The following was taken from a series of articles by Fr. Peter West published on Priests for Life Website, www.priestsforlife.org.
In this segment, I demonstrate the flaws in the argument of those who say that while they are personally opposed to abortion, they don't want to impose their morality on others. Is it enough to simply be personally opposed to abortion?
We often hear people say that while they are personally opposed to abortion they don't want to impose their personal morality on anyone else. They tell us they are not pro-abortion but "pro-choice". They say the government should have nothing to do with this very personal decision.
This type of thinking is flawed in many respects. First, the right to choose depends on what is being chosen. Abortion is an act of violence that kills another person. No one has a right to take the life of another innocent human being. We all have equal dignity before God no matter what our size, our stage of development or whether in or outside of the womb. When life begins is not a matter of faith. We can show that life begins at the moment of fertilization through science.
The sanctity of life ethic is not religious doctrine, but the basic principle upon which this nation was founded. The first duty of the government is to protect the lives of its citizens. The right to life was not bestowed by the government, nor does the government have the authority to take the right to life of an innocent person away. The Declaration of Independence states "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."
John Adams said "You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by any human laws, rights derived from the great Legislator of the Universe."
Before the Civil War many people made a similar argument about slavery that we hear applied to abortion today. People said things like "Personally, I'm opposed to slavery. I would never own one myself, but I don't want to impose my morality on anyone else. A person should have a right to choose whether or not to own slaves. I don't think the government should be involved." But the government had the responsibility to protect the rights of the African-Americans. It did not matter that slavery was written into the Constitution. Citizens had a right and a duty to change the law so that it recognized fundamental human and civil rights by which we are all endowed by God.
So today, we have not only a right but also a duty to change the laws and to protect pre-born children in danger of abortion. The Supreme Court did not grant the right to life, nor did it have the right to abolish that right for pre-born children. The American Bishops remind us "Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling vigorously to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal." (Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics (LGL) #24)
A person who claims to be personally opposed to abortion as the taking of an innocent life, but fails to do all in his power to protect the unborn lacks character and courage. More than likely he is not as strongly personally opposed to the killing of the unborn as he claims to be.
Each time Pope John Paul comes to America he never fails to speak on behalf of the unborn by appealing to the conscience of Americans by asking us to live up to the noble principles in our founding documents or with references to American history. He did so in his first visit to Washington in 1979 and on his last visit to St. Louis in 1999. On October 7, 1979, in his homily on the Capitol Mall in Washington, Pope John Paul II said: "I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world that all human life-from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages-is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. Human life is not just an idea or an abstraction; human life is the concrete reality of a being that lives, that acts, that grows and develops; human life is the concrete reality of a being that is capable of love, and of service to humanity. Let me repeat what I told the people during my recent pilgrimage to my homeland: If a person's right to life is violated at the moment in which he is first conceived in his mother's womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole of the moral order, which serves to ensure the inviolable goods of man. Among those goods, life occupies the first place."
"The Church defends the right to life not only in regard to the majesty of the Creator, who is the first giver of life, but also in respect to the essential good of the human person. Human life is precious because it is the gift of God, a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever."
When he visited Baltimore in October 1995 Pope John Paul II said, "If an attitude of skepticism were to succeed in calling into question even the fundamental principles of the moral law, the democratic system itself would be shaken in its foundations."
But the Holy Father immediately followed this warning by saying: "The United States possesses a great bulwark against this happening. I speak of your founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. These documents are grounded in and embody unchanging principles of the natural law whose permanent truth and validity can be known by reason, for it is written by God in human hearts."
These words demonstrate why we can still be proud to be Americans, despite the current slaughter of the unborn. Because of the political system passed on by our Founding Fathers, we have a means of correcting injustices in our society.
In St. Louis, on his last visit to the United States, in January 1999, Pope John Paul II said, "There are times of trial, tests of national character, in the history of every country. America has not been immune to them. One such time of trial is closely connected with St. Louis. Here, the famous Dred Scott case was heard. And in that case the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently declared an entire class of human beings – people of African descent – outside the boundaries of the national community and the Constitution’s protection." After untold suffering and with enormous effort, that situation has, at least in part, been reversed.
America faces a similar time of trial today. Today, the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings – the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered "unuseful" – to be outside the boundaries of legal protection. Because of the seriousness of the issues involved, and because of America’s great impact on the world as a whole, the resolution of this new time of testing will have profound consequences for the century whose threshold we are about to cross. My fervent prayer is that through the grace of God at work in the lives of Americans of every race, ethnic group, economic condition and creed, America will resist the culture of death and choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life.
Despite some lapses America has traditionally been a nation that has been a refuge and cared for those less fortunate than we. America is often the first to send help when disaster strikes throughout the world. Our nation has been a refuge for immigrants seeking religious and political freedom and a better life. On the base of the Statue of Liberty is a quote from the poet Emma Lazarus. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Yet today the unborn are deprived of their rights and they utter silent screams as they are violently killed by abortion.
Many who identify themselves as social liberals advocate "abortion rights", but this is absolutely opposed to their stated principles of building a society of inclusion and tolerance. To advocate a right to abortion is to deny a whole class of human beings the welcome and protection of our laws simply because of their stage of development. Hubert Humphrey, a liberal pro-life Democrat once said "The moral test of a government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; the twilight of life, the elderly; the shadows of life, the sick, needy and the handicapped."
Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss of Omaha, Nebraska has also stated "It is not a liberal cause to support abortion: It is anti-life and anti-church."
As the debate on partial-birth abortion was going on in Congress a few years ago. Congressman Henry Hyde reflected on our nation’s history: "For over two centuries of our national history we have struggled to create a society of inclusion. We keep widening the circle of those for whom we are responsible--the aged, the infirm, the poor. Slaves were free, women were enfranchised, civil rights and voting rights acts were passed, our public spaces made accessible to the handicapped, Social Security for the elderly—all in the name of widening the circle of inclusion and protection. This great trajectory in our national history was shattered by Roe vs. Wade and its progeny. By denying an entire class of human beings the welcome and the protection of our laws we have betrayed what is best in our tradition. We have put at risk every life that someday someone might find inconvenient."
Lack of respect for life in the womb has led to a lack of respect for life outside of the womb, especially at the end of life. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are practiced sometimes openly, but even more frequently away from the public eye. This lack of respect for life in our society, in the beginning and end of life, has rendered life vulnerable at all stages in between. Infanticide is also becoming more commonplace.
Professor Singer is an advocate of infanticide who occupies a prestigious chair of bioethics at Princeton University. Abraham Lincoln once said, "The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next." Unfortunately, we're not waiting for the next generation because the killing of newborns is already becoming a common practice.
Sometimes older people ask me why I talk to them about abortion. Older people should remember that if we can establish the principle in our society that a life can be taken because the person is burdensome or unwanted, we may all live long enough that one day we will become burdensome or unwanted by someone to whose care we have been entrusted. Those who care about their children or grandchildren need to be concerned about abortion. Even those who have no children but care about the type of society they live in; the legacy they'll pass on to the next generation. You need to care about abortion if you care about Our Lord's commandment to Love your neighbor, especially those who are least among us. (Luke 10, Matthew 25)
Peoples and nations are judged on how they respond to the challenges and injustices of the past. We admire men and women who risked their lives to defend our nation in time of war. We admire those who helped slaves escape to freedom, ended the justice of slavery and worked for civil rights for African-Americans. We admire those who helped Jews escape from the horrors of the Nazi holocaust. The sacrifices we are called to make for the unborn are far less than the things these heroes did.
When we finally come before God a substantial part of our judgment will consist in how we responded to the tragedy of abortion in our times. How will we respond to God when He asks us what we did for our pre-born brothers and sisters in danger of abortion? Will God be pleased with the answer that while we were personally opposed, we didn't try to save them because we didn't want to impose our morality on anyone else or that there were other issues? Will we justify voting for a "pro-choice" candidate because we were convinced by some demagogue, who lied to us in a TV commercial, that a pro-life candidate wanted to take away our Social Security?
The times are critical. We must do all in our power to protect the unborn and end the culture of death, including using our vote to advance the culture of life.
Fr. Peter West
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