EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – APRIL 22, 2009
By Rich Trzupek
So, to follow up on last week’s column, what might a Catholic speaker say during the commencement ceremony at the University of Notre Dame, in order to offer a contrary position to the “pro-choice”, pro stem-cell policies that will be so powerfully, if silently, represented by the President of the United States on that day? Perhaps it might sound something like this…
Over two hundred years ago, a brilliant man wrote “we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” Those fourteen words have echoed across the centuries, forming the cornerstone in an ideological foundation that would evolve into the best form of government that the world has ever known. But, what do these words really mean?
We may note that Jefferson asserted that all men are created equal. He did not say that all men are born equal. Indeed, the need to make such a distinction would not have occurred to Jefferson or to any of the founders who signed the Declaration of Independence. Lives created were lives born.
Yet, today, in America in 2009, that distinction not only exists, we – as a nation – have created an entire body of law that says we are not qualified to judge the validity of this controversial idea. Lives that are created are, according to the law of the land, most definitely not equal to lives that are born. The latter are accorded inalienable rights from the moment he or she exits the womb. The former have no rights, at least not the right to a future, if his or her mother decides to terminate that life.
According to the court – and indeed, according to the President of the United States and the overwhelming majority of his party – this question falls beyond the purview of representative government. It is, they assert, up to each individual to decide whether there is a difference between a life created and a life born.
Why should this be so? The morality of abortion should be a matter of individual conscience, some say. Banning abortion represents an unwelcome interference of churches into matters of state, others assert.
Yet, clearly, this nation – like any nation – exerts its collective conscience over and over again. We prohibit prostitution, pedophilia and polygamy (to tackle just one alliteration), for example. These concepts are abhorrent to most faiths, but we have not condemned such practices because we believe that theologians trump politicians. We prohibit them because our chosen delegates, as part of our representative form of government, recognize that these acts are inconsistent with American principles and the honor of Americans.
In 1973, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun (aided by a significant assist courtesy of fellow Justice William Brennan, whom, it should be noted, was a Catholic) tied the legitimacy of abortion to the viability of a fetus. This concept has, in the fullness of time, largely gone out the window. Advances in medical science over the course of thirty-six years have made fetuses “viable” at ever-earlier phases of pregnancy, and political pressures have resulted in increasing numbers of late-term abortions.
So what is the difference? Is life in the womb that much different that live outside of it? That would seem to be penultimate argument of those who remain untroubled by the “right” to abortion. Yet, how exactly is this logical construct built? Is it because an embryo, or a fetus, can not walk, talk or influence his or her own future? If that’s the argument, then the same can be honestly said of a new-born, and no one would propose killing a new-born child simply because he or she had not reached these stages of development and self-awareness.
There are inherent mysteries that come with the gift of life, not the least of which are understanding when life begins, what “life” actually means, and speculation regarding the nebulous – yet inspiring – concept of a the soul.
The Supreme Court and many of our leaders have effectively said not only that they do not know when life begins, what “life” actually means and what a soul is – they in fact, do not care and, further, they say that the government of the United States should not care either.
As Americans, we are committed to obeying the law of the land, but as Catholics it is also our obligation to work to change those laws we find abhorrent. And we must never forget that this casual indifference to life is abhorrent. It represents arrogance without equal; an assumption that we are qualified, both as individuals and as a society, to understand the mysteries of life. And, it represents the abandonment of one of our most basic obligations: to protect those who can not protect themselves.
President Obama has said that the government he now heads will not interfere with the “right” to abortion. As Catholics, we are saddened by this stance and we will continue to pray that a merciful God might yet soften his heart.
Yet, if he will not use his position as a public official to join our community in attempting to right this wrong, we call on the President to use his other position – that of a fellow citizen and of a practicing fellow Christian – to call upon the citizens of this great nation to reduce the number of abortions that are performed in America. If the President must be “pro-choice”, can he not also use his considerable influence to urge women to make the right choice?
Much has been made of the President’s visit to this institution and what his presence here represents. It is, he has said, important to maintain a dialogue. We Catholics welcome the opportunity to participate in this dialogue, but we urge the President to remember that a dialogue involves two parties, and we pray that a just and merciful God will show him the light, so that he can help us end this terrible wrong that has cut short so many innocent lives.