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The Tidings

Archdiocese of Los Angeles

May 19, 2000


From Cardinal Roger Mahony

Complete the sentence, please…


So often I hear candidates for political office proclaim their great support for "a woman’s right to choose…." But choose what?

As the many political races begin to heat up across the country, I am growing increasingly confused and frustrated by those candidates who seem unable to finish a simple English sentence.

"Choice" in American history and culture has become a precious heritage. But normally, when one speaks about choosing something, one finishes the sentence. For example, when ordering a meal in a restaurant, after viewing the menu you don’t say to the waiter, "I think I will choose…", and not tell the waiter your choice. What’s he supposed to bring you — the fried chicken or the meatloaf?

After some sleuthing on my own, it appears that what politicians really mean is, "I support a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy, that is, to get an abortion." But why can’t they just say that? Why do the media and the press allow political candidates to get away with this vague, meaningless, "choice" language when they should be demanding that candidates finish the sentence?

I am vigorously pro-choice because I believe in the individual’s right to make choices in life and in our society. But I sure want to specify what that choice is all about, and as a church leader, to make certain that one is supporting a moral good in that choice.

I personally support a woman’s right to choose a number of moral goods:

    • The right to choose a husband.
    • The right to choose a neighborhood in which to live.
    • The right to choose a school to send her children, and if that choice is really to be protected, to have a voucher to back up that choice.
    • The right to choose a religious faith, congregation, or community.
    • The right to choose what school she will attend.
    • The right to choose her doctors and health care providers.

These are just a few of the morally good choices that I fully support for the women of our country. But I’m not afraid to name the choice, to finish the sentence.

If political leaders are proud of the fact that they support the termination of a pregnancy, the taking of the life of an unborn baby, then why can’t they simply say so? What’s with all the wishy-washy "choice" language?

I am increasingly suspicious that shadow language is used because many political leaders either don’t support abortion and are afraid to say so, or because they want to pretend that a moral evil is somehow a moral good. And the only way to make evil into good is to disguise or hide it. Bingo! Don’t finish the sentence.

No one in our country who is pro-abortion can deny that there is a living being in the womb of the expectant mother. Otherwise, there would be no reason to destroy that living being — just leave him or her alone. But that living being is on his or her way to natural birth, and to full development as a human being created by God — something precious and alive, not a choice.

The question continues to haunt me: Why are political leaders and pro-abortion advocates afraid to speak the truth? If they are so convinced that their position is good and valid, why can’t they simply say aloud, "I support the right of a woman to destroy her unborn baby"? Or, "I support the right of a woman to have an abortion and terminate her pregnancy"? I would have more respect for the politician and pro-abortion advocate who would finish the sentence and tell us the truth.

Maybe they don’t tell us the truth because they are trying to hide the reality of the inherent evil in abortion. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable with their position, but because it has become so politically correct, they are afraid to say out loud what they might feel in their souls. Maybe they believe that they really need the votes of those who relish the incomplete sentence, "a woman’s right to choose…" And maybe they believe no one will challenge them to finish the sentence.

As we begin this new century and millennium, I would hope that all of us could be more honest and open with our beliefs, and our language that confirms and proclaims those inner beliefs. Maybe, when we cast the light of truthfulness and honesty upon what we speak out loud, we will think through our positions more deeply, and force ourselves to identify and weigh the moral good and the moral evil in our choices.

And just maybe, we won’t be afraid to finish our sentences.

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