A WEEK ago today, an article was published in The Blade, "Who really is the pro-life candidate?" by Richard A. Gaillardetz, professor of Catholic studies at the University of Toledo.
To teach Catholic studies at a secular university one does not have to be a Roman Catholic, but Mr. Gaillardetz made a specific point of identifying himself as a Catholic in his article. Lest Mr. Gaillardetz's teaching position and self-identification as a Catholic create any misunderstandings, it should be pointed out that his opinions regarding the issue of abortion, and Roe vs. Wade in particular, do not reflect the clear and consistent moral position of the United States Catholic bishops. He suggests that attempts to overturn Roe vs. Wade are problematic and perhaps futile. It should be pointed out that at one time in our nation's history, the abolition of slavery was also considered by many to be problematic and futile, and extremely divisive.
Yet our nation was not content with simply reducing the number of slaves or easing their condition. It was the very institution of slavery that was morally abhorrent and incompatible with the principles on which our nation was founded.
Roe vs. Wade has been responsible for the killing of tens of millions of unborn children. It has effectively rendered the definition of human personhood flexible and negotiable. It has also implicitly excluded unborn children from human status. This morally flawed thinking is now deployed on behalf of physician-assisted suicide, fetal experimentation, and human cloning. Each reduces the human person to a problem or an object.
In 2002, the bishops reaffirmed what has been a consistent moral position. They wrote: "Roe vs. Wade cannot stand as the law of this great nation, a nation founded on the self-evident truth that all people are created with an inalienable right to life. We are committed, no matter how long it may take, no matter the sacrifices required, to bringing about a reversal of this tragic Supreme Court decision. We will speak out on behalf of the sanctity of each and every human life wherever it is threatened, from conception to natural death, and we urge all people of good will to do likewise. Roe vs. Wade must be reversed" (A Matter of the Heart). Furthermore, "Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas. But being right about such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life" (cf. Living the Gospel of Life, 1998).
I certainly agree with Mr. Gaillardetz that we must also strive to reduce abortions even while Roe vs. Wade remains in effect. This is already happening. Annual abortions in our country declined from over 1.5 million to just over 1 million in recent years. Factors in this decline include a growing public revulsion at abortion - prompted in part by greater awareness of the grisly "partial-birth" abortion method - and the passage of hundreds of modest but effective pro-life laws such as public funding bans, informed-consent laws, laws requiring parental involvement when minors seek abortions, and so on.
Tragically, some lawmakers would reverse these gains and boost the abortion rate by invalidating all such laws, through extreme measures such as the proposed "Freedom of Choice Act" in Congress. Despite its deceptive title, it would deprive the American people in all 50 states of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry, and would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars. No one supporting such legislation can claim in good faith to be working to reduce abortions.
As the late Pope John Paul II affirmed: "It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop" (Evangelium Vitae, no. 101).
The failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the "rightness" of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community.
The Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.