By BISHOP ROBERT J. BAKER
The issue of abortion has entered the public forum for discussion and debate with greater force this year because it is a presidential election year.
Some would see the abortion issue as a matter of purely private morality and would wish the matter away as a public policy issue.
Just as slavery could not be wished away by politicians in the 19th century, abortion cannot be regarded as a non-issue politically today.
While the political community and the Church are independent and autonomous, they both are devoted to promoting the well-being of human beings, although under different titles.
The political community … exists for the common good: This is its full justification and meaning, and the source of its specific and basic right to exist. The common good embraces all those conditions of social life which enable individuals, families, and organizations to achieve complete and efficacious fulfillment (Gaudium et Spes, No. 74, Second Vatican Council).
The right to life is one of the most fundamental and basic of human rights. In every phase of development, from conception until natural death, “whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor,” the human being is entitled to such a right (cf. Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, No. 38), and civil government exists to promote and defend the right to life of all — including the unborn — especially the unborn.
As the Catholic bishops of the United States noted in their 1998 statement “Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics,”
Catholics who are privileged to serve in public leadership positions have an obligation to place their faith at the heart of their public service, particularly on issues regarding the sanctity and dignity of human life. Thomas More, the former chancellor of England who preferred to give his life rather than betray his Catholic convictions, went to his execution with the words, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” In the United States in the late 1990’s, elected officials safely keep their heads. But some will face a political penalty for living their public office in accord with their pro-life convictions. To those who choose this path, we assure them that their witness, and God and history, will not forget them.
This document by our American bishops clearly states that “no public official, especially one choosing to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life.”
The bishops acknowledge complicated situations where public officials face policies already in place, and they offer carefully worded advice to the complex arena of political leadership.
Certainly there are times when it may be impossible to overturn or prevent passage of a law which allows the destruction of nascent human life. In such areas, an elected official, whose position in favor of life is known, could seek legitimately to limit the harm done by the law. However, no appeal to policy, providence, majority will or pluralism ever excuses a public official from defending life to the greatest extent possible. As is true of leaders in all walks of life, no political leader can evade accountability for his or her exercise of power. … Those who justify their inaction on the grounds that abortion is the law of the land need to recognize that there is a higher law, the law of God. No human law can validly contradict the Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
The bishops also remind us that we get the public officials we deserve. “Their virtue — or lack thereof — is a judgment not only on them, but on us.”
Consequently the bishops urge their fellow citizens to look beyond party politics and to analyze continually the campaign rhetoric they hear and then choose political leaders “according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self interest.”
We, as citizens exercising our privilege to vote, exercise a moral responsibility of major consequences to the well-being of society that should not be taken lightly. We are accountable for the actions of the leaders we elect before the court of the Eternal Law of God. Our own complicity in public moral evil is brought about by supporting pro-abortion candidates.
There is a groundswell of people of all faiths and all walks of life who have come together on the issue of abortion and who regard the issue as one that cries out for collective public response.
We should strongly resist efforts by federal and state governments to force on us health insurance plans to cover items we oppose on moral and religious grounds.
We should oppose any legislation that promotes the taking of human life, including the recent FDA-approved abortion pill.
And we should elect only those leaders who are faithful to that critical tenet of our Judeo-Christian heritage — “Thou shalt not kill.”
One of the greatest abolition movements in our day is the movement to end the government-supported institution of abortion. We walk together arm-in-arm with people of all races, cultures, and faiths to challenge the current law that was established with the Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade, a law which blatantly defies the law of God.
Without violence of any kind, we join a growing abolition movement in the tradition of the great abolition-of-slavery movement of the 19th century in calling for a society that protects, not destroys its own, that gives support and help to the unwed mother, not condemnation, that channels government funds into avenues of care instead of destruction, that upholds the value of life instead of promoting a culture of violence and death.
My own concern for the abortion issue goes beyond mere academic speculation. It touches home for me personally. My three brothers, sister, and I would not be here today; and of course, my own father would not have seen the light of day either, if my grandmother had followed the advice of her doctor, as she, back in 1915, conceived my father in her womb.
At the time, my grandmother, Rosa Smith Baker, was in her late 30s pregnant with her fourth child, my dad, Gerald, who would be over19 years younger than his oldest sibling, Gertrude. My grandmother was having a difficult pregnancy; and the doctor, following the conventional medical wisdom of his time, suggested she consider an abortion for her own well-being.
My grandmother, with her good Irish-Catholic upbringing, would hear none of that medical wisdom. Led by her own simple faith and supported by her faith-filled instincts, she chose to flaunt the wisdom of someone who should have known better.
Gerald Smith Baker, my father, already a child in the womb, was born into this world on Oct. 30, 1915.
The rest is history.
I am indeed grateful; and I am sure my mother, brothers, and sister are as well, that my grandmother listened to the directions of her heart rather than to the guidance of her physician.
To those women and men, mothers and fathers who have allowed family, friends, physicians, or society-in-general to guide them in the direction of the taking of the innocent life of their unborn child, we share the message of Christ, a message of mercy and unconditional love. We share also the message of Pope John Paul II (The Gospel of Life, 1995) to help them through a time of loss and darkness:
The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and there is no doubt that in many cases it was a painful and shattering decision. But do not give in to discouragement or lose hope … give yourself over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercy is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the sacrament of reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will be able to ask forgiveness from your child who is now living with the Lord.
During the past 200 years, the Catholic Church has joined forces with major abolition movements. In the 19th century it was with the movement to abolish slavery. In the 20th century the Church has taken the lead in helping society put an end to capital punishment and abortion as government-supported institutions.
We as Church should be proud of the role we are playing.
In this month of October, in our Jubilee Year of Prayer, we recall that Christ calls us to take a further step in our vocation as committed Christians by praying that we individually and collectively will do all we can to enhance a culture of life in our American society and bring an end to the culture of death.