Just before Christmas, Fr. Welch, one of our weekend presiders, sent me an email that contained a picture that had been published in several newspapers. The picture was that of a 21-week-old unborn baby named Samuel Alexander Armas. The baby was being operated on by a surgeon named Joseph Bruner. The reason for the surgery was that the baby had been diagnosed with spina bifida and would not survive if removed from his mother's womb. Samuel’s mother, Julie Armas, is an obstetrics nurse in Atlanta, and had heard of Dr. Bruner’s remarkable surgical procedure—a procedure in which Dr. Bruner performs these special operations while the baby is still in the womb.
During the operation, the doctor removed the uterus via C-section and made a small incision to operate on the baby. As Dr. Bruner completed the surgery on Samuel, the baby reached his tiny, but fully developed hand through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon’s finger. Dr. Bruner was reported as saying that when his finger was grasped, it was the most emotional moment of his life, and that for an instant during the procedure he was just frozen, totally immobile.
The photograph that accompanied the email captured this amazing event with perfect clarity. The editors titled the picture, “Hand of Hope.” The text explaining the picture began, “The tiny hand of 21-week-old fetus Samuel Alexander Armas emerges from his mother’s uterus to grasp the finger of Dr. Joseph Bruner as if thanking the doctor for the “gift of life.” Samuel’s mother said they “wept for days” when they saw the picture. She said; “The photo reminds us pregnancy isn't about disability or an illness, it’s about a little person. Samuel was born in perfect health, the operation 100 percent successful.”
Now I mention the above because this Sunday, January 22 we celebrate the 44th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. And while many herald this anniversary as a once and for all victory for those who advocate abortion rights, I have to ask, whether in light of the changes in the care we can now offer during pregnancy, and especially given the fact that we can operate on a child while it is still in the uterus, isn’t it time we revisit the issue of abortion?
I think it is time for us to advance the discussion 44 years and look at the issue of abortion with fresh eyes and open hearts, and not allow it to be discussed simply as a private matter involving freedom of choice. At a minimum and as a starting point, the many advances in medical science demand that we raise and respond to the vital question of when life begins.
Now, from our Catholic perspective the answer to the above question is clear. Life begins at conception. From our perspective, human life is a precious gift from God. Each person who receives this gift has the responsibility to protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence. This belief flows from ordinary reason and from our faith’s consistent witness that life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception.
Legalized as a private act, abortion remains a very public issue. As such it deserves a new discussion, not one that is 44 years old. As Catholics, as people who are pro-life, I think we need to take the lead in this discussion. In doing so, we need the courage and honesty to speak the truth about human life. We need the humility to listen to both friends and opponents. We need the perseverance to continue the struggle for the protection of human life. And we need to ask God for the prudence and grace to know when and how to do all of this.