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WHERE Do WE Stand before God on the Issue of Abortion?

While the issue has been with us for a number of years, the controversy of giving Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians has escalated with the election of President Joe Biden.  Tension has arisen, not merely between elected officials and the Church leadership, but also among the bishops and with heavily partisan congregants.  The situation is perplexing as believers often approach the question from discordant moral grounds, have varying blind spots and suffer a spiritual formation weighted more toward society’s secular-humanism than to Christian faith with its perennial values.

Where Do People Stand?

First, there are those who are utterly convinced that abortion is the abuse and murder of human beings; any who would enable or be party to such grave objective evils would be logically disqualified for the reception of the Eucharist (that is until there is repentance, absolution, possible public reparation, and the removal of the censure of automatic excommunication). A permissive attitude to giving Holy Communion in this regard seems to water down the severity of violations to human life, causes an egregious scandal before the faithful, dishonors the Lord of life and violates charity against the communicant as sacrilege is a mortal sin and further endangers one’s soul.   

Second, there are dissenters that side-step or deny the personhood of the unborn and argue that abortion is entirely a free decision between a woman and her doctor that does not concern anyone else.  It is argued that a woman has full jurisdiction over her own body, including the fate of a pregnancy. No distinction is made between a first trimester abortion and the infanticide of children ready to be born.  Christians who hold such views seem to suffer from a spiritual or moral amnesia about what both Scripture and the Church teaches.  But even more, this perspective is befuddling as it stands against reason and any genuine ethical sense.  I suppose it signifies a new and terrible ethics where persons and things only have value if we (in our selfishness) should determine to give them value.  As one woman argued to me about the unborn child, “it is only a baby if you want it.”  This flies in the face against any objective evaluation of the human person, especially in viewing the entire trajectory from the womb to birth.

I have readily assumed this mentality is new but it may be that we were here before.  Is this not the same devaluation of human beings that we experienced in American slavery?  Blacks were devalued as less than whole persons or as mere property or as animals.  Even clergy, the suppressed Jesuits, owned human beings!  Note that the papacy by this time had come out against slavery (in various parts of the world) and especially condemned the bondage of fellow Christians as an evil that could no longer be tolerated. What the Church came to understand about slavery in the development of doctrine, she had always known about the unborn and abortion going back to the Didache (50-120 AD).  Abortion had always been condemned by the Church as the crime of murder.

Just as in slavery, the unborn embryo or fetus is reduced by proponents to a thing but is not considered a child unless the mother claims “it.”  Indeed, even then the gymnastics that many women pursue to get pregnant, especially with the sampling and freezing of embryos, still illustrates this attitude of treating the unborn as commodities and not as persons with their own distinctive destiny and rights.  Disconnects with this perspective make debate or discussion with pro-life Christians very difficult or perplexing.  What we hear from such advocates for abortion are assertions like these:  “It is my body and no one can tell me what I should do with my body.”  “I am too young to be a mother and it would be cruel to adopt a child out to strangers.”  “This cannot be happening— I just got a scholarship to a good college and a pregnancy now would ruin my life!”  “All I want is good sex, not a baby!”  “No girl should be forced to carry a child resulting from rape or abuse.”  “This child is a boy and my girlfriend and I only want female babies.”  “I already have two and that’s enough!”  This mentality smacks of the demonic in that there are now actual advocates for abortion from this camp that would similarly argue for what they label as “retroactive abortion,” not just infanticide but the termination of unwanted children up to three years of age. I have heard a number of priests I respect contend that this group is not really Catholic, despite baptism, and thus should not be offered the great Catholic sacrament.  I would agree that those with such hardened hearts are not in true communion with the living Church.   

Third, there are those who would not generally approve of abortion but equate it and any pro-life status with other issues like capital punishment, assisting the poor, welcoming immigrants, racial and ethnic justice, etc.  We find in some circles a point system so that pro-abortion advocates might merit an overall pro-life rating.  As with terminology, never referring to the embryo, zygote or fetus as a baby, this view is just another form of deception— the singular importance of a child’s life is filed away and lost amid a series of other issues.

It is true that there are many issues within a genuine pro-life agenda; however, as the Holy Father and the USCCB has taught, the matter of the unborn is singularly serious and fundamental.  The unborn has no voice of its own so we must be that voice.  If he or she could talk, the child would likely argue, “Take away the gift of life and for ‘me’ there are no other issues!”  The evolution or development in our appreciation of the sanctity of life begins with the premise that both abortion and infanticide constitute murder.  The first Christians were urged to put aside such bloodlust. Over the centuries we have often compromised ourselves in regard to violence, finding it easier to hate and to kill enemies than to love, to forgive and to live with them in peace. Slavery which was long tolerated is today largely repudiated although such a hardness of heart to life and justice continues to raise its ugly head in workers paid non-livable wages and in human trafficking and the pornography industry.  As I have mentioned before, the long-held right of the state to capital punishment has come under recent revision and rightly so because authorities who would condemn the innocent within a culture of death have relinquished their right to judge the guilty.

There may be a fourth position as well, or just a subdivision of what I have already detailed.  There are advocates for a more aggressive feminist agenda of women’s (and possibly LGBTQ) rights that view everything through this revisionist prism, denouncing as bigotry any opposition and/or prohibitions against terminations (regardless of both natural law and Scriptural teaching). This camp would wrongly say that opposition to abortion is the same as being anti-woman.  My quick return would be that the pro-life position is the only true pro-woman perspective.  The power of motherhood is the highest gift given to women as it is an intimate participation with almighty God in the act of creation.  Further, why are we so quick to forget that at least half of the unborn babies are also women called forth into the world and to an eternal destiny?  While radical feminists have largely abandoned the faith and thus would be unlikely to come up for Holy Communion, at least until there are women priests (which will never happen); we need to provide sufficient correctives for the continued participation in the sacramental life for a pro-life Christian feminism. 

2 Responses

  1. I have pondered, when one is standing before the pearly gates, having supported the killing and murder of innocent unborn babies…

  2. I have read your four positions. There are about as many positions as the number of people engaging in the discussion. HOWEVER, I believe in the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage and in the freedom of religion. In regard to the sanctity of life, it is not that we differ on the morality of abortion, because we do not. The problem is how can Catholic leaders achieve a culture that values life and ends abortion? How can we achieve the goal of protecting unborn human life? How can we promote a culture that values life?

    I see a large group of people supporting pro-birth, but are unwilling to provide for emotional, financial or healthcare support for a pregnant woman. In our digital world, we are aware of starving children, we see their faces and other images that display their pathetic conditions. The group that is pro-birth is without empathy for the living who they can see, trying many times to remove the health insurance of others while giving large tax advantages to the rich. How can that convince others of their pro-life position i.e., to save the unborn who can not be seen?

    Catholics need to be informed of the needs of both aspects, i.e., the morality of abortion and morality of preserving the lives of the living, from birth to natural death. Neither political party in the US addresses both aspects. After being in this battle to end abortion for the past forty years I have learned that changing the justices of the Supreme Court and all of the justices in the state courts is long slog with little to show for the efforts.

    I believe if each parish supported a home for pregnant women, with volunteers and financial support, we could develop a culture that supports life. We have to walk the talk.

    FATHER JOE:

    I would affirm your regard for life, marriage and religious liberty. I would likely disagree with you about the number of positions. It is not so complex as to be infinite. The unborn child either is or is not a human person worthy of life and respect. There are those who know this, those who do not know and those who do not want to know either way. Any fourth way is some variation of these three.

    While there have always been threats to the sanctity of life, until modern times and 1972 in the United States most were unanimous that abortion was the killing of a child. One might argue that in the lifetime of some of us we saw this transition from a culture of life to one of death. I think the foundation for it was the development in 1960 of the birth control pill as a slippery slope against the importance of parenthood. Of course, this did not mean we always had perfect justice, either for women or ethnic minorities. But babies were usually safe. Indeed, the murder of a pregnant woman was regarded as a double homicide.

    The business about Catholics being properly disposed to receive the Eucharist is only secondarily about the transformation of culture and bringing an end to abortion. The immediate focus is upon the state of the individual, the dishonor given God through sacrilege and the scandal caused the faithful. Note that most Catholics (but not all) who are arguing against any prohibition for President Biden and others are according to the polls, those who rarely or never take the sacrament, themselves.

    The questions you ask are largely outside the range of this discussion as to who may and who may not come forward for the sacrament. The matter of the Eucharist is an internal religious or sectarian matter; the issue of abortion permeates the whole society, religious and secular. Catholic leaders cannot manufacture a culture of life apart from dialogue and cooperation between other pro-life Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus and non-believing secular humanists. The promotion of human life ultimately requires a clear-headed appreciation of the laws of nature and our place in creation. People of faith can help inform about the measure of decency, sacrifice and compassion that may not come easy without the compass of divine revelation.

    The Church has long argued for universal healthcare. But abortion is not healthcare. You must travel in different circles than I do because both in the parishes and in the Knights of Columbus I have witnessed firsthand incredible acts of sacrifice and empathy for struggling women and families. I would urge you to continue your participation in these efforts of service and charity.

    I cannot say if we will ever turn around the Supreme Court or change the hearts and minds of legislators. But as Catholics we must not despair and remain faithful . . . even if the fruits of our prayers and activism comes long after we are dead.

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