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Preaching on Abortion

By Fr. Frank A. Pavone

As National Director of Priests for Life, I preach about abortion in a different part of the country every week. I can summarize the reaction I receive from people in two words: "Thank you!" People are grateful to hear the truth. They are proud to see their Church take a clear, courageous, and compassionate stand on what the bishops have called "the fundamental human rights issue of our day." (Resolution on Abortion, 1989).

People are grateful because we tell them the truth which they do not hear elsewhere. The pro-abortion movement is built on lies. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, for example, admits how the efforts he and his colleagues made to promote abortion consisted of lies (see his book Aborting America). Carol Everett admits how abortion facilities lie to women who come (see her book, Blood Money). Studies have shown the pro-abortion bias of the media (see Michael Medved's book Hollywood vs. America). Many politicians refuse to address abortion because, they say, it is a "religious issue." Many clergy will not address it because, they say, it is a "political issue." Schools do not want to address it because they do not want to "impose morality" or deal with issues that are "too controversial."

Where, then, can people go to hear the truth about abortion? It is, after all, the most frequently performed surgical intervention in our country. Some promote it as "health care" and "standard" medical practice. Why, then, the unwillingness to talk about what it is? Why the unwillingness of television stations, despite the fact that many surgical procedures are shown for educational purposes, to show the American public an abortion?

While there is a lot of noise about abortion in our country, there is precious little real communication taking place about what abortion actually is. Whatever position a person takes on abortion, that person has a right to know the truth. Even those who think that the abortion decision should be "left to the individual" must admit that if the individual does not know what she is choosing in the first place, that decision is based on very shaky ground.

The clergy have a unique opportunity here to give people what they are not receiving anywhere else: the truth about what abortion is, what its consequences are, why it should be rejected, and how it can be stopped. I have seen time and again how grateful people are to hear it.

People often speak of the need to make preaching touch upon daily needs. This strongly argues in favor of preaching about abortion. Since there are 4400 abortions a day in our country, we can be sure the people we speak to have a need to hear about it, since it is something they are likely to be involved in either directly or indirectly. The true needs of the people are not always the same as their felt needs. One of the purposes of preaching is to help them see what their true needs are.

Some clergy are concerned about hurting those who have had abortions, or fear they are "preaching to the choir." These and many other concerns are addressed in our Priests for Life leaflet, "Fathers, Let's Face Our Fears About Abortion."

There are many "points of entry" into the abortion issue. One may speak directly of the child as the least among us, and of his/her rights and our responsibilities to him/her. One may, on the other hand, begin by speaking about the rights of the woman to better choices than abortion, and the many ways that abortion hurts women. (Priests for Life offers a packet of information on this topic.) Abortion can also be addressed in the context of justice and peace, and the need to reject violence and promote the unity of the human family. The point of entry can also be God Himself as the source of life and the Giver of the right to life. These and many other starting points, Biblical and extra-Biblical, offer a speaker enough options to adapt a homily or talk to many diverse needs and situations.

Sometimes an entire homily should be devoted to the abortion tragedy. Our sample homily materials further discuss how to do this. At other times, one can simply make reference to abortion when speaking, for example, of the evils in the world or the requirements of loving our neighbor. It may mean just the mention of the word, or perhaps a sentence or two. The Golden Rule, for example, provides a short, effective argument against abortion. Just let people put themselves in the baby's place. (We were, in fact, there at one time.) Other Scriptural references are given in our Priests for Life preaching packet.

Some clergy ask how often they should preach on abortion. The response of Priests for Life is to treat abortion as what it really is. Do not deal with it any less frequently or forcefully than you would deal with a vast, legalized industry killing two-year-old children. Indeed, the age of the child or his/her place of residence does not mitigate the horror of an act that kills a child.

Ultimately, our people need to see the reality behind the word "abortion." We are a visual society. The word "abortion" has lost its meaning for people, because they have in their mind a far more benign, innocuous notion of abortion than what it actually is. Words alone cannot describe its horror. Unless people appreciate the horror of abortion, they will not feel the appropriate sense of outrage that it deserves. Without an appropriate sense of outrage, people seldom take personal responsibility for ending injustice. Many think we are over-reacting to abortion. We need to help them see that they are under-reacting.

Therefore we recommend that every possible and appropriate means be taken to show people the reality of the unborn child and the destructive act of abortion. Videos of ultrasound and fetoscopy, as well as actual scenes of abortion and aborted children are available (A Window to the Womb, The Silent Scream, Eclipse of Reason, Harder Truth). (Priests for Life will provide a free copy of the Harder Truth, a brief video of an abortion, to any member of the clergy who wants to see it and/or use it.)

Some have trouble preaching about abortion because their understanding of the purpose of preaching somehow excludes the direct confrontation of evil, especially evil that the listeners may be involved in. Someone once asked a preacher if he preached only about sins that did not involve his congregation!

Preaching is to serve the ongoing conversion and growth in holiness of the people entrusted to our pastoral care. A "pastor" is a "shepherd". To shepherd our people in an age of abortion requires preachers who will be clear and courageous in confronting evil, and likewise calm and compassionate in calling back those who have committed evil. It involves not only getting people to think the right way about things like abortion, but it involves inspiring and equipping them to take action to stop such evils. This is a challenging art, and an urgent need. The coward's way out is silence. But silence doesn't save people. And people are precisely abortion's victims.


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