A Homily for Respect Life Sunday
Respect Life Sunday occurs each year in the United States on the first full weekend of October, or any of the Sundays during Right to Life Month.
If there was any real benefit to the chaos that surrounded the last president’s final days, it was the postponement of the inevitable “right to life” battles that are part of every political season since 1973. The immediate catalyst for the increased focus on Life issues is a series of state laws, often referred to by some as ‘fetal heartbeat laws,’ laws which prohibit abortions after the discovery of a very definite heartbeat coming from the baby in the womb, somewhere between six and twelve weeks, depending on who you are talking to.
Vocal critics of the laws, of course, who would not refer to what is in the womb as a “baby,” refer to the ‘heart-like’ sound as a “flutter,” and they insist that a real “embryo” has no heart. Indeed, we can expect to hear a lot of strictly medical jargon in the discussions surrounding these laws. There will be embryos and fetuses; no one will speak of a baby! While the medical jargon may be accurate, it’s only intention is to dehumanize what is present in the womb. Let’s be honest – no one desires to brag about “killing the baby in my womb.” Indeed, miscarriages are extremely sad, not because of the loss of some kind of ‘medical tissue,’ but because a longed-for baby is lost.
There is legitimate debate about when an actual heartbeat occurs during the gestational process, and pro-life persons place themselves in a precarious position when they tie themselves to a precise moment of when an actual heartbeat occurs. In reality, whether it is 6, 8, or twelve weeks is of no consequence, for most Catholics believe that human life begins at conception, for if left free of internal or external negative intrusions, that ovum and sperm that comes together will result in the baby most people long for.
The tragedy of the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions on Roe v. Wade, and Doe v. Bolton, decisions many scholars of the Law feel were bad decisions, is forcibly inserting the “my body, my right” into the U.S. Constitution, giving to abortion proponents a win, and placing a secondary right over the most fundamental of all rights, the right to life. The skewed percentages of people who appear to be in favor of abortion by leaving things the way they are, are made up of people who cannot remember what things were like before Roe v. Wade, and thus they cannot imagine a time when abortion was illegal and not constitutionally protected. Had the devious pro-abortion cases settled for decriminalizing abortion, with states in charge of regulating the entire industry, and had the Supreme Court not placed abortion within a constitutionally protected sphere, our debates today would be vastly different. At times it seems impossible to imagine the possibility of abortion being legal, but not embedded in our country’s Constitution.
If there is a problem with Texas’ latest heartbeat bill, a problem that will lead to its eventual demise (and it has already been blocked for enforcement by a judge), is its desire to return to the early 1970’s, when abortion was illegal, and people were punished for making the unfortunate choice of having an abortion. In a stunningly arrogant move, Texas legislators have not only made desperate women criminals, but they have sicced the entire United States (not limited to Texas) on that woman, and on anyone who aids or abets her criminal and ‘immoral’ act, offering bounties and financial recompense ($10,000) for successful prosecutions. Is this going to lessen the national embarrassment of constitutionally protected attacks on children in the womb? I am skeptical, at best. Creating a nation of bounty hunters sniffing into the private affairs of people they do not even know is not going to bring healing to this unfortunate blotch on the nation’s moral fabric.
There are many who say, with Yul Bryner (in Cecile B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments), “so it shall be written, so it shall be done.” There is no correcting the wrong, some say, now that it is written into the country’s very Constitution. But if that were true, the 1857 Dred Scott decision of the U.S. Supreme Court would continue to be the law of the land. You will recall that that decision decided that the U.S. Constitution was not meant to include American citizenship for people of African descent, regardless of whether they were enslaved or free, and so the rights and privileges that the Constitution confers upon American citizens could not apply to them. Imagine if a similar position had been taken as is frequently taken with Roe v. Wade – “so it shall be written, so it shall be done.” People of color would remain enslaved, and would be unable to enjoy the rights and privileges afforded to every other American citizen. It only took eight years for the country to come to its senses and realize how horribly wrong and unjust the Supreme Court had been, and in 1865 voided the Dred Scott ruling with the establishment of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution which abolished slavery and guaranteed citizenship for “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” It is possible to correct even the Constitution of the United States when it is so blatantly in error.
One might have thought that in a post Black Lives Matter climate that there would be more discussion about the preciousness of human life from womb to tomb, since, as so many of the posters proclaimed, All Lives Matter! Yes, all lives do matter, even life in the womb, but what we hear now is the same trite (and grossly inaccurate) arguments that center on “my body, my right” to do with it as I will, even if it robs the not yet fully grown life in the womb of his or her rights. We live in a strangely curious universe where life in the womb is protected from being directly harmed in the case of murder or manslaughter (car accident), and yet hundreds of thousands of people are clamoring for the right to put an end to that life if the baby is inconvenient, deformed, or the result of incest (less that 2% of all abortions). The numbers can sometimes be confusing depending on who is calculating, but despite the pandemic (or perhaps because of the pandemic), Planned Parenthood, the undeniable largest provider of abortion services in the country, reported in 2020 over 350,000 abortions performed in the previous year, an increase of nearly 10,000 abortions per year. While the CDC reported the abortion rate in 2017 in the U.S. to be a historic low, Planned Parenthood made a seriously large amount of money off the abortion business.
Planned Parenthood, frequently argues for an increase in funding for the ‘reproductive health care’ they offer women, but ‘reproductive health care’ is clearly a euphemism for abortion, and the ending of a human life in the womb is hardly a plus for reproduction. The dependence on the benevolence of a nurturing mother begins at conception, and will not end for some eighteen years after the child leaves the womb. The dependence of the child in the womb is at its greatest during the first two trimesters when it has few protections against a decision to end the pregnancy, in spite of the visible resemblance of the “fetus” to the life which will be cradled in loving arms once the child emerges from the womb. Barring the unusual and rare circumstance when the child might be threatening the life of the mother, there is never a good reason to interfere with the process which most often results in a healthy baby. It is ludicrous to argue that abortion is “women’s health care.” In addition to the loss of a life, abortion has a series of negative side effects (bleeding, cramping, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea/vomiting), and possible immediate complications – damage to the womb or cervix, excessive bleeding, infection of the uterus or Fallopian tubes, scarring of the inside of the uterus, sepsis, perforation of the uterus, and even death. Those familiar with Project Rachel will also attest to the psychological impact of abortion, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-like symptoms of regret, grief, sadness/depression, guilt/shame, and suicidal thoughts. Abortion is hardly “women’s health care.”
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, abortion disproportionately affects the birth of children of color, with 36 percent of all abortions being obtained by black woman. This has less to do with conspiracies leveled at a ‘colored’ population (as some have said), than it has to do with the poverty and need which drives women to choose abortion in the first place. Without attacking the root causes of abortion, women will continue to choose abortion, whether legal or illegal. The disappearance of Roe v. Wade would provide little hardship for women, if the resources were made available to help and accompany women, not just throughout their pregnancy, but throughout the years when children are most dependent. Furthermore, the end of the constitutional right to kill life in the womb would add weight to our chants of “all lives matter!” No developed country in the world has as many abortions as the United States of America!
I learned early in my pro-life work (nearly fifty years ago), that we should never demonize or shun the woman who sadly chooses to abort her baby. As one feminist pro-life group used to say, a woman chooses abortion like a bear chooses to be caught in a trap. The pro-life movement will never gain converts as long as it demonizes women and criminalizes abortion. We cannot, and should not, go back to the sixties when abortion was illegal. That does not mean that women are right when they tell us its their “choice” (as if they were choosing lipstick color), or they have a right to do what they want with their bodies, as if the life they carry does not have a fully independent life of its own, with a totally separate DNA.
We need to argue on the science which is available to us, and while it might not end every abortion requested, it will significantly reduce the numbers. We need to accompany women who find themselves, for whatever reason, with an “unwanted pregnancy,” and we need to financially support them and the institutions that help them. We need to keep the issue of abortion free of politics, otherwise when the political atmosphere changes we will be fighting the same battles over and over again. We need to avoid overreaching, and be satisfied with the incremental advances that stem the tide of abortions in this country – we can’t always have it all and have it all at once! We need to avoid bills like that of Texas which not only demonizes women seeking abortions, but places country-wide bounties over their heads and the heads of all those who might be moved to help them. Lastly, as difficult as it can be, we need to be bold in preaching a pro-life message, especially clergy and people of faith. Our message needs to be gentle and honest and based on the soundest of scientific principles. The placement of Supreme Court Justices who favor our pro-life positions is not a permanent fix, for it is only when we change the hearts and minds of people will we make real progress. Let us never give up the battle to significantly lessen the number of abortions in this great country of ours, and let us do it together.