March (and More) for Life

Today, pro-life activists from around the country come to Washington to march for life on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. The march comes at a strange time for the politics of abortion: The debate is as potent as ever, yet it seems stuck. The opposing sides yell at each other but do not listen to each other and, similarly, on both sides, it is the most extreme voices that carry the day and, consequently, prevent anything like progress.

Americans rarely look to foreign lands for inspiration. I wonder how many Americans realize that our abortion laws are by far the least restrictive of any in the modern, industrialized West. Yet, to hear pro-choice activists fret, efforts to restrict third term abortions amount to some kind of tyranny, actually not “some kind” but a specific kind, a theocratic tyranny. It would be hard to pin that label of the Fifth Republic, but the pro-choice activists are undaunted. The day the Republicans announced they intended to bring the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” Emily’s List flooded email boxes with appeals for cash, three such appeals within the first 48 hours. I fear that this important piece of legislation will become like the “Freedom of Choice Act,” a fundraising device for both sides but a bill with a diminishing shot at passage.

Yesterday, at the last minute, the GOP leadership pulled the bill from the scheduled floor vote today. The reason? Some Republican women members of Congress were concerned about a provision of the bill that would allow an exception on the post-20 week ban in rape cases, provided the woman had filed a report about the rape with police. Women who have been raped, understandably, do not always want to rush to the police after the crime. It is a good sign that the GOP leadership listened to women – imagine that? - on the issue. I hope a solution can be found, perhaps a certification from a doctor rather than the police. Polls indicate wide opposition to late term abortions. The practice is horrific and inhumane.

Last night, in his homily at the pro-life Vigil Mass at the Shrine, Cardinal Sean O’Malley also focused a large part of his sermon on the need to listen to women who face a crisis pregnancy and accompany them. This was the third and last year O’Malley led the Mass in his capacity as chairman of the USCCB Pro-Life Committee. Each year, he has reminded the Church that we can’t discuss this issue as if women were not a part of the equation. Yet, in this morning’s paper, Congressman Trent Franks, after acknowledging “I realize  that all of the people involved have sincere perspectives and have knowledge and experiences and information that I don’t have,” went on to say his job was “be part of catalyzing an awakening in America to where we finally see the humanity of these little victims and the inhumanity of what’s happening to them.” I agree, but I also hope we will see the inhumanity of what has happened to the other victim of abortion, the pregnant woman who feels compelled to procure one.

Cardinal O’Malley also made clear that the Church’s pro-life witness is bound up with our concern for the poor. Preaching on the Gospel story of the rich young man who walks away sad, O’Malley observed:

The young man said to himself: I am keeping the commandments, Thou shall not kill -- I'm pro-life. Thou shall not commit adultery --I follow the discipline of chastity, and now I have to help the poor with my money? It is too much.

The Rich Young Man thought it was either/or, but Jesus is telling us it is both/and. We follow the commandments, we are pro-life and we help the poor.
The Gospel says he went away sad for he had many possessions. How dangerous money can be when it becomes our master. Jesus said: "How hard it is to enter the Kingdom. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."

Chesterton once said that ever since Jesus made this statement, scientists have been trying to breed smaller camels and engineers are trying to make bigger needles!
Part of the Gospel of Life has to be about loving and helping the poor. Indeed, reducing poverty will also reduce the number of abortions. Poor and low income women account for more than half of the abortions performed each year in our country. 

The connection between abortion and poverty is twofold. First, as +Sean noted, poor women are more likely to procure an abortion than non-poor women. Second, the integrity of our witness to the value and dignity of unborn life is rooted in the exact same fidelity to the example and teaching of Jesus Christ that requires our lives to witness to the dignity of the poor, and the undocumented, and the unemployed, to all of the “un’s,” those whom society classifies as somehow beyond reach or beneath concern.

March for life, we should. But, we must do more than march. We must be joyful heralds of the Gospel of Life, a Gospel that the Lord Himself indicates is characterized first and foremost as “good news to the poor” (Luke 4). The Holy Father was warned against a “throwaway culture” and certainly America’s abortion regime is an example of that culture at its most hideous. But, there are other examples of the “throwaway culture” and we as a Church will only be persuasive if we take offense at them all.

Cardinal O’Malley said something else that warrants attention:

Christ has given us the formula for joy in the Gospel. We must learn to look on people with love. An attitude of judgmental self righteousness is not going to change peoples' attitudes and save babies. We need to be the field hospital not Judge Judy. We need to be the merciful face of Christ in the way we promote adoption, aware of how difficult it is for birth mothers to choose that option. We also need to expand our outreach in Project Rachel to those whose lives have been devastated by abortion.

Sadly, some of the “professional” pro-life groups have spent more time the past few years complaining about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the bishops’ anti-poverty program, than they have actually convincing anyone that abortion is wrong. And, how do you convince anyone if you only associate with those who are already pro-life? +Sean, and Pope Francis, point to a different way, a way of accompaniment and mercy, of concern and love, not judgment. It is the key, and often overlooked, line on that Gospel account: “Jesus looked on him with love.” If we, as a Church, do not look on people will love, why would they listen? And, why would they think we are Christians? 

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