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Johan van Parys

Opening a Dialogue; Looking Ahead

This month marks the 45th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion. Many people thought this decision would be the final word in the abortion debate. Instead, the issue of abortion continues to be part of our public discourse and debate. It is an issue that has divided our country, our communities, and in some cases, even families. At this point, there is no indication that this will change in the near future. People on both sides of the abortion question hold their positions with passion and tenacity. This is certainly true for me. I believe in and espouse a pro-life position with great zeal and firm resolve. I am more than willing to discuss the issue of abortion whenever or however it comes up in conversation. 

In the past several years, however, I have noticed a change in the way the issue of abortion is discussed. By this I mean that when this issue comes up, one of two things usually happens. On the one hand, people change the subject. On the other hand, they divide into two camps and the discussion usually becomes fairly vocal, occasionally confrontational, and at times mean-spirited. What this suggests to me is that perhaps we have reached an impasse and need to change the way, the manner, and the form the discussion takes with regard to the issue of abortion. I say this because if we continue along the present track, I think it will be enormously difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a resolution to this issue. Given this, I would like to suggest that we frame the debate about abortion differently in the future. I would like to suggest further, that we who hold and espouse a pro-life position take the lead in this effort. Specifically, I see six things that need to be part of the way we frame the debate and talk about the issue of abortion in the future.

  1. Beginning now and in the future, we need to tone down the rhetoric and eliminate the inflammatory language that increasingly has been a part of the discussion of the issue of abortion. I think those of us in the pro-life movement need to take the lead in doing this. It is too easy for people to dismiss our position on the basis of our sometimes volatile language. We need to invite people into dialogue so that they can see the wisdom of our words and come to understand the moral rightness of our position. In this regard, I believe we are far more apt to convince people than we are to coerce them. Using language that is simple, direct, non-inflammatory, and open to dialogue is a first step in this direction.
  2. Beginning now and in the future, those of us who are pro-life need to invite those who espouse a pro-choice position to help us look for common ground that we can all stand on—that we can use as a basis for reaching out to each other, and from which we can move forward together. In this regard, three areas come immediately to mind. The first is to ask what we can do to reduce the number of abortions that are taking place. Polls show that the majority of people think too many abortions are occurring. Let’s talk with each other about how we can reduce the number of abortions. Second, in a related vein, we need to talk about how we can provide better medical and social services to women and men in problematic pregnancies so that abortion will not seem to them to be their only option. While our Church, and particularly our Archdiocese, has done much in this area, imagine how much more could be done if we worked with those who advocate a pro-choice position. A third area has to do with the violence that in many cases has come to be associated with the issue of abortion. As people who are pro-life, our position needs to be clear. Violence is not and cannot be part of our cause. We need to talk with those on the other side of this issue to see what we can do together to eliminate the possibility of violence.
  3. Beginning now and in the future, as pro-life people we need to begin a dialogue with those who are pro-choice about the unresolved issues in the abortion debate. In this regard, two issues come immediately to mind. In the forty-five years since the Roe vs. Wade decision, many advances have been made in neonatal and in-utero medical care. These advances cannot be ignored. Let us talk with each other about what they mean for us and for the life of the unborn infant in the womb. Secondly, let us also talk with each other about when life begins. Perhaps I am naïve, or maybe I am deliberately obdurate, but no one has ever been able to convince me that life begins other than at conception. I think this is such an important issue that it both deserves and needs our best efforts at dialogue.
  4. Beginning now and in the future, we need to continue our efforts to educate people’s minds, illumine their hearts, and challenge their spirits to see and understand what a truly wonderful gift life is. Over and over and over again, we must remind people that life is a gracious gift from a loving God. As pro-life people, our challenge, our goal, is to preserve, protect, and enhance life at all stages of development, and in all its manifestations. This activity needs to occur at all levels of our society, and it rightly includes participation in and trying to influence the political process. Wherever the opportunity arises, and whenever the occasion presents itself, we must freely, openly, and unapologetically speak of the value and dignity of every human life—from the unborn to the elderly—to the terminally ill. All life is a precious gift. This needs to be—must be—our unchanging message.
  5. Beginning now and in the future, we need to say to our sisters and brothers who have been involved in abortions and are estranged from our Church and from our loving God, that it is time to “come home.” We need to remind them that God’s grace is more powerful than any shame or guilt they are feeling. We need to tell them that healing and hope await them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. More than this, though, we need to extend our most profound and deepest apologies to them for any judgments we may have made about them, any unkind words we may have spoken regarding them, any disdain we may have heaped on them, or any affront we may have given them. We need to say clearly so that no one will misunderstand, that we want and need our brothers and sisters who are estranged from our Church and from God to “come home.” Without exception or distinction, without reserve or hesitation, we invite and beseech you to “come home.” God’s love and grace await you.
  6. Finally, beginning now and in the future, we need to pray with, for, and sometimes in spite of, those who do not hold our pro-life position. I am more and more convinced that if we cannot pray with and for each other—despite our disagreements and differences—that it is only out of force of habit that we will dare to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus has taught us that we need to pray together and for each other. Prayer unites us in the common belief that a hand greater than our own created this universe and sustains us even now. Prayer is our often feeble attempt to respond to God the Creator, and to try to understand the will and hope of our God for us. In our prayer, particularly with and for those with whom we disagree, we imitate Jesus, and open ourselves up to God’s grace so that together we might seek to understand and do the will of our God.

The above are my suggestions as to how, on the 45th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we might proceed into the future. I am sure there are many things I have missed, but I would like to suggest that if we are ever to come to a resolution with regard to the issue of abortion, this can only occur when we change the way, the manner, and the form in which we talk about this issue, and seek new ways and means to engage each other in dialogue. As people committed to life, I think we need to be in the forefront of this activity. I believe that ultimately it is only in this way that we can help others come to understand the value, dignity, and worth of every human life.

 

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