About ten years ago, I was working with teens who had been officially classified by family court as ‘juvenile delinquents’. Usually, that meant that they were going to be living away from home at a facility or group home. As their caseworker, it was not uncommon to find me interceding on their behalf with their facility, court, etc. Although, most of the time it would be the parent of the teen that would be contacting me with questions or concerns and some parents were more involved than others.
I can remember one parent in particular who called quite often about her children. Let’s call the parent Felicity. Felicity had two daughters of similar ages and sadly both had made some mistakes that led them to warrant placement in facilities. Felicity was always present and active in their case planning meetings, court appearances, etc. So, when I saw Felicity had left me a voicemail on my office phone one morning it was not really that unusual. I listened to her voicemail from start to finish, listened to it again and just sat back to think for a moment. I just listened to this mother tell me her teenage daughter may be pregnant. Furthermore, this mother went on to state the teen was currently ‘weighing her options’. I knew in my heart that this meant among the possibilities was aborting this pregnancy. I needed a moment to collect my thoughts and ponder the gravity of everything I had been told.
I was reminded of this memory recently and believe it seems quite appropriate with the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children taking place today. I remember contemplating the legality of abortion in our nation and thinking about how this sort of thing wouldn’t even be conversation if it was not legal and how our political parties and court justices had failed us in this respect. Then, something dawned on me. Generations of people have been culturally formed to accept abortion as one of many responses to the news of pregnancy. Ironically, even a ‘right’. Mothers would still find a means of aborting whether it was the law of this land or not because of how they have been conditioned to think about pregnancy over the decades. Merely, flipping a page in history and declaring it illegal will not correct the existence of abortion. This presented a big problem when I considered it and I wound up trying to use logic and charity to consider how this can best work.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s Donum Vitae, III. states, "The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death." So, just by the fact that we are God’s creation and made in his image, no man or man-made entity can infringe or take away the aforementioned rights. The Catechism goes on to make very clear that “(h)uman life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.” (CCC, 2270).
It would seem that this information would be enough that the matter of abortion (and a number of other life-related issues) would not even be up for discussion in the political sphere as legislation is already presupposed by nature’s law. Unfortunately, this nation has always wrestled with trying to define ‘Who is a human being?’ or ‘What is the make up of a person?’ seemingly trying to rewrite or redefine what ultimately cannot be. A quick survey of American history will display the folly of this again and again. It is sadly a perennial problem that questioning inalienable rights opens flood gates and downplays critical perspectives. Suddenly, identifying human beings becomes relative and people can feel free to act as they wish without conviction or comprehending what it is they are doing.
So, how do we fix this? Prayer, fasting, and work. Our part in this requires all of these actions. We cannot do one without the others. We should be making prayer and fasting a normal part of our spiritual life anyway, but I cannot overstate the importance of directing its intentions toward this mission. We need to thank God for the gift of life and the equality of all just by being His sons and daughters. We need to ask God for the leaders and lawmakers of all nations to stop trying to figure out who is a human and who is not and rely on the law of nature that God put in place. With this in mind, we should also be asking forgiveness for the times lawmakers and others have ignored inalienable rights thus ending in lost dignity and lost life.
In addition to prayer and fasting, we need to work. How do you do so? How do you assist ‘crisis pregnancy’? You remove the crisis, not the pregnancy. For decades, one reason women have been turning to abortion is because society has engrained that parenthood is only for those prepared. As a parent, I can tell you that you are never ‘prepared’. I think back to the teen girl that was my client. She was a tough girl, to be sure. However, with this possibility of pregnancy she was scared, confused, uncertain, depressed and anxious. How was she going to make this work? Who can she talk to when she needs parenting advice? Where was she going to live? How was she going to pay rent? How was she going to be able to afford food? How do I get health care? How will I be able to work or attend school? How will I be able to afford child care to accomplish either or those? These are all real life concerns for any of us and exponentially more if a child may be in the mix. Certainly these are concerns that easily can cause anybody to make rash decisions. What if we were able to foster a situation in this nation and around the world that helped take away these concerns and provided situations that eased some of these hardships? What would happen if we were able to show people through kindness and example that God’s design confirms all human life as sacred and equal? Pope St. John Paul II stresses our role in this when he said, “Christ needs you to enlighten the world and to show it the "path to life" (Psalm 16:11). The challenge is to make the Church’s "yes" to Life concrete and effective. The struggle will be long, and it needs each one of you. Place your intelligence, your talents, your enthusiasm, your compassion and your fortitude at the service of life!” (Homily on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 1993). My suspicion is that this would help nearly end abortion, which is our true prayer as Catholics. Merely outlawing it alone will not achieve this, but rather a civil society which acknowledges life as precious and deserving of our protection is destined to be a society that values their spiritual and family life.
It is my firm belief that our work and prayer as Catholics to end abortion need to be focused both on legal protection of the unborn and an honest plea to God for us to work out ways to build a society where we can ‘be there’ for pregnant women who think they have no one left to turn to. Let us encourage each other and build each other up. Let us all “believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and we should love one another just as He commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)
“Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18).
~ Frank DeSalvatore