TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2018)
RESPECT LIFE SUNDAY
As is the custom in all these United States, the first weekend in October is designated Respect Life Weekend. It is a time when priests everywhere are encouraged to speak about the dignity of human life, from “womb to tomb.” In his respect-life-month statement, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, states that “we are all called to cherish, defend, and protect those who are most vulnerable, from the beginning of life to its end, and at every point in between.”
This year the Conference of Catholic Bishops statement is given in the shadow of the worldwide revelations of priestly abuse, revelations which have “lacerated” the Body of Christ according to USCCB President Cardinal DiNardo. Further, the awareness of orchestrated cover-ups by Dioceses and Bishops has significantly increased the pain of those sitting in the pews, challenging them to rethink their desire to remain a part of the bigger Church. But leaving the Catholic faith will do nothing to better a difficult situation, and it would assuredly further erode the overall respect for human life in this country which is already sufficiently threatened.
Regardless of who sits on the Supreme Court, it is clear that there is an overwhelming need to change the hearts and minds of all those who favor, promote, seek, or perform abortions. Although seldom spoken about directly, the hearings for all Supreme Court justices since 1973 have taken place against the backdrop of the abortion issue. The recent heated exchanges in the Senate Judiciary Committee euphemistically spoke of “women’s health,” “women’s rights,” and a “woman’s control over her own body,” but it was clear that what was being spoken of was abortion. The fear of so many that any nominee to the Supreme Court might be the cause of overturning Roe v. Wade exhibits what this debate is truly about.
It is because of what happened in 1973 that some wish to argue that the Supreme Court’s primary role is to protect the Constitution. In 1973 the Court deemed abortion a fundamental right under the United States Constitution, thereby subjecting all laws attempting to restrict it to the standard of strict scrutiny. The absolute right to an abortion was to be viewed as a fundamental right included within the guarantee of personal privacy found in the Ninth and/or Fourteenth Amendments. What never appeared to have been discussed vigorously was the fact that the right to privacy is clearly secondary to the more fundamental and primary right to life. In the questioning of all Court nominees one can count on questions asking whether a candidate will uphold the constitutional law of the land, as though a bad law should not be examined and overturned if necessary. There is, of course, precedent for overturning a Supreme Court decision, and that can be found in the infamous Dred Scott decision.
In 1857 the Supreme Court ruled against Dred Scott, a slave who sought freedom via the courts. Dred Scott argued that while he had been a slave in Missouri, the move of his master to Illinois where slavery was not in effect demanded that he should be made a free man. Out of the blue the Supreme Court had radically changed the status of every black person in the United States, ruling that black people everywhere “were so inferior that they possessed no rights” that white people should be required to respect. The Dred Scott decision is unanimously denounced as the worst Supreme Court decision ever made. It was never formally overturned, but it was functionally superceded by the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and by the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, adopted in 1868, which gave African Americans full citizenship. It was the Dred Scott decision, however, which the Supreme Court referenced in 1896 when it declared racial segregation constitutional and created the concept of “separate but equal.” No one but radical white supremacists and neo-Nazis would say that the Dred Scott decision should never have been challenged.
Those who like to argue that Roe v. Wade, and its companion piece Doe v. Bolton, are unassailable since they are the “law of the land” are standing on very shaky ground. Bad law should always be challenged, and people of good conscience would like to hope that those who call for “abortion on demand” will find themselves standing with the likes of Chief Justice Roger Taney and all those who supported the Dred Scott decision – on the wrong side of history.
From the very first moment of our existence we had all the DNA necessary to determine who we would be as an individual. After 24 days our heart was beating, and by 18 weeks we could suck our thumb, somersault, and cover our ears if the music our mother was listening to was too loud. What is in the womb is more than just sinews and tissue, it is a child, and after 20 weeks that child could leave the comfort of the womb and have a 50-80% chance of survival, 90% chance after 25 weeks.
We speak of the “comfort of the womb,” and extraordinary efforts are employed to keep a baby there for the full nine months, in spite of it being the most dangerous place a child could possibly be. In most places, since 1973, abortion is permitted up to full-term birth, making attacks on that life possible even after the chances of that baby surviving outside the womb are great. How can people argue so vehemently for the right to take the life of that child? Their right “to choose” to take the life of a baby in the womb is likened to the right to choose one’s hair color or clothing, as though there is no difference. Although today’s #metoo and women’s equality movements express some valid concerns, they also attempt to make any restrictions on abortion look like an assault on “women’s freedom,” or a threat to “women’s health”. Yet, the prohibition against taking the life of another person outside of the womb is accepted as normative.
Focusing on the abortion is not intended to do any disservice to the countless other life issues facing us each and every day. Any and all assaults on the dignity of the human person, whether at the beginning or end of life, or anywhere in between, need to be challenged. There is no assault, however, which will take more lives today than the threat of abortion. Furthermore, it is clear that in the upcoming months the efforts of many will be directed towards linking the right to abortion on demand with an increased focus on the legitimate issues surrounding our respect for women. This will demand that we, as Christians, speak with boldness when others try to legitimize the taking of life in the womb. The women and the men in the womb need us to speak up for their right to life. We, as caring Christians, need to speak up for those with no voice! We, as Christian clergy and lay people, need to protect the precious gift of human life, especially that most vulnerable life in the womb. May God change the hearts of all those who favor, promote, seek or perform abortions, and may God inspire men and women with the courage necessary to protect all human life from any and all assaults. Amen.