Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Reader's Questions About HC's Prayers to End Abortion

A reader writes with some comments that I think might reflect the thoughts of many people so I'm sharing his questions and my answers with y'all. Clearly, we could go much more indepth than I will be doing below for each subject. However, I will do the best I can to cover the basics clearly. Here we go ...
I just wanted to give you some things to think about. Perhaps you've thought about them before, I don't know.

Just to let you know, I'm a Catholic myself and, like you, I'm anti-abortion.

First, I can't help but wonder why you pray for an end to abortion when it's not going to happen, and if it did happen it would be detrimental to society. Governments will never out-law abortion, it's a freedom that we've 'enjoyed' for too long and has become 'the norm' (rightly or wrongly). It would be like giving someone a gift for Christmas, then snatching it back off them in August. Moreover, if they did outlaw abortion then dangerous back-street operations would start taking place, as they did before abortion was legalised. I'm not saying God is powerless to change the situation, I just think that we should be realistic in prayer. Instead of praying for an end to abortion, maybe we should pray for a reduction in the number of abortions?
I must say that this concept had never occurred to me. The God who resurrected His Son from the dead, who has legions of angels all around us, who created the universe ... surely to make sure our prayers are "realistic" is to attempt to leash that God to our limited imagination? I, personally, agree that we probably will not have laws repealed. However, if I do stop to imagine how God could act on this issue in a way I could foresee, it would be to agree with what Bishop Farrell said during his homily at the last Pro-Life March in January. He pointed out that a true culture of life would make it inconsequential if Roe v. Wade were never overturned ... for the simple reason that no one would avail themselves of it. Impossible? It may seem like it but nothing is impossible for God.

The claim about back street abortions is a common one used all over the world to persuade politicians to change the law on abortion. However, there is little evidence to suggest that backstreet abortion is the massive problem some campaigners claim it to be. You may read more here about the exaggerations of those claims. Or read here the admission by someone who was actively involved in lying to the public
"We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the US. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200-250 annually. The figure we constantly fed to the media was 10,000." (Bernard Nathanson, Confessions of an Ex-Abortionist)
Any back street abortions are terrible, but looking at the number of actual abortions and the number of women dying from them is far from the numbers of abortions we see today. Let's also look at the willingness of the anti-life/pro-abortion drive to falsify right from the beginning.

As our priest has said about deception, "First, the facts are put in doubt. Second, the motivation is put in doubt." That seems a prime example.
I pray for a reduction in the number because, as a Catholic following Catholic moral teaching (as best I can), I believe there are some legitimate reasons for abortion. In fact, Catholic moral teaching supports abortion indirectly. I'm not talking about the doctrine of double-effect, but of Catholic teaching on conscience. Dogma dictates that when a conflict arises between a person's conscience and moral teaching, it is conscience that takes priority. At my Catholic school*, we had the phrase "Conscience is man's most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths." drilled into us in religious studies. It's from Guadium et Spes and is mirrored in the CCC. If after spending careful time reflecting, praying and discussing (perhaps with a Priest) your conscience is telling you to do something then you should do it. In fact it's a sin not to obey your conscience in these occasions, and it's a sin for someone to prevent you doing so as well.
Those points are true ... however ... you knew I had a however for you, right? However, they do not go far enough.

First and foremost, when one depends on one's conscience as a final, deciding factor, then one is under a strict obligation to be sure that one's conscience has been properly formed and informed. This goes far beyond careful reflecting, praying, and discussion with a priest. It goes to reading the CCC on that subject, and then looking further into the reasoning and logic for the Church's stance. On any serious subject, such as abortion, this requires deeper reading and research. I speak from experience as this is what I had to do after I entered the Church to reconcile my secular upbringing and approach to abortion and other social issues. Imagine my surprise at the overwhelming logic of thinking I encountered. It left me with no solid ground under my feet. Believe me when I tell you that no one is more astounded than myself when I look at where I was nine years ago and where I am now, in relation to Church teachings on abortion.

As the reader very properly has gone to the Catechism (CCC) on conscience, let us also go there for abortion.
2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.72
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.73

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.74
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.75

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.76
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,"77 "by the very commission of the offense,"78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

"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."80

"The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights."81

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, "if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence."82

2275 "One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival."83
"It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material."84
"Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity"85 which are unique and unrepeatable.
Now, all this seems very clear. However, in my case, what turned the tide on my understanding was reading Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. To use one phrase I've read about the book, it puts the muscle on the skeleton of the Catechism. More about that later ...
One more thing, if you pray for an end to abortion because of the destruction of human life (and I'm guessing you do) then you seem to ignore that the senseless loss of human life takes place in many other places than abortions. In the year 2007 alone, there were 17 000 recorded murders -- that's just one country. Think about how many lives are lost to war each year; not just in the wars where our soldiers are fighting, Africa seems to be in a permanent state of war. What about people who smoke cigarettes? Isn't that just state-permitted cancer?
Well, of course I'm not ignoring the loss of human life or the suffering that happens elsewhere. Just as the Pope has a few special prayer intentions every month but does not cover every single possibility of evil that he prays against, or good that he prays for, I also have my special intentions. It seems that God has put abortion as a special intention for my prayer life. I actually have many times of private prayer where I have a glimmer of understanding for those saints who said they felt the heaviness of the sin of the world. Sometimes it really does seem overwhelming. However, as Pope John Paul II said, we are an Easter people and Hallelujah is our cry.

As for those who have fallen prey to addiction, such as cigarettes, alcohol and such things, I have sympathy and pity for them, especially as I have experience with alcoholic friends and family. Also, being allowed to choose to smoke a cigarette is a far cry from being permitted, with the state's blessing, to kill another human being.

However, let us not take our eye off the prize here. Every single one of those people, whether oppressor or oppressed, whether addict or not, whether loving or hating, has had the chance to live. They have the chance to exercise their free will. Sometimes we do it well. Sometimes we do it very badly. However, we all have been given the opportunity that an aborted baby will never have. We are alive. We make choices. A baby killed in the womb never gets that chance. It is totally innocent and pays the ultimate price for everyone else's choices with his or her life.
* In the UK, there is no separation of Church and state which means that our Catholic schools are like 'regular' high schools but with a Catholic ethic; we pray together, have mass together, attend compulsory theology lessons (for which we get a legally-recognised qualification) and there is always something going on in for charity. It's the best of both worlds! I thought I better mention this, just so you don't get the impression that I was schooled by nuns or whatever.
Just a quick comment on this for those who don't know how U.S. Catholic schools are run. They are completely separate from the public school system and very often have as many, if not more, nonCatholics as Catholics because of the superior education they offer. Studies have also shown that they are far more efficiently run than public school systems. As for being schooled by nuns, I'd put Sister Cecilia from Bishop Lynch High School head to head with any hard-headed scientist of any persuasion. Not only is she a nationally respected scientist herself, she's got a logical style that will knock you on your ... well, let's just say you won't be standing.

In view of these questions and the importance in my own life of proper formation of conscience, I will be following this up with a series of excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft, focusing on abortion and the right to life.

Please keep any comments on this volatile subject polite and respectful. Thanks!


  1. Pray tell how is an aborted fetus deprived of anything since, per it's status as total innocent, it goes straight to heaven?? Seems to me there is no loss of life. Only a change from corporeal to spiritual existence. In fact, it saves that "person" the pesky test of "sin" it would have to pass as an adult. Free pass to heaven!

    Ivanhoseph Third Neophyte of The Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster and Lord of Magic Underpants

  2. Ah yes, I recognize your church ... :-D

    To take your question seriously, which I'm fairly sure isn't the intent, despite the existence of sin life is a glorious thing, meant to be lived. The many wonderful things we experience all the time are those I would like everyone to get a chance to experience. To kill a baby is to deprive it of the chance that you yourself are enjoying right now in getting to ask these questions ...

    Thanks for dropping by. I'm off to enjoy a sunset (or something equally wonderful). :-)