of
those babies, whatever their color, race or ethnic background, or even the state
of their health, could have been adopted by couples who have been on the waiting
lists of adoption agencies for years. It is a tragic irony that in some
hospitals some doctors will be working desperately, using all their skills, to
save the life of an unborn baby, while in other sections of the same hospitals
unborn babies are being destroyed.
The sad truth is that a great number of babies are deliberately aborted, not
because their mothers are in serious financial need, or confronted with grave
problems. They are aborted because they are inconvenient. That's what is meant
by "abortion on demand" and for all practical purposes it is the law of this
The Church has always had as its primary concern the poor and the weak. The
efforts of the Catholic Church on numerous social and human rights
issues—including war, housing, racism, drug addiction and so on—have been
applauded by many, including non-Catholics. These efforts will continue. We feel
a special urgency however, in opposing abortion because it is the killing of the
most defenseless in our society, the unborn.
16. Church and State are separate in America. Aren't the
bishops interfering in politics?
Bishops have every right and duty to be involved in public policy, which is a
different thing altogether from politics, both because they are bishops and
because they are American citizens.
All citizens should express themselves on the moral dimensions of public
policy issues. Those citizens who are generally perceived as "moral leaders,"
such as the bishops, have a special obligation to do so. People expect bishops
to denounce unjust war and aggression, to plead for the homeless, to denounce
drug traffic, racism and so on. Bishops are criticized if they remain silent
about such issues.
Why are bishops criticized only when the public policy question involves
abortion? Why would I be praised for encouraging the mayor, the governor, the
Congress and the president to intensify the war on drugs, but criticized if I
urge the same regarding abortion?
Actually, many bishops find that local political leaders want to involve
them, the bishops, in various public policy matters, rather than vice versa.
Political leaders want bishops involved in community action. It is, again, only
when abortion is involved that some political leaders complain about bishops.
This brings up the "single issue" question. Bishops are told they should not
criticize a political candidate for simply being "proabortion," or favor a
candidate simply for being "pro-life." It is argued that a candidate's entire
record, his or her entire set of attitudes must be considered.
There are several things to be said about this. First, with the staggering
increase in abortion in less than 20 years, other issues, important as they are,
are secondary to this direct taking of human life.
Secondly, in regard to many other issues, the question is one of public
policy strategy, a question of the best way to do things. But abortion is not a
question of mere strategy, or of how best to accomplish a particular public
policy objective. Abortion—every abortion—is the destruction of human life.
There is no "best way" of destroying human life. That is an absolute.
For example, everyone can argue that we need a stronger police force. How is
that achieved? That's a matter of strategy. For example, some might recommend
raising taxes. Others believe that higher taxes will ruin the economy and result
in a very high rate of unemployment. Are they right or wrong? That's an economic
judgment more than it's a moral judgment. Many such examples could be given.
In reality, aren't "single issues" always driving forces in American
political life? Doesn't the state of the economy or employment strongly
influence thinking? Could any candidate win office today who favored a return to
slavery, even if he had a wonderful record in regard to all other issues? Could
a candidate win who supports drug traffic? Suppose a candidate said the vote
should be withdrawn from women? Clearly, these are "single issues" which many
people consider serious enough that no other qualities of a candidate would
compensate. Why is it wrong, then, to look at abortion in this light, if one
believes that abortion is the taking of innocent life?
As a matter of fact, an interesting development has taken place since the
famous Webster decision of the United States Supreme Court, which gave states
new latitude in restricting abortions. The very day the decision was announced,
leaders of the pro-abortion movement were threatening political office holders
on national television: "Take away our right (to abortion), and we will take
away your job." That is certainly a "single issue" approach! We have seen a
boycott threatened against a potato crop, then against an entire state because
of proposed legislation restricting abortion. On May 28, 1990, The New York
Times reported that the National Abortion Rights Action League "has jumped
into" a certain state's gubernatorial race, vowing to defeat the only candidate
who opposes abortion. This was generally perceived as a call for "single issue"
voting. This phenomenon has clearly swept the country in the 1990 primaries.
In a day in which it can prove very embarrassing to a candidate if it is
learned that he belongs to a country club that excludes blacks or women, it
should be reasonable enough to ask a candidate if he excludes the right to life
to the unborn. Strange. He can not be "pro-choice" about a country club, but he
can be "pro-choice" about human life.
Obviously, it would be a grave and foolish error to vote in favor of a
candidate only because he or she opposes abortion, if such a candidate favors
some other gross immorality, or is incompetent to serve.
The bishops have repeatedly stated publicly that they do not encourage the
development of a "religious bloc" of voters. They try to urge people to discern
the morality of positions and vote their conscience, recognizing that some moral
problems are more important than others. It is not for the bishops, however, to
recommend particular candidates.
17. Shouldn't the Church lose its tax-exempt status for
involving itself in the politics of abortion?
As noted in answer to the question above, to be concerned with public policy
is quite different from engaging in political activity as this term is commonly
understood. As a Catholic bishop I have neither forfeited nor renounced my
rights and obligations as a citizen. Moreover, as a bishop I am tasked with
presenting the teaching of the Catholic Church unambiguously and with integrity.
While various other religious sectors speak on abortion without harassment,
Catholic bishops are often declared "un-American" when they speak about the
issue. This is not consistent with the American constitutional protections of
religious freedom and free speech.
It would be interesting to learn if other organizations which are tax
exempt—including those which are pro-abortion—are challenged in this area. I
wonder if there may not be some which engage in outright political activity and
are never questioned.
We recognize that there are limitations upon our involvement in helping to
shape public policy. I am frequently asked by pastors and others what is lawful
without endangering the Church's status. The boxed item on pages 46 and 47 by the Catholic
Bishops of Florida presents the guidelines that are used in some dioceses in the
United States. (We offer these as illustrative, without implying that they
necessarily reflect official "policy" of the Archdiocese of New York.)
At the risk of oversimplification, I might suggest that the general
guidelines in this area have been expressed by one writer in just a few words:
"Issue-oriented speech is entirely proper under the (Internal
Revenue) Code's framework and is further protected by the First Amendment of
the Constitution. The difference really boils down to people vs. issues. In
the political arena, Church groups may not support or oppose people; they
are encouraged, however, to support or oppose issues."
18. Why does the
Church seem more critical of Catholics than of others?
There are several reasons for this. Space permits mentioning only a few.
First, it seems logical that those who call themselves Catholics, especially
"practicing Catholics," would be expected to accept and support all Church
teaching, particularly on those matters which the Church itself obviously
considers critical. There can be no doubt that the Church considers abortion
critical. As noted above, the Second Vatican Council calls it an "unspeakable
crime." How can a Catholic, in good conscience, in any way support an
"unspeakable crime"? It is not of the nature of Catholicism for Catholics to be
able to "pick and choose" which substantive teachings they accept or reject.
Secondly, the Church must be careful to avoid the appearance of being
exploited by Catholics who might be tempted to use their Catholicism to their
own advantage, for example, for political purposes, while actually ignoring
Catholic teaching. There are cases on record, for instance, of Catholics who
have campaigned for public office on the basis of a "pro-life" position, even
making sure to publicize pictures taken with bishops or with the Holy Father;
then, after election, they have supported "abortion rights."
Thirdly, there are Catholics who argue that the Church is wrong in its
teaching on abortion, and attempt to convince other Catholics accordingly, for
example, in newspaper advertisements, or in developing networks that call
themselves Catholic, yet are devoted to "abortion rights." If the Church failed
to criticize such persons, the implication would be that their arguments are
valid. Such Catholics are really rejecting the authority of the Pope, the
councils and the bishops to determine what is authentic Catholic teaching. This
is an attack on the very nature of Catholicism.
19. But what of non-Catholics who support "abortion
First, it must be clearly stated that many Jews, non-Catholic Christians,
Muslims, and even people of no religious persuasion completely reject abortion
and the concept of "abortion rights." Because the Catholic Church is highly
visible, and its true teaching on abortion is "monolithic," it serves as an
excellent "whipping boy." Moreover, it must be candidly admitted that there is
still enough anti-Catholic prejudice in the United States, and enough fear that
the Church wants to take over political power, that some support "abortion
rights" as a protest against the Church.
Secondly, many non-Catholics of good will, as many Catholics, have not
thought through the entire issue of abortion. They really don't think of it as
the killing of babies who are just as human as children already born. Many don't
even realize that the current law permits that a nine-month-old unborn baby can
be legally, deliberately aborted, up to the very last minute before birth. There
has been so much "abortion rights" propaganda that many people really do believe
that abortion is simply the removal of a piece of tissue from a woman's womb.
Thirdly, as noted above, there are some who believe that the unborn is not
yet fully human, and that an abortion is therefore not the killing of an
innocent human being.
The Church believes that while it must respect the positions of all person of
good will, in such a critical matter as the defense of human life it must try to
convince everyone that the unborn is human, and must try to convince legislators
and others to protect the unborn precisely as they protect all other persons.
The Church feels the same obligation to contribute to the protection and care of
everyone in society, of whatever religion.
20. Suppose all candidates support "abortion rights"?
In good conscience one could refrain from voting altogether. In some
instances, this might be best, even though voting is normally a moral
obligation. Or one could try to determine whether the position of one candidate
is less supportive of abortion than that of another. Other things being equal,
one might then morally vote for a less supportive position.
If all candidates support "abortion rights" equally, one might vote for the
candidate who seems best in regard to other issues, hoping that one day he or
she could be persuaded to become pro-life.
21. Isn't the Church concerned that its opposition to
candidates who support abortion will prevent people from voting Catholics into
Recently I was warned by a prestigious newspaper that I had become too
"political" in the 1984 presidential campaign, and that I had threatened the
status of Catholics in political life—which they claimed had been hard won by
President John F. Kennedy. But when Mr. Kennedy became president he had to
promise the world that his Catholicism would never influence his political
I understand the question, but I believe there is an essential piece missing.
If a Catholic must renounce what he or she believes in conscience, in order to
be elected for office, then we are back to the days of "no Catholic need apply."
It must be remembered that we are not talking about a public office holder
demanding that all Americans go to Mass on Sunday, or not eat meat on Friday. We
are talking about an individual who bases his or her moral decisions not simply
on the desires of the majority, but on what he or she believes is right and
just. The formation of the conscience that allows those decisions to be made
responsibly is aided, in part, by religious training and belief.
I know that there are many good Catholics in or running for public office who
will not allow anti-Catholic or pro-abortion pressures to force them to renounce
what they believe. And more, I believe that good Catholics, good Jews, good
Muslims, good Protestants and good people of no religious faith can hold public
office, represent the people, and make morally sound judgments in office. That's
how this thing called the United States of America started. When the moral and
spiritual are excluded from government we are doomed to failure.
22. What about pro-life people who
demonstrate in front of abortion clinics, show pictures of aborted babies or use
similar means to protest the killing of the unborn?
St. Paul tells us that we are each called to fulfill a particular role in the
world; together we form the Body of Christ. In the pro-life movement, there are
varying tactics used to advance the cause of life. The overwhelming number of
people in the pro-life movement are good people, very ordinary people. Women,
men, children, the golden aged: they are people united in their belief that the
killing of the unborn is evil. The methods they use to make all people aware of
the evil of abortion differ, their motivations and aims do not.
While indiscriminate use of intrauterine photography and grim pictures of
aborted babies may under some circumstances be inappropriate, I can not share
the view of those who discredit their use altogether, or indict those who
allegedly use them for "scare" tactics. If, after all, one is convinced that the
unborn is an appendage, or "fetal wastage," such pictures should hardly prove
frightening. It's only if you really believe they are babies, or are afraid
other people will believe they are babies, that you feel threatened by them. The
photograph of the self-immolating bonze, aflame in Saigon, was flashed around
the world and awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Pictures of My Lai in Vietnam were
reproduced endlessly to show the horror of the conflict and what some believed
to be habitual atrocities perpetrated by American armed forces. Many believe
that it was the televising of such pictures, bringing them into American living
rooms, that brought about revulsion against the war, and eventually forced the
United States to withdraw from Vietnam. The mass suicides in Jonestown, Guyana,
voluntary or forced, were televised repeatedly and displayed in magazines and
other media throughout the world. Televised pictures of Chinese tanks rolling
into Tiananmen Square and killing students horrified the world, and at least
temporarily changed the relations between the United States and China.
Frequently the ravages of starvation among people of the Third world, as in
Ethiopia, are presented vividly and starkly, as were pictures of the "boat
people" and of those devastated by the earthquake in Romania in 1989. In all
such instances it seems to be assumed that such shocking visual confrontations
will somehow help reduce repetitions of the horrors they convey, or encourage
people to help the helpless. No one is more helpless than the unborn.
A significant example of the constructive use of pictures of aborted babies
is found in the congressional testimony of former Congressman Lawrence J. Hogan,
sponsor of a human life amendment. Appearing before the Subcommittee on
Constitutional Amendments, Congressman Hogan stated:
"Until a few years ago, I really did not think much about
abortion. It did not mean very much to me. I somehow equated it with birth
control. My brother Dr. William Hogan, who...is with me today, and is an
obstetrician, had been trying to discuss abortion with me, but I kept
putting him off, saying that it was not a popular political issue.
"Finally, one day he came to my house and showed me some color
pictures of what unborn babies look like. I saw what some people call a
chemical reaction, sucking a thumb. I saw perfectly formed human babies just
a few weeks from conception. I saw the pictures of the 21week-old fetus, a
little girl, who survived out of the womb. I saw other little babies who did
not survive. Some were scalded red from saline solution which flushed them
from the womb. I saw others torn apart by a suction machine. But, in the
material taken from the machine, I could see a little foot and a little
hand. I was stunned. I was shocked. And I was bitterly ashamed.
"I do not know what I really thought abortion was. I just did not
think very much about it. But certainly I did not think we were killing
babies. How could I have been so stupid?
"If we are not killing babies in abortion, what are we doing?"
I am neither recommending any particular tactic nor encouraging
controversial procedures in order to raise the level of awareness about the
tragedy of abortion. But I refuse to indict those frustrated individuals whose
dedication to defending the helpless is ridiculed and condemned, not only by
some who favor abortion, but even by some who oppose abortion. Some consider
pro-life activists to be fanatics, and in the long run harmful to the cause they
espouse. Such criticism is too frequently substituted for demonstration of real
concern on the part of critics themselves. It is often much easier to demand
that pro-life activists control their emotions and engage in reasonable
discussion than it is to take an active part oneself in advancing such
discussion or in otherwise attempting to defend the lives of the unborn.
It must be remembered that those who choose to demonstrate in front of
abortion clinics, or who are even willing to be arrested and go to jail, believe
with all their being that every unborn baby is a sacred human person. The
killing that occurs daily in this country—to the tune of 4,400 babies a day—goes
overwhelmingly unnoticed. People who take a strong public stand against this
killing are dedicated to keeping the issue alive: abortion kills a human being.
I have never supported violence. I would publicly disclaim anyone who
attempted to insert violence into the pro-life movement, or encouraged it in any
way. But I have deep admiration for all those who, in conscience, participate
non-violently to oppose the killing of the unborn.
23. Why don't we have prayers at every
Mass to proclaim life and discourage abortion?
Perhaps I should have begun with this question, instead of concluding with
it, because it is so important. In my view, we need to intensify our prayer
activity more than any other activity in the pro-life movement. All life begins
with and belongs to God. It is to God we must appeal to give us the wisdom and
courage to address the problems that lead to abortion, and to help us understand
the sacredness of every human life.
It is to God we must appeal, as well, for the gift of compassion for those
who are victims of abortion, not only the unborn, but the women who have
abortions, the fathers of the unborn, the families of all. It is to God we must
appeal to give the world an understanding of love and unselfishness.
Because of the importance of prayer to the cause of life, I have begun the
formation of a religious community, Sisters of Life, who will spend several
hours each day in prayer for life, particularly the life of the unborn.
In regard to prayers at Mass, I agree. I would certainly like to see mention
in the Prayers of the Faithful at every Mass, to remind both adults and children
of the sacredness of every human life, the evil of abortion and the need for
help and compassion. As chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops'
Committee on Pro-Life Activities, I have arranged for the development of a
special votive Mass—a pro-life Mass. The draft must now be studied by our
Liturgical Committee, then, if approved, sent to Rome for approval. The Church
is careful about new prayers or Masses, as it should be.
To me, every Mass is already an expression of the fullest meaning of life.
Christ assumed our human nature while remaining divine. When we receive Him in
Holy Communion, we receive "Body and Blood, soul and divinity." In a real sense
we human beings are "divinized." Moreover, His death on the Cross, that
marvelous act of love, is renewed for us spiritually in the Mass, and we are
reminded that in marriage, a husband and wife lay down their lives for each
other as Christ laid down his life for each one of us. A pregnant woman
literally gives her life for the unborn within her, who is fed by and through
her body and blood and very being. Christ died to give us life. He respected our
lives here on this earth, and not only as we will live them in eternity. Hence,
he fed the hungry, and gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and
raised the dead to life. No prayer is filled with such reverence for life as the
prayer we call the Mass.
You don't have to join an organization or a "movement" to be
Every American, and certainly every Catholic, has a role to
play in advancing the cause of life. We all have our own jobs to do or our own
professions to pursue, our own responsibilities to carry out. I simply wish to
offer a few modest suggestions that might help people incorporate their concern
for the unborn into their daily activities.
Obviously you are the first line of defense of all human life.
Your children have received their lives from God through you. The way you treat
your children from earliest infancy will have a lot to do with their attitudes
toward life. If you give them to understand that you thank God for them, if you
treat them as God's gift to you, if you show them that you are thrilled that
they are yours, you give them greater appreciation of life than they would ever
receive in any other way.
As they grow old enough to understand, your responsibility
precedes that of all others, such as teachers and priests, in speaking to your
children about the sacredness of every human life. If you explain to them at the
earliest possible age that life is sacred from the first moment of conception,
that's what they will grow up believing.
You must remember that no one growing up in America today has
ever experienced a day when abortion was illegal. Today abortion is simply taken
for granted. Many of you will encourage your children not to smoke because it is
harmful to their bodies. You will teach them other things that are harmful to
their bodies. Teach them to respect their bodies as temples of God so that they
will not misuse them. Teach them to be pure and to refrain from sexual
intimacies outside marriage. But teach them that should they ever make a mistake
and become pregnant you love them and want them to come to you!
Let them see you treat every child and every adult with
respect, including the retarded and disabled, the elderly, the cancer-ridden,
the emotionally and mentally disturbed—everyone, without exception. And teach
them that you do this because everyone is made in the image and likeness of God
so that they must never violate God's image by destroying any human life. You
can do it! Have confidence in yourself and trust in God.
A special word to single parents. God love you for your
courage and integrity in keeping your child when others may have encouraged you
to have an abortion. I know how difficult life can be for your rearing a child
alone. But if anyone can teach children the sacredness of human life, you can.
You have proved it by refusing the alternative to loving and caring for your own
child at whatever cost.
To Doctors, Nurses and Other Health
You know that to many lay persons your words border on the
divine. We still hear such phrases as, "The doctor has ordered me to..." You
have tremendous authority. Your entire lives are devoted to healing, to picking
up the pieces of broken lives; physically, mentally, emotionally. You, above
all, have been entrusted with the protection of human life in our society. It is
you who normally take care of pregnant women, bring children into the world and
do everything you can to prolong life. People trust you; they listen to you.
Many are immensely dependent on you.
You could almost single-handedly turn the abortion phenomenon
around! First, by encouraging individual women or couples to keep the baby that
has been conceived. Then, in simply refusing to have anything to do with
abortions. Let us face the sad reality: the overwhelming number of abortions
performed in the United States are performed by medical doctors with nurses or
others as their assistants. You know yourselves that you don't want a pregnant
girl or woman to see a sonogram of her unborn baby if she is about to have an
abortion. You don't want her to see what is taken from her womb in an abortion.
On the sixth day of June 1990, most of the major newspapers
featured a doctor who had allegedly used his "suicide machine" to help a woman
with Alzheimer's Disease kill herself. I saw the reaction of other doctors on
television. The reaction was unanimous: "Good Lord. That's exactly the opposite
of everything that the medical profession is supposed to stand for!" I think it
a great loss that in many cases the Hippocratic Oath is not taken. ". . I
will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a
suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive
remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art. . . "
May I urge you to try always to remember that the unborn is a
fully human being. Many doctors are now calling them patients, particularly
given new intrauterine surgical procedures able to correct various defects.
Surely no responsible individual becomes a doctor or a nurse with the intention
of killing rather than curing patients. I know it can cost you financially and
may bring you significant criticism and in some cases you may even lose your
status or your jobs in hospitals. But ultimately if enough of you refuse to do
abortions, the practice of abortion will become a thing of the past. I pray that
you will have the courage. There are organizations such as the Catholic
Physicians Guild and Nurses for Life which can give you support and
encouragement in your efforts on behalf of life.
To Those in the Media
I know the majority of you want to publicize the truth in all
things. I know, too, that a number of you do your best to publish the truth
about the unborn. I am baffled, therefore, to read that 85 percent and more of
people in the media are "pro-choice." Perhaps that finding is simply not true.
But if you are, wouldn't it be honest to say so when you are reporting on a
story about abortion, the "pro-choice" movement and the pro-life movement? I
believe that most fair-minded people would respect you for that.
You are immensely powerful in shaping public opinion. Most of
you are familiar with what we call the "self-fulfilling prophecy"—that constant
reporting of a thing makes it so. Tell enough people that the pro-choice
position is the only intelligent, fair and "American" position and you get
people believing it. Then do a poll, and use the results of the poll as further
proof and so on.
Is that a responsible use of journalism? I ask particularly
editorialists if it is fair for a newspaper simply to have a "pro-choice"
policy, then to write all of its editorials in support of that policy? Is it
fair to run "Op-ed" articles without checking them for accuracy, so that errors
and even lies are propagated and add that much more to the "self-filling
I ask writers for publications that call themselves Catholic
if it is fair to attack the Church's position on abortion as a subterfuge for
simply attacking the Church or advancing radical feminism? I ask responsible
Catholic journals and journalists to give much more space to thoughtful articles
in support of life. Please do not underestimate the good that you can do.
Hardly to be classed as media people, but very often cast as
media "personalities," are entertainers of radio, stage, screen and television.
What an impact for good some entertainers have. They need never even use the
term pro-life; it is obvious by the nature of their own lives, by their decency,
their sense of reverence and respect that they respect human life without
Sadly, however, there are others whose private lives leave
much to be desired, but are presented as models for the young if not for our
entire society. Yet they are lives which hardly advance the values of marriage
and family life. Still others, sadly, are almost vehemently pro-abortion, yet
they are often given extraordinary amounts of "prime time" on television talk
shows, for example, to express their views.
I am even told that entertainers may risk being "black-balled"
if they express pro-life positions. How American is this? Where is the fairness?
And yet. some entertainers do take the risk and defy the threats and
courageously speak out in defense of human life. Thank God for this.
I should also mention here those athletes who provide such
example for young people. I have been impressed. for example, by the work of a
group called "Athletes for Life," made up of professional athletes committed to
the cause of life. Their witness to the sacredness of all life is highlighted by
the various religious denominations, races and cultures they represent.
Thank God for the countless numbers of you in classrooms, in
school administration and in religious education programs outside the schools
who do so much to advance the cause of human life with youngsters, high
schoolers and college and university students.
You know as well as I that many of you stand "in loco
parentis." You may spend many more hours with young people than their own
parents do. Your potential for influencing them is immeasurable. You have so
many opportunities ranging from classes in religion to classes in biology,
history, civics and other social sciences to talk about the sacredness of human
Years ago, when I taught literature, I found so many incidents
and references that could be used legitimately to emphasize the sacredness of
human life and to express abhorrence of killing human beings. I know that many
of you speak frequently in your classrooms about social justice, the poor, the
homeless. I know you speak about racism and war, as you should. I ask you to
give abortion at least equal time, if not priority time. I ask that in every one
of our Catholic schools and religious education programs outside schools, there
be formal treatment of abortion and of the sacredness of human life, and that
these issues not be treated merely by implication.
Educators at college and university level can be
extraordinarily influential. Obviously, as Ordinary of the Archdiocese of New
York I must require of all those in Catholic colleges and universities in the
archdiocese that they refrain from criticizing the Church's position whether or
not they personally accept it. It seems to me that is a simple requirement in
I would urge administrators and other Catholic college and
university officials to discourage all activities, advertising and other
on-campus efforts to promote abortion. I am well aware of the valid principle of
academic freedom but I see no requirement to stretch that principle beyond its
authentic purposes. I am grateful to those, particularly, who never pretend that
death must be given "equal time" with life under the rubric of academic freedom.
I urge all Catholic schools, as well as other Catholic
institutions and organizations, to think through their policies regarding
honorees, speakers, and public representatives. Those chosen for leadership
positions, awards and honors, or as representatives, should be faithful to the
moral traditions of the Church, particularly in those areas which affect human
Once again, I must express my gratitude, this time to those
Catholic college and university teachers, officials and administrators who do
everything they can to advance the cause of life to teach the Church's position
and to discourage abortion.
I recognize the restrictions imposed on some educators outside
the Catholic educational system. May I simply urge that you use every legitimate
opportunity to convey a sense of the sacredness of human life including the life
of the unborn. And may I urge that at whatever cost, you have the courage to
refuse to teach or to support any violations of the cause of human life.
To Religious, Deacons and Priests
How can I thank you for your generosity and your commitment to
the cause of life! Many of you preach this cause magnificently from pulpits,
many teach it in classrooms, many demonstrate it eloquently in your own lives.
I can understand that sometimes even you can be discouraged
and wonder if you are alone in your efforts and I can even understand that some
of you may feel that you are ridiculed for your adherence to Church teaching and
your personal convictions about abortion. Please take heart. As your bishop, I
can do little without you. I need every one of you. I know that some, because of
their wonderful work with the poor and their daily experience with injustice,
can even be tempted to consider abortion a lesser evil than the exploitation of
women, the terrible problems some women meet when pregnant, the outrageous
housing conditions that some families must endure and so on.
Some can even be tempted to believe that a woman's right takes
priority over that of the unborn. And still others may believe that they have an
obligation to show solidarity with some elements of the feminist movement to the
degree that they can get confused about priorities. I know that those who yield
to such temptations are few and that the overwhelming number of you are
courageous and forthright in what you say and do.
I can not emphasize too strongly that all efforts on behalf of
those in need can advance the cause of life. I refer, for example, to those of
you who try to bring about improved housing or fuller access to the political
system, those of you who assist those who are undocumented, those of you who
battle against drugs or racism or for the legitimate rights of women.
Priests, deacons and religious do not differ from lay persons
in having to make prudential judgments about the best approach to protecting the
unborn. Some of you have felt in conscience that you must choose an approach
that has brought you ridicule, criticism, public trials, and even imprisonment.
There is no question in my mind but that what you do you do for all of us; the
rest is in the hands of God. I know that in your charity you recognize that not
everyone need pursue the same approach. I know you never think of others as
cowards or as delinquent because they work for life in different ways. I regret
that some others may not always express the same charity in their hearts toward
you, but I know you can endure this as you endure so much else.
Above all, people in our vocation must be people of prayer I
thank all of you for giving prayer priority in your lives. The unborn will be
"borne" on the wings of your prayers so that even if they never see the light of
day in this world, we can have every reason to hope that they will see the light
of God's face in the next world.
To Those in the Legal Profession
If there would be very few abortions without the cooperation
of the medical profession, there would be very few laws favoring abortion
without the support of the legal profession. This is not intended as an
indictment. Many in the legal profession feel that they are bound as guardians
of the law and as faithful stewards of the Constitution. They articulate, defend
and apply laws favoring abortion even if they consider the laws immoral or
unjust. I can understand such positions.
What I ask, however, is that all Catholics in the legal
profession sincerely try to practice the Catholic teachings which they profess,
and explore ways in which they can do this, while carrying out the
responsibilities of their profession of law. Obviously, many of you are
confronted with conflicts in this regard. No life is free from conflict. Our
Lord said, "If you would follow Me, you must take up your cross."
The minimum required, it seems to me, is that you think about
these critical issues of life and death and that you not abdicate your
responsibilities to your profession, to your Catholic faith or to your
obligations as a citizen. You do not have the luxury of saying, "There is
nothing I can do about the system." If people in the legal profession can do
nothing to improve the system, who can?
If you are a dues-paying member of an organization which
resolves to support abortion, you can certainly explore the possibility of
withholding your dues because you disapprove of the resolution. You may consider
it wise to stay within the organization and fight for what is right or to resign
in protest. That's a decision an individual must make.
The point, however, is that you can not simply ignore so
critical an issue.
Many lawyers staff offices of public officials. It seems to me
quite legitimate at least to draft pro-life positions for such officials,
whether or not they adopt them. Many lawyers work in industry in which anti-life
policies may prevail. As a lawyer, you can look for opportunities to have such
policies changed. For example, you may work in a pharmaceutical company. Your
opportunities there should be obvious. You might work for government, in the
Food and Drug Administration, and certainly have the same right as anyone else
to express your position on various life-affecting drugs and devices. It seems
to me that the opportunities are almost endless. Even more, the need for lawyers
to do pro bono work for pro-life advocates is critical. Who is to help a
nurse, for example, who loses her job in a hospital for refusing to assist in
abortions, unless you do?
Why should not Catholics strongly support Catholic Lawyers
Guilds? Why not become a member of such an organization as Lawyers for Life?
Clearly, there are many of you who have gone far beyond any of my suggestions in
your commitment to the cause of human life. Some lawyers I know, for example,
have spent every penny they have made over the years in pro bono work on
behalf of life. Some have demonstrated courage beyond measure. What can I say to
you who have been so heroic except that you are in the tradition of Moses who
gave us God's Law and Christ who died for that Law.
To Persons in Political Life
The Church has called politics a "difficult but noble art." I
am aware of the enormous pressures on those who serve the people of the United
States in the midst of constantly shifting political winds and the demands of
diverse constituencies which can at times be completely irreconcilable.
I urge all office holders and candidates for public office to
make clear your commitment to work for changes in legislation supporting
abortion and even to accept political defeat, should such be the result, rather
than sacrifice human life. I urge, as well, the rejection of the argument that
"poor" women have a right to abortion funding since rich women can afford to pay
for abortion. It is true that all women must have equal rights, but I assert
categorically that no one has a right to kill an unborn baby. Real concern for
women should result in political action and legislation demanding equal economic
treatment. Despite years of funded abortions and easy access to abortion, women
are still deprived of opportunities they merit.
As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith put it in
its "Instruction on Bioethics" (Feb. 22, 1987): "All men of good will
must commit themselves, particularly within their professional field and in
the exercise of their civil rights, to ensuring the reform of morally
unacceptable civil laws and the correction of illicit practices." (Donum
Vitae, n. III)
Catholics who hold public office or positions of public
responsibility should be distinguished by their sense of integrity, and their
actions should be consistent with the faith and moral principles taught by the
Church in which they claim membership. In fulfillment of their public
responsibilities, Catholics should uphold public morality and promote public
order and peace. They should work for laws and public policies that sustain
human life and promote the common good. They should work hard to assure prenatal
care for all women. They should work to correct injustices and all situations of
evil that threaten human dignity and human rights. They should have a special
concern for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. In this they should be
sensitive to the opportunities they have of enlightening and persuading others
as to the proper moral response to many problems of our day. I am truly proud
that many Catholics in political life are faithful to these obligations.
Those candidates and voters who are willing to stand for life
have my full respect and appreciation. Respect for life is right and, with God's
help, the right will prevail. What you represent is in full accord with the
insights and principles which have determined our form of government.
To All Persons of Good Will
Obviously, I can not address every profession or walk of life.
Let me therefore simply make a few comments to all persons of good will.
Pro-life Americans, including Catholics, must enter the public
debate. They must be informed, argue rationally, and show respect for those who
have differing opinions, while at the same time evidencing the unwavering
conviction that every unborn child has the right to life.
I urge Catholics, in particular, to involve themselves on a
local level to assist those women who are pregnant and in need. One voice, one
person reaching out can literally make the difference between life and death.
Work in your parishes to create an atmosphere that tells the world you are
followers of Christ, committed, as He was committed, to the sacredness of all
"The laity...exercise their apostolate...in the world as
in the Church, in the temporal order as well as in the spiritual. . .The
layman, at one and at the same time a believer and a citizen of the world,
has only a single conscience; it is by this that he must be guided
continually in both domains." (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, #5)
I include, for example, labor leaders and union workers, small
business owners, executives in major corporations, people in the most "ordinary
" of jobs. There is no one who can not think and pray about this tragedy that
has struck our country.
You who are union workers, for instance, know what a long and
terrible struggle your predecessors had to win protection against exploitation.
Their very lives were at stake. Many were forced to work the mines, for example,
under outrageous conditions, subject to cave-ins, black lung disease, sudden
death. They fought an uphill battle for a long, long time. It took tremendous
courage and sacrifice, but they never gave up. They respected human life too
much to let it be abused and treated with contempt.
Even today, however, you know that unionism is constantly
threatened. Your protections are often very fragile. You wouldn't want to lose
them and you would fight hard not to. The hard hats that many of you wear are to
protect you from serious injury or even death. I ask you to think about the
helplessness and the vulnerability of the unborn in the same way that you think
about what life was like before the union movement. Surely the mother's womb
should give an unborn baby at least as much protection as a hard hat gives you.
I would ask you to fight just as hard for the right of those unborn babies as
you would fight for your own rights as members of unions. Don't be fooled by
"pro-choice" resolutions. That's like giving industry the choice to use union
labor or nonunion labor
Among people of good will, I will take a moment to address,
finally, only one other group: you extraordinary young people on college
campuses, in high schools and even at earlier stages of your education. Whenever
I tend to get discouraged because of my own human weakness, my faith is quickly
rekindled by your goodness, your generosity, your idealism. Some of the most
magnificent work being done on behalf of human life today is being done with
tremendous enthusiasm by young people, including young professionals.
I think one of the greatest thrills of my life came in April
of this year at the Rally for Life in Washington, where well over a half million
people from all over the United States joined together in one great cry for
life. The number of young people in that huge crowd was marvelous to behold. I
urge you to join or to establish pro-life groups in your schools, where you
work, in your parishes or in any other environment that seems feasible. I urge
you to continue to work for the cause of life as though everything depended on
you and to pray for the cause of life as though everything depended on God. You
will never regret it.
You are an inspiration to me and to many. God love you for
what you do and for what you are.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
The ultimate answer to abortion, I believe, lies in an
understanding of love. There is probably no term we use more loosely than love.
We often call sexual relations "making love," when no true love may be involved
at all. Frequently we speak of a couple's being "in love," when they are simply
experiencing intense infatuation.
Love doesn't come and go with the wind. Love is unselfish,
always ready to give. Our Lord tells us that there is no greater love than to
lay down our lives for others.
One Sunday each year I have a ceremony in St. Patrick's
Cathedral for couples married 50 years or more. Often one party has aged more
than the other, or is bent over with arthritis, or in a wheelchair, or losing
sight or hearing, or bewildered. I am immensely gratified by the love that has
kept them together, and particularly by the way in which the more vigorous of
the two takes care of the other. The "romance" may have left their marriage
years before. Sexual intimacies may be minimal. But they live out their love,
the love that never fails.
As I have noted elsewhere, there are good parents who are
tempted to encourage a daughter to have an abortion because they love her.
Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if they encouraged her to protect her baby with
the same kind of love that they are trying to show toward her? It seems to me
that parents must ask themselves if they are thinking of their daughter or of
themselves. That question is not intended to be cruel. Most parents are
embarrassed or ashamed if a daughter becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Abortion
can be an all-too-easy way out. In fact, I have known of parents who have
virtually forced abortions on daughters who didn't want them. Is that true love?
It is important that we include young men in our efforts to
bring about an end to abortion. In a very special way, they need to understand
the sacredness of their own bodies and the bodies of others. They should be
taught that sexual intimacies are intended for marriage. In the event that they
make a mistake, and a young woman becomes pregnant, they must not only be aware
of their responsibilities, they must be encouraged and helped to fulfill those
One clear function of love is trust. It seems tragic to me
that some legislators and judges believe that a "parental consent" bill would be
bad because young girls would resort to "back alley" abortions, rather than have
parents know they are pregnant. Surely parents who love their children should be
able to establish the kind of trust that will encourage a young girl to turn to
her parents before all others if she becomes pregnant.
There is another characteristic of true love that is pertinent
to the whole question of abortion. A girl who loves herself as she should will
try to refrain from sexual relations outside marriage, or if married, will try
to use periodic abstinence or Natural Family Planning in order to avoid
pregnancy, rather than to risk a pregnancy with the intention of having an
abortion if it occurs. A man who loves a woman will discipline himself likewise.
If both yield to temptation, then love requires that they share the
responsibility in every way.
Obviously, love of God requires that we keep His commandments.
This still means in the 20th century what it has always meant: sexual intimacies
outside marriage are wrong. If we love young people we will not hesitate to
teach them this. We must never underestimate them. Far more young people are
prepared to be good than some adults realize. But adults must set the standards.
Adults must be very clear in their own minds that lust is not love, and that,
with the help of the sacraments, purity is possible. Handing out contraceptives
or birth control pills is hardly evidence that you believe your son or daughter
is capable of withstanding temptation.
Finally, if we teach a true love of life, the life of the
unborn, the aged, the disabled, the blind, deaf, retarded, if we teach that God
loves every life He creates, we would go a long way toward ending abortion. The
God of love has given to human beings the incredible capacity to share in His
creation. We call that sharing "procreation." The God of love never intended
that human beings would kill human beings. Love is always creative, never
destructive. That's why 'love makes the world go round.'
There is no way in which I can adequately express my gratitude
to the countless number of people who do pray, constantly, in behalf of life.
These include many lay people, entire communities of religious women and men,
deacons and priests. Nor can I ever thank adequately those who have virtually
poured out their lives in the pro-life cause. Their numbers are legion at the
archdiocesan level, in parishes, in various organizations and as individuals. I
know how hard such people have to struggle against discouragement. There are
days when they think they are completely alone in the battle, that nobody else
really cares, including the Church. I know it is particularly difficult for
those who spend lonely days and nights in prison, separated from their families,
sometimes frightened and worried about the future.
God knows of all of these efforts and never really abandons
anyone, even though His own Son cried out on the Cross, "My God, My God, why
have you forsaken Me?" Only God knows what pro-life workers have accomplished;
how many lives they have saved, how many men and women they have helped, how
many families. But of this I am absolutely certain: without such efforts the
pro-life movement would have long since died, and abortion would be less an
issue today than smoking in restaurants. In the year 1990 abortion is a burning
issue, because so many people have sacrificed so much to make it so.
May I ask that everyone remember the story of Moses. By decree
of the state, he should have been put to death at birth. A brave woman refused
to kill him, and hid him in a basket in the reeds at the water's edge. His life
was saved and God chose him to lead the Israelites to the promised land. If we
spent the rest of our lives in an effort to save one Moses, or any other infant,
could our struggle be called wasted? If any of us went into a burning building,
or dove into icy waters, to save one baby, the community would bestow a medal
for heroism, and we would always remember saving a single life. God knows the
lives you have saved, even if you don't. Thank God for you.
May I ask, as well, that we all pray far more to our Blessed
Mother, who knew the anxieties and the pain that can accompany a pregnancy. She
suffered misunderstanding and was an embarrassment to others because she was
pregnant. She knew poverty and homelessness to the degree that her baby had to
be brought forth in a stable. After He was born, she was told that both He and
she were to suffer severely. Both did. No one knows more about suffering than
Let us pray to Joseph, to ask his protection for the unborn.
He was chosen by God to protect Mary and her Child. We must ask him to remind
men responsible for pregnancies to accept their responsibilities, and not to
abandon the mother of the children they help conceive, or the children
themselves. Mary's pregnancy was terribly difficult for this "just man," who was
minded to put Mary away privately. He understands.
Finally, each of us each day can whisper a little Hail Mary
for the cause of life. We can do a little bit of penance—give up a sweet, or a
cup of coffee, or a drink, or whatever. This requires no organization, no great
"movement," but it could very possibly move mountains of fear, or indifference,
or ignorance or hostility. It could very possibly mean the difference between
life and death.
GUIDELINES FOR PASTORS AND PARISHES
ON LOBBYING AND ELECTIONEERING
by the Catholic Bishops of Florida
1. Parishes and other institutions may engage in
issue-oriented activities and lobbying. As a general rule, limitations on the
extent of such lobbying would not be a problem for parishes or institutions,
since lobbying would not be substantial part of their total work. The following
are examples of such acceptable activity:
--Educational efforts about issues and in support of
--Encouragement of letter writing campaigns and other
contacts with state or federal legislators designed to educate them and to
develop support for legislation.
--Distribution of fliers containing a statement about an
issue or issues before the Congress or the state legislature, and containing
the names and addresses of senators and representatives.
--Preaching and distribution of pertinent information
concerning particular issues, especially those affecting human life.
2. Non-partisan registration campaigns and get-out-the-vote
campaigns are proper and a recommended activity for parishes and Church
3. Materials prepared for use in educating citizens, including
surveys or polls, must emphasize educative objectives.
4. Surveys or polls of political candidates may be distributed
at churches, or reported in parish bulletins, only if:
A. The poll is objectively worded and objectively taken;
B. Poll results are accurately reported and free of bias;
C. Poll results do not contain discussions of issues;
D. The poll is multi-issue involving various issues, such as
abortion, capital punishment, criminal justice, housing, parochial schools,
pornography and sex education, or other relevant issues;
E. The validity of the poll has previously been approved by
the state Catholic conference or the diocesan attorney;
F. Parish bulletins containing reports of polls should point
out that the parish does not endorse or oppose candidates and that the polls
are distributed to inform and educate voters.
5. Evaluations of candidates or political parties should be
Types of objectionable evaluations are as follows:
A. Encouraging readers or listeners (e.g., a homily) to vote
for or against a particular candidate or party:
B. Labeling a candidate or party as "pro-school aid" or
"anti-life"; such a practice removes objectivity by not allowing readers to
evaluate a candidate's position themselves;
C. Using plus (+) or minus (-) signs to evaluate the
candidate or party:
D. Rating candidates or parties on a scale of "one to ten,"
for example, or otherwise saying "X is good," "Y is better";
E. The use of marked sample ballots.
6. No diocesan or parish entity or organization shall endorse
or oppose or campaign for or against any political party or candidate for public
office; nor shall any funds of any such entity or organization be contributed to
any political candidate, party, campaign or political action committee.
7. No diocesan or parish entity or organization, or other
501(c)(3) exempt church organization, shall engage in voter education
communications which directly or indirectly suggest that a particular candidate
or party should be supported or opposed.
8. Pastors or other religious leaders are urged to avoid
endorsements or other political activity, contributions, or electioneering.
Although not prohibited, it may be difficult to separate their personal activity
from their role as a representative of the Church.
Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion