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Bernard Cardinal Law on Partial-birth Abortion and President Clinton

Bernard Cardinal Law
Archbishop of Boston


There is nothing deader than yesterday's news. Perhaps that isn't the most elegant English, but it certainly conveys the truth of our experience. We suffer from an overload of news in our society. There is an industry that depends upon an insatiable curiosity on the part of the public for every irrelevant detail that might emerge around a story. It doesn't matter what kind of a story it is. Sports pages, entertainment pages, news pages are filled with news nuggets which make us crave for more.

While on the one hand there is an overload of information about all sorts of things, there is also a tendency on our part to follow the media in its immediate interests. This means, in effect, that today's big story becomes, quickly, tomorrow's forgotten news.

It is very important that we not forget the fact that each year in this nation several thousand children in the United States have their lives ended by a procedure that is tantamount to infanticide. This procedure, partial-birth abortion, thanks to a veto of its ban, by President Clinton, and the failure to override his veto on the part of the U.S. Senate, remains legal in the United States.

How can this be? How could it be that President Clinton saw fit to veto this ban? He did so in the light of day, surrounded by women who reportedly had had the procedure, and he did so in the glare of full media coverage. In an emotional explanation the President justified his action out of concern for the health of the mother.

The fact of the matter is that the President was given wrong advice. His judgement is based on a presumption that partial-birth abortion can sometimes be indicated to safeguard the health of the mother. There was ample evidence before his statement, and there has been much more evidence since on the part of medical spokespersons that this simply is not true. As a matter of fact, the contrary is true. This procedure can be injurious to the health of the mother.

It was also claimed that a mother's future fertility could be put in jeopardy if this procedure were not performed. Again, this has been proven to be a false claim.

There has been an unprecedented effort on the part of many people in this nation to get the facts to members of the Senate and Congress so that they would vote to override the President's veto. This effort has resulted in millions of pieces of mail addressed to members of Congress.

Beyond that, there has been a concerted effort to engage in the process of public education. This has not been easy, for the media generally supports an unlimited access to abortion. Only infrequently is this heinous procedure referred to in the media as a partial-birth abortion. When it is, it sometimes is qualified by the term "so-called". The politically correct expression is "a certain late-term abortion procedure". By using this term, the media is able immediately to present the issue in terms of a woman's right to choose an abortion.

In the case of partial-birth abortion, this is really not the issue. Abortion is a matter which certainly needs a much clearer public debate. But with partial-birth abortion, we are really dealing with what is, in effect, an act of infanticide. This is why many proponents of a woman's right to choose an abortion voted in Congress to override the President's veto. Infanticide is not something they are willing to accept.

What has been particularly distressing is to hear what some senators and congresspersons have said after their vote to sustain the President's veto. They continue to repeat misinformation, even after a massive effort of communication with them, even after hearings at the U.S. Capitol by physicians bringing them medical facts to the discussion.

Some have suggested that, while they are opposed to partial-birth abortion, this particular piece of legislation was flawed, and that they are going to try to develop legislation which will get wider support.

First of all, the ban was voted originally by a substantial majority of both houses of Congress. Secondly, the ban, as it was voted originally by Congress, would allow a threat to the life of the mother as an exception. It is very difficult to see, in the light of medical evidence, how any other kind of language in a bill could satisfactorily deal with the banning of this barbaric procedure.

Some may wish that now that the vote has been taken, and the President's veto has been sustained, that this issue will simply disappear. It will not. It cannot. It must not. Each day, until this ban is finally made the law of this land, there are children whose lives are brutally ended by a procedure that can only be termed an act of infanticide.

I write this on the Feast of the Guardian Angels. These little ones are confidently commended to the care of their angels who will bring them into the presence of God. May our Guardian Angels help us to do what we must in order to penetrate the culture of death which shrouds our society.

Bernard Cardinal Law
Archbishop of Boston

Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion

Priests for Life
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