As I write this column I realize I do so at the risk of offending just about everyone. I say this because today I want to say something about abortion. I write as a pro-life Catholic priest, but also as a male who cannot possibly know, let alone understand, the very real and complicated issues that can lead a woman to seek an abortion. I also write as a confessor who knows the pain, hurt and sadness that many woman carry and have carried for years after having an abortion. Given these things, it would seem that there is very little that I can or should say that might be helpful, and yet to say nothing seems cowardly and wrong. Legalized as a private act, abortion has become and remains a very public and divisive issue. It is an issue that it has divided our country, our communities, and in some cases, even families. If we don’t start doing something different in regard to the way we talk about the issue of abortion these divisions will only deepen and grow.
I say the above, because in the past several weeks, however, especially since the new law in Texas was passed, I have noticed a not very subtle change in the way the issue of abortion is discussed. Specifically, when this issue comes up, one of two things usually happens. On the one hand, people change the subject and/or simply refuse to engage. On the other hand, people divide into two camps and the discussion usually becomes fairly vocal, occasionally confrontational, and at times mean-spirited.
What the above suggests to me is that perhaps we have reached the point where we need to change the way, the manner, and the form the discussion in regard to abortion takes place. I would like to suggest that we frame the debate about abortion differently as we move forward. And I would like to suggest further, that we who hold and espouse a pro-life position take the lead in this effort. Specifically, I would like to suggest four things that need to be part of the way we frame the debate and talk about the issue of abortion in the future.
1. We need to acknowledge that abortion is a failure for all of us. We can’t just point a finger and lay the blame at the woman seeking an abortion or those who provide abortions. Rather, we need to acknowledge that, as individuals and as a community, we have all failed whenever a woman feels they have no other option than to seek an abortion. We should never demonize a woman who seeks an abortion or the individual who provides it. Rather as Mother Teresa said many years ago when talking about abortion: “How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts.” Abortion is a failure of love for all of us. It is a failure to give until it hurts.
2. The above should challenge us. For those of us who are pro-life, it should challenge us to invite those who would espouse a pro-choice position to help us work together to find 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, two things 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. A woman should never feel that she has to choose between her well-being and her unborn child’s life. 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.
3. As people who are pro-life, 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. This activity, though, can never include any form of violence, whether verbal, emotional, physical or spiritual. As people who are pro-life, our position needs to be clear. Violence is not and cannot be part of our cause. And we must disassociate ourselves from those who would use or advocate violence in any form. 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, it must be our unchanging message.
4. 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 we might proceed as we move 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.