By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. CAP.
Editor’s note. This column ran in January 2016 but it is so powerful periodically I repost it.
The January 22, 1973, Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision is important for two reasons: its flawed reasoning and its destructive effect. In practice, Roe legalized abortion on demand. It has poisoned our public life for 43 years. It has enabled the killing of tens of millions of unborn children, an entire American generation. Abortion “procedures” — a sanitized understatement worthy of George Orwell — have emotionally scarred millions of adult women and men.
Abortion supporters talk a good line about reproductive health care. But there’s very little health care in homicide. There’s simply no way around the living, developing unborn daughter or son — visible on any ultrasound machine — who ends up dead at the end of the abortion industry’s doublespeak.
The reality of abortion is the butchery of Kermit Gosnell’s blood-stained Philadelphia “clinic,” and the callousness and profiteering captured by last year’s Planned Parenthood videos — not the fabric softener alibis of pro-choice public relations memos and news media cheerleaders. Abortion supporters press the importance of reproductive rights. But they systematically violate the most basic right of all: the right to life.
“Right to choose” advocates often claim that most Americans support abortion rights. But polling data are easily misused or misunderstood. Key information is often overlooked or omitted because it doesn’t fit the preferred storyline. The most recent Marist Poll, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and released just this week, found that 44 percent of surveyed Americans describe themselves as pro-life, while 51 percent describe themselves as pro-choice. But the really telling data emerge from beneath those broad labels.
More than 80 percent of Americans, including two-thirds of pro-choice supporters, would restrict abortion to – at most – the first trimester of pregnancy. By a 25 point margin, Americans believe abortion does women more harm than good. Sixty percent believe abortion is morally wrong. And 77 percent believe that our laws can protect both a mother and her unborn child. Nearly 70 percent oppose public funding for abortion. More than 60 percent support laws that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except to save the life of the mother.
In an immediate sense, these facts change nothing. Forty-three years after Roe, the abortion industry has grown fat on public money and pious in its own deceits. Its leaders really don’t care what Americans think because they’ve been ideologues (“culture warriors” to borrow a phrase) from the start, playing the long game of changing people’s attitudes through aggressive court action and sympathetic media.
It’s an intelligent strategy. It should have worked. So it’s understandable that industry leaders are annoyed and baffled — and increasingly paranoid — that pro-lifers have not gone away. Because they haven’t. Quite the opposite.
We see the proof every January. Impending snow and transportation woes may impact the turnout for the annual March for Life today in Washington, D.C. But that’s not a worry. It’s happened before, and yet year after year, despite disapproving media and uncertain weather, the March for Life’s pro-life numbers keep coming and keep growing. They also keep getting younger.
Here’s why. Abortion is not like other social issues. It’s visceral; instinctively repugnant; an obscenity in the present and a refusal of the future. It can’t be reduced to a theoretical dispute or a smokescreen of laundered language about “reproductive health.” Health can never mean homicide. No matter how good the verbal gymnastics, no “pro-choice” PR firm can escape the flesh and blood violence to mother and child, and the lying to women, that occur in every abortion.
The unborn child is alive, innocent and now observable, thanks to the same medical technology that the abortion industry perverts in every killing. Today’s young people may differ from previous generations in many ways, but killing innocent life isn’t one of them.
And that simple fact on this 43rd anniversary of Roe, with a lot of hard work, can be the beginning of a new and better culture that respects the sanctity of human life at every stage. May we, with God’s help, make it so.