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[Timothy Cardinal Dolan is the Archbishop of New York. This column appeared on January 13 on the website of Catholic New York (www.cny.org) and is reprinted with the Cardinal’s permission.]
“Why are you Catholics so hung up about abortion?” this rather well-known political leader asked me.
“Well, let me tell you,” I happily replied.
“For one, thanks for acknowledging how urgent this matter is for us. I don’t mind at all agreeing with you: we Catholics are ‘hung up’ on abortion.”
I went on. “Actually, we’re obsessed with the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of all human life! Yes, the innocent, helpless life of the baby in the womb, but also the life of the death row prisoner, the immigrant, the fragile elderly, the poor and the sick.”
I wasn’t done. “And it’s not just ‘you Catholics’ who are very upset about the unfettered abortion-on-demand culture in which we live. Most Americans, of any religion, or none at all, report they are as well. As a matter of fact, this is not a uniquely ‘Catholic’ issue at all, but one of human rights. We didn’t learn that abortion was horrible in religion class, but in biology, and in our courses on the ‘inalienable rights’ tradition in American history.”
By now he probably regretted he had asked! But on I went.
“How can we sustain a culture that recoils at violence, exclusion, suicide, racism, injustice, and callousness toward those in need, if we applaud, allow, pay for, and promote the destruction of the most helpless, the baby in the womb?”
Did I change his mind? I doubt it. Did I answer his questions as to why we are “hung up” on the civil rights of the baby in the sanctuary of her mother’s womb? I hope so.
All this comes to mind as we prepare to observe the somber anniversary of the tragic decision by the Supreme Court on Jan. 22, 1973, to allow abortion-on-demand.
Don’t worry, the pro-abortionists reassured us forty-eight years ago. You’ll learn to accept this. We dread taking the life of the little infant in the womb, too. Abortion will be kept safe, legal, and rare! It would be limited to the earliest weeks of pregnancy, and only resorted to in extreme cases like the endangerment of the mother’s life. And we’d never force people whose conscience disagrees with us to perform or pay for one. So much for the reassurances! We have hardly gotten used to it. Abortion remains the hottest issue in our politics, with polls showing that most Americans want restrictions on its unquestioned use, and do not want their taxes to pay for it.
Now, the pro-abortionists no longer call abortion regrettable, but celebrate it and brag about it! No longer do they argue that the question about the viability of the “fetus” is one impossible to answer. Readily do they admit it’s a baby. It’s just that, for them, the desire of another trumps the baby’s right to life.
Rare? Forget about it! Now it’s an unfettered right, at any time during the pregnancy, up to and including the very birth, with demands that sincere health care professionals whose consciences rebel at the grizzly procedure be forced to perform them, that tax money pay for them, that our foreign policy insists other countries promote them, and that the freedom of employers who abhor them still offer insurance to cover them.
We’re even more “hung up” now, as our new president, whom we wish well, and who speaks with admirable sensitivity about protecting the rights of the weakest and most threatened, ran on a platform avidly supporting this gruesome capital punishment for innocent pre-born babies.
As Pope Francis observes, “We defend and promote all legitimate human rights. But, what use are they if the right of the baby to be born is violated!”
We’re all still cringing from the disturbing violence last week in Washington. This upheaval was made the more nauseating as it was seemingly encouraged by the one sworn to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law, and because it trashed the very edifice designed to be a sanctuary of safety, reason, civility, and decorum, the arena of our freedoms, the U.S. Capitol.
President-elect Biden was eloquent last week in reminding us that the rampage we saw was not America, whose citizens are renowned for their decency, observance of the law, and the respect we show each other.
In the renewal and rededication that usually accompanies the inauguration of a new president, can we hope that violence will subside, that civil discourse will again become the norm for all sides, that a respect for the sacredness of all life and the dignity of the human person will be revived, and that the sanctuary of the womb will be offlimits to violent invasion?