The U.S. Catholic Bishops state the following in their Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities, which is meant to give guidance to dioceses and parishes as they conduct their respect-life activities, not only in Respect Life Month (October) but throughout the year:
“Among important issues involving the dignity of human life with which the Church is concerned, abortion necessarily plays a central role. Abortion, the direct killing of an innocent human being, is always gravely immoral (The Gospel of Life, no. 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 focus and the Church’s commitment to a consistent ethic of life complement one another.”
Abortion seems to be about the only issue which, when we say we’re fighting it, we have to justify that we’re also fighting every other evil under the sun.
But there’s a difference between an “ethic,” that is, the moral stance that undergirds our attitude to all the issues, and a commitment to a specific mission. We have to be consistent in our ethic: we care about all human beings in every situation. But we have to be specific in our mission, and the mission of the pro-life movement is to end abortion and restore protection to children in the womb. And nobody needs to apologize for focusing on that.
The bishops make clear why. In the quote above they point out that there are no cases where abortion can be justified. There are, on the other hand, situations in which it can be justified to deny someone entry into our country, or to go to war to defend our country. Not all issues are the same.
Abortion, moreover, attacks the most vulnerable and defenseless among us. Pope Francis made this same point in The Joy of the Gospel, when he wrote:
“Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us.”
From the Gospel accounts of Jesus giving special attention to the most forgotten and least protected in his society, to the Church’s witness to the “preferential option for the poor,” it is clear that we go first to those who are last. And clearly, the “last” and the “least” among us are the children in still in their mother’s womb.
If they are not safe, none of us is safe, because no right is more fundamental than life. Mother Teresa made this point at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994. She said, “The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”
Abortion is not just one among many issues. It strikes at the foundation of every issue, as the U.S. Catholic bishops again explained in their document Living the Gospel of Life. It is, in other words, not just an issue about policy, but about the principle that society must protect the innocent. That is not a principle that can be broken in just one place while preserving it everywhere else. Once you break it in one place – as Roe vs. Wade did for the children in the womb – you completely shatter it in every place. You undermine the very principle by which you are protected.
Indeed, let’s give urgent attention and priority to ending abortion!
FR. FRANK PAVONE is national director for Priests for Life – the largest ministry in the Catholic Church focused exclusively on ending abortion. Learn more at www.ProLifeCentral.com