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A Statement of Principle
The Catholic Bishops of New Jersey

January 22, 1990

"In numerous places around the world, the Pro-Life movement runs directly contrary to certain current trends in society... "What is needed is the courage to speak the truth clearly, candidly and boldly, but never with hatred or disrespect for persons."

-His Holiness Pope John Paul ll

"The call to defend the poor and the helpless is the most basic duty of Christians. If the life of a child in his mother's womb is threatened, no one is safe. Our faith calls us to witness this truth by our action - All human life is sacred!"

-Most Rev. John C. Reiss, DD, JCD Bishop of Trenton

Statement of Catholic Bishops of New Jersey

The Catholic Church in the United States has a long history of advocacy on behalf of the poor, the helpless and those without a political voice. This tradition now compels us to protest and act against the positions of those who challenge the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. We feel it necessary not simply to reaffirm our convictions and renew our witness as Catholics, but also to explain and defend in this public forum the strong reasons for our convictions, the rational and faith process which has brought the Church to this position and which motivates our resolve in testifying to it.

Human reason itself compels us to accept what American jurisprudence recognizes and the Church teaches: that there is a priority of values and that the exercise of some rights must, at times, be restricted in order to assure the most fundamental rights of others.

We believe and teach that God has revealed Himself as the author of life and that His gift of life is inviolable.

We believe and teach that Jesus Christ affirmed the sanctity of life and that He requires His followers to live no longer for themselves but for Him and to be willing even to sacrifice themselves as He did for the good of others.

We believe and teach the consistent tradition of the Christian Church, based upon two thousand years of collective human experience and handed down from apostolic times as a clear, consistent and emphatic moral and theological conviction, accepted and affirmed by the People of God even to the present day.

To those who argue that actual human life does not begin at conception, we respond that there is ample biological evidence to demonstrate that the unborn have the definitive characteristics of being human from the moment of conception and, therefore, even in a situation of some small scientific uncertainty, we must presume in favor of human life and protect it at all costs.

To those who argue that every woman has the right to her autonomy, even over and against her unborn child, we respond that the right to personal autonomy is limited when it adversely jeopardizes more fundamental human rights. Most especially is this true in the unique biological communion which a mother shares with her child. Every human relationship, even those we sometimes may not have freely chosen, imposes moral obligations upon us. Our personal freedom to act is limited by considering the rights and welfare of others. Even in its earliest stages, human life has so great a value that it may not be destroyed to solve problems a mother is experiencing.

To those who argue that every woman has the right to privacy in such matters, we respond that there is a priority among the rights which we enjoy and that our own lesser rights must yield to the higher rights of others when our rights and theirs conflict. And surely the right to life itself is more important than the right to privacy.

To those who argue that a woman should have the right to choose freely among the widest possible array of options In matters of human reproduction, we argue that the right to choose extends only to options which are morally good. No human situation, however difficult to bear, can be resolved by recourse to immoral destructive solutions. We recognize that our freedom to choose is limited by values greater than our own security, comfort, privacy and personal advancement.

To those, especially legislators and people in public life, who argue that they are personally opposed to abortion but that they will not attempt to restrict or limit the option of abortion for others, we respond that each of us is a single, unified moral person responsible before God to integrate our beliefs with our behavior and to be consistent in our behavior in all the arenas, public and private, in which we are called to act. It is, therefore, neither reasonable nor moral to affirm one set of personal convictions while at the same time supporting or acting to facilitate contrary behavior by oneself or others. Can we even imagine today a legislator who would say that he or she personally opposes racism but would not support laws directed to overcoming discrimination? Actions are immoral not simply because they oppose the will of God or the teachings of the Church, but also because they do actual harm to the human community. To recognize that an act is immoral obliges one in conscience to take appropriate action to prevent it. Christian faith and the example of Jesus call us to be, like Him, prophets and sometimes even martyrs in bringing His kingdom to fulfillment. This means that the cost of acting morally can sometimes demand the sacrifice of material rewards or even political power.

To those who argue that the State cannot and should not legislate morality, we respond that this is precisely what we have done by abolishing slavery, by enforcing civil rights, by proscribing murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery and by criminalizing the abuse of drugs. What positive laws of any community are not based on moral convictions about human behavior and human relationships? The law is a teacher of society's values.

To those who argue that the pro-life issues are too broad, that the breakdown of morality in our secular society is too rampant to be contained and reversed, that there are other issues in society which require our attention and that our preoccupation with human life is disproportionate, as well as to those who fail to appreciate the urgency of this Issue, we respond that the sanctity of human life is the ultimate moral frontier, the fundamental value which must be defended against assault. The evidence of the moral malignancy which Roe v. Wade introduced into American society is all around us and will not abate until that decision is reversed and human life is once again guaranteed the full protection of our laws, a protection which was affirmed and enforced for two hundred years in our country.

How do we propose to promote what is true and sacred about human life? We call for action in three arenas: education, pastoral care and public policy.

We call for greater emphasis, in every educational institution and structure, on the basic dignity of the human person. We call upon parents to instruct their children about the beauty and wonder of life and the value of the family. We call upon teachers to instruct their pupils about the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death. We call upon clergy and religious to use boldly the teaching role given them by their office to defend God's creation both at the beginning and at the end of life. We call upon those in the media to ensure that news stories on human-life issues are reported accurately and objectively.

We call upon all people of good will to seize the moment and to join with us in offering more comprehensive care for mothers and babies. We call upon all social service agencies to offer more effective services to assist pregnant women with their prenatal needs. We must expand our services to women after their babies are born. We must assist women with loving day care arrangements for their babies, encourage mothers to attend school or obtain vocational training and help them learn to parent their children. We encourage any woman who might face overwhelming problems in bringing her child to birth and in raising it to consider the loving and unselfish alternative of adoption.

We must also assist families to care for elderly, infirm or disabled persons, and to assist the dying in their spiritual, social and physical needs.

We call upon our legislators to provide substantial funding to support the life-saving, life-affirming programs of families, churches and agencies on behalf of those in such difficult situations.

We call upon government to fulfill its basic duty of preserving and defending human life. When our elected and appointed officials in government make and enforce laws that cheapen human life or allow human life to be destroyed, then people's confidence in the government is weakened. In a constitutional democracy, the citizens hold great power. We must use that power wisely by electing women and men who uphold our moral values and by refusing to reelect those who betray our values.

We recognize in abortion the tip of an iceberg which is now bringing about the acceptance of euthanasia, passive and assisted suicide, genetic manipulation, the commercialization and depersonalization of human conception and the undermining of the human family itself.

We urge all to persevere in prayer and action to restore in our society the guarantee of a sane and moral respect for the precious gift of life which God bestows and sustains, which He sent His only Son to redeem, and which has as its ultimate goal the fulfillment of heaven. We must pray without ceasing and struggle against all odds to attain this all-important moral victory.

We remind Catholics in particular that we have a personal and serious moral obligation before God to defend human life not only In principle but in action. We cannot stand idly by in the face of the horror of abortion and euthanasia. In our prayer and action, in public and in private, in the political process and in our personal lives, by our vote and by our outspoken witness to others, we must actively defend what is morally right. We must choose life!

Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick, Ph.D, Archdiocese of Newark

Most Reverend James T. McHugh, S.T.D., Diocese of Camden

Most Reverend Edward T. Hughes, D.D., Diocese of Metuchen

Most Reverend Michael J. Dudick, D.D., Eparchy of Passaic

Most Reverend Frank J. Rodimer, D.D., J.C.D., Diocese of Paterson

Most Reverend John C. Reiss, D. D., J.C.D., Diocese of Trenton

Statements of Other Bishops on Abortion

Priests for Life
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