Broadening the Circle of Our Moral Concern

Editor’s note. This editorial from the February 2005, issue of National Right to Life News completes this week’s contribution to “Roe at 40” in which we are reprinting some of the best articles and opinion pieces from NRL News going back to 1973. I believe you will enjoy reading (or re-reading) this piece and I hope you will pass it along using your social media.

Cardinal William H. Keeler

Cardinal William H. Keeler

“And, increasingly, Americans are coming to know what a constitutional challenge Roe poses. Thirty-two years ago, seven members of the Supreme Court took the issue of abortion out of the hands of the American people and their duly elected lawmakers. In doing so, they declared that the tiniest human beings have no claim on life and that, therefore, their lives can be terminated. In doing so, those seven did more than write new laws; they invented a constitutional concept that had never been envisioned; in doing so, they contravened two of our nation’s most precious values: the recognition of a God-given, inalienable right to life, and the promise of equal protection under law. All this, increasing numbers of Americans are coming to understand. And there is hope in this.”  –  From the January 23 homily of Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore and chair of the Pro-Life Activities Committee, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

“Her [the President of Penn for Life's] membership is doing its homework as well, and brings a comfort with history, philosophy, science, law and public debate to a case which more often has been associated with theology. Stereotypes placing them on the ‘lunatic fringe’ notwithstanding, members field the familiar arguments for abortion rights by quoting poets and writers, orators and medical research where others may have turned to Scripture. They are confident that technological developments since the Roe ruling tilt objective reason in their favor and will ultimately support their belief that life begins at conception.”  –  “Within the Ivy League, a shift to the right on abortion?” Christian Science Monitor, January 25

I don’t do a lot of media interviews. I’ve got plenty of other fish to fry and, besides, there are many people at NRLC who are far better than I at talking with reporters whose biases are as exasperating as they are transparent.

But because the office was besieged with requests the day of the annual March for Life, I talked briefly with a reporter whose agenda was unambiguous. His goal was to have me bark out in anger that pro-lifers are “disappointed” with President Bush. Come again?

“Abortion rights” supporters are quite willing to scream their support for their cause at the top of their lungs, he said. Where is the “red meat” rhetoric from President Bush? he asked.

As is the case with all interviews, he used only a snippet of what I said. But, unlike the one other interview I gave, he actually got what I said more or less correct.

On the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a somber commemoration which brought tens of thousands of pro-lifers to Washington, D.C., and to local communities and state capitals across this great nation, I’d like to talk about this for a few minutes. Let’s blend his “questions” together and give a fuller answer than a brief interview allowed.

Pro-abortionists are governed by an assumption that experience has proven to be absolutely accurate. Regardless of how much variance there is between what abortion proponents say/advocate and where people are on the issue, most media outlets will make a soufflé out of the equivalent of rotten eggs.

Doesn’t matter how egregious: burying surgical scissors into the neck of a mature baby inches away from delivery; sneaking a pregnant minor across state lines to circumvent the state’s requirement that she tell at least one parent she is contemplating an abortion; pretending that when Laci Peterson was murdered, there was only one victim, even though she was only days away from delivering a son she had already named Conner. In most cases most reporters will try to figure out some way, if not to justify the action, to at least put the best possible face on it.

Likewise, while they can’t see the log in the abortionist’s eye, these same reporters can see a speck in a pro-lifer’s eye a mile away. So, point number one: whereas pro-abortionists can get away with saying practically anything, every syllable out of every pro-lifer’s mouth will be scrutinized for telltale signs of what many reporters are confident lurks below the surface: irrational extremism.

Point two: the Supreme Court has erected a colossal fortress around abortion. Yet, paradoxically, its magnitude makes abortion advocates even more nervous. Pro-abortion forces are convinced that if the drawbridge is even slightly lowered, the citadel will be taken. That’s why they angrily denounce even the mildest proposal. “It’s the law, how dare you try to change what the Court, in its august wisdom, has decreed.”

(In the short run, this is silly. Having women wait and reflect 24 hours before ending their child’s life is not going to put an end to Roe v. Wade. But it will save some lives.)

What I said to the reporter was that President Bush is engaged in a conversation with the American people. I meant that Mr. Bush is essentially saying to all of us, “Come now, and let us reason together.” This is both his style and a very intelligent way to address an issue the discussion of which too often prompts defense mechanisms to instantly kick in. Here’s why.

For four decades the American people have been subjected to what Cardinal William Keeler called a “vast network of lies that have been spun and fortified” to sustain the illusion that (1) keeping abortion on demand legal is good, or at least better than the consequences of extending legal protection to unborn children; (2) abortion is actually good for women and, in many cases, for the “unwanted” child as well; and (3) the exterminative ethic that undergirds abortion can be hermetically sealed off. While none of these is true, they form the gird through which many people view any pro-life proposal.

So, how in the world do we induce Americans to THINK about abortion, as opposed to watching their brains shut down instantly? I believe an arresting image from Cardinal Keeler’s eloquent January 23 homily is extremely helpful in thinking this through: a pilgrimage.

“Increasingly,” Cardinal Keeler said first, “Americans are recognizing what a moral evil is embodied in Roe.” In that decision, the justices “contravened two of our nation’s most precious values: the recognition of a God-given, inalienable right to life, and the promise of equal protection under law. All this, increasing numbers of Americans are coming to understand. And there is hope in this.”

He went on to add this:

“A pilgrimage, dear friends, is a journey that is undertaken with a view to a great event or experience. The pilgrim learns of the past or coming event and heads off in search of the evidence, to be an eyewitness, to confirm what others have reported. In the process, the pilgrim hopes to be transformed by the experience. Although pilgrims might make their journey in the company of others, they must witness individually, each with his or her own eyes, and they must individually be changed. And when they return from their journey, pilgrims must tell others what they have witnessed.”

President Bush’s gentle, non-threatening language invites everyone – - pro-lifer, pro-abortionist, pro-muddled – - “to be an eyewitness, to confirm what others have reported,” to be transformed by a pilgrimage of discovery.

The goal of that pilgrimage? To be empowered to “live out our calling as Americans,” as President Bush said when he signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act [which was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court].

“We’re asked to honor our own standards, announced on the day of our founding in the Declaration of Independence,” he said in his remarks. “We’re asked by our convictions and tradition and compassion to build a culture of life, and make this a more just and welcoming society.”

And, borrowing from Cardinal Keeler, as each of us takes up this challenge, we will be transformed. We will be so changed that we will come to understand that we “must tell others what [we] have witnessed.” This is the pilgrimage the President invites us all to undertake.

“Red meat” rhetoric? Hardly. It is the language of inclusiveness and unity, a grammar of love that takes its case to the caring docket of our soul where pleas for mercy always receive a fair hearing.

And as those pleas break through the calluses built up over 32 years, no longer will “the law look the other way,” as the President said in signing the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Instead, “at last, the American people and our government [will have] confronted the violence and come to the defense of the innocent child.”