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Abortion: The Central Pro-Life Issue

When Pope John Paul II asked families, educators and the media to help transform our culture into one that supports life on all levels, we at St. Anthony Messenger were listening. One of our responses to his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), is this special issue. Three of its feature articles and several columns deal with abortion, at least indirectly. But we also recognize that being pro-life is more than being against abortion.

The pope recalls the broad strokes of respect for life that Vatican II's pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World, #27) had sketched: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilations..., whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, as well as disgraceful working conditions...are infamies indeed" (#3).

Within that wide framework, however, the pope saves his most eloquent words for respect for the life of unborn children. No one "more absolutely innocent" than an unborn child can be imagined. No reason, however serious or tragic, can ever justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being (#58).

Why U.S. Plan Was Updated

In November the U.S. bishops passed a new Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life. They say: "Among important issues involving the dignity of human life..., abortion necessarily plays a central role. Abortion, the direct killing of an innocent human being, is always gravely im-moral (The Gospel of Life, #57); its victims are the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human family. It is imperative that those who are called to serve the least among us give urgent attention and priority to this issue of justice."

This plan is the U.S. bishops' third comprehensive plan since Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the 1973 U.S. Su-preme Court decisions which legalized abortion nationwide. Two major things have changed:

First, this new plan takes into account emerging threats to human life such as the deliberate destruction of human embryos in some stem-cell research (see article on page 28).

Second, the bishops also condemn those who use violence to promote life. "During this past decade, several persons involved in the practice of abortion have been killed, and others have been harmed, by tragically misguided individuals claiming to be pro-life. Such violence against human beings is indefensible....We abhor and condemn such violence unequivocally." Pro-lifers who shoot abortionists will find no sympathetic ear here.

Seamless Garment Holds

What has not changed in this new plan is the "seamless garment" approach to pro-life. All life issues are linked. Abortion and contraception are integrally connected to euthanasia and capital punishment. So are war and peace, just wages and respect for those with disabilities, to mention just a few issues.

Some observers thought the bishops might be backing off from this seamless approach, fearing it dilutes the anti-abortion effort. Last June, in working on the American appendix to the new Roman Missal, the bishops vigorously debated a prayer for January 22 (the Roe v. Wade anniversary), now an official day of penance in the U.S. Church calendar. In a 145-66 vote, they decided to limit the prayer to the victims of abortion and not those of euthanasia or capital punishment.

But the bishops have not strayed from the broad view, as they reveal in this new plan: "A consistent ethic of life, which explains the Church's teaching at the level of moral principle—far from diminishing concern for abortion and euthanasia or equating all issues touching on the dignity of human life—recognizes instead the distinctive character of each issue while giving each its proper place within a coherent moral vision."

Accomplishments and Aims

The new pastoral plan has four arms: public information and education; pastoral care (pregnancy services, post-abortion healing, care for disabled and dying people, and care for prisoners); public policy programs; and prayer and worship.

The plan also applauds accomplishments of the pro-life movement in the past quarter century: fewer abortions in the 1990s; more Americans defining themselves as pro-life; expanding services for those facing difficult pregnancies; some state restrictions on abortion; defeat of several suicide initiatives in many states.

Yet, as the bishops point out, the fed-eral law on abortion has changed very little. "The abortion decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court must be reversed.... Our own commitment will not waver. Our efforts will not cease. We will speak out on the sanctity of life wherever and whenever it is threatened."

So will we at St. Anthony Messenger. We pledge ourselves to speak out wherever and whenever life is threatened. We ask that all our readers vow the same. —B.B.

The print edition of the bishops' new Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life (Publication 5-463) is available from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (phone 800-235-8722). 

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