Respect For the Dignity of the Human Person Demands a Commitment to Human Rights Across a Broad Spectrum

Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer, OMI
Reprint with permission

January 22, 2001 marks the 28th anniversary of the terrible death sentence given to the unborn by the highest court of our land. Just a few months ago, our Supreme Court also dealt another crucial blow to the nearly–born with its decision on partial–birth abortion in the Nebraska case. Justice Scalia, dissenting, accurately calls this “live–birth abortion.” Abortion is the ultimate and most gruesome form of child abuse.

As we move through the new millennium, God is calling us to establish a new vision for humanity, a vision based on the inspired word of God, and the highest principles of our Judeo–Christian tradition. This new moment of human history calls for building a culture of life and respect for human life at all stages — from the womb to the tomb; from the moment of conception until the natural end of human life as determined by God.

Respect for the dignity of the human person demands a commitment to human rights across a broad spectrum: Both as Americans and as followers of Christ, American Catholics must be committed to the defense of life in all its stages and in every condition. The Catholic Church espouses and affirms a culture of life with a consistent ethic approach to life teaching that all human life is sacred as it has been stamped with the divine image. This is why the Church condemns acts that foster a culture of death — abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. Sadly, our nation is also witness to a culture of death from domestic violence, the spread of drugs, sexual activity outside marriage which poses a threat to lives, poverty, lack of education and health care, and a reckless tampering with the world's ecological balance. The culture of death extends beyond our shores: famine and starvation, denial of health care and development around the world, the deadly violence of armed conflict and the scandalous arms trade that spawns such conflict.

Respect for human life calls us to defend life from these and the other threats. It calls us as well to enhance the conditions for human living by helping to provide food, shelter and meaningful employment, beginning with those who are most in need at home and abroad. However, abortion and euthanasia have become the preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others. These atrocities are committed against those who are weakest and most defenseless, those who are genuinely the poorest of the poor. Pope John Paul II, the champion of human life, asks: “As believers, how can we fail to see that abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are a terrible rejection of God's gift of life and love? And as believers, how can we fail to see the duty to surround the sick and those in distress with the warmth of our affection and support that will help them always to embrace life?” (John Paul II)

Since the dreadful decision of the Court in 1973, over 40 million babies have been killed. We now are witnessing a new plateau in barbarism, with partial–birth abortion. A baby, only 3 inches and several seconds from birth is being killed by forcing scissors into the base of the skull, then delivering the baby dead. If this isn't gruesome enough, now we have facts that tissue and body parts of the aborted child are being sold. Abortion kills the equivalent population of a city the size of Philadelphia every year.

Pope John Paul II stresses that, “The Life of the fetus must be protected,defended and nurtured in the mother's womb because of its inherent dignity, a dignity which belongs to the embryo and is not something conferred or granted by others, whether the genetic parents, the medical personnel or the state.”

As people faithful to God, we see abortion as a religious issue, and it is. However, it is primarily a civil rights issue. Our Constitution guarantees “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Supreme Court, in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, arrogantly took away a right that is “endowed by the Creator,” the “unalienable” right to life of every human being, born and unborn. Even though a child resides in the mother's womb for 9 months, the unborn child is a genetically unique and biologically separate individual. Why should it be legal to kill that individual?

Our natural resources are of great importance to us. We rightly protect our forests, lakes, and endangered species of all kinds, plants, sea creatures, and animals. Yet, we allow 4,400 of our children to be killed every day in our country by abortion. The greatest natural resource any country can have is its children.

Abortion debates most often focus on the mother and the unborn child, but counselors and researchers know that the attitude of the unborn child's father is one of the most critical factors in a woman's decision to have an abortion. Despite the fact that the burden of the decision is placed on the mother, the presence or absence of commitment and support on the part of the man who has fathered the child, or the mother's perception of his support or the quality of her relationship with him, will often be decisive. The attitude of the prospective father is an important factor in the stress, anxiety or depression of the pregnant woman.

Women struggling with a pregnancy decision or who have had an abortion need our compassion and help — emotional, spiritual, psychological and financial — and prayers. We must also make men aware of their responsibilities in this grave matter and provide them with the proper assistance.

Almost 2,000 years ago, an angel announced the pregnancy of a young unmarried woman. The courageous choice made by that young woman, Mary, to give birth in difficult circumstances, supported by a man named, Joseph, still stands as a model of God's way to handle an unplanned pregnancy. How life would be different today if Mary, the Mother of Jesus, had decided to have an abortion instead of submitting to the will of God. The loving encounter of two expectant mothers in the visitation scene of Luke's Gospel strongly affirms the personhood of the unborn from the moment of conception.