Is the right to life still a fundamental right?
September 16, 2008
9:00 AM EST
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops'USCCB Logo Administrative Committee announced on September 10th that the full body of U.S. bishops will discuss the "practical and pastoral implications of political support for abortion" during their upcoming annual assembly to be held in Baltimore on November 10-13.
And it's also been good to see the bishops acting as shepherds and teachers during this election year -- particularly in recent weeks in which two prominent Catholic politicians, who staunchly support the current abortion "rights" regime, muddled and misrepresented Catholic doctrine on this issue on prime time television.
Speaker PelosiBishops were first prompted to correct erroneous representations of Catholic teaching on abortion proffered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ("Bishops Respond to House Speaker Pelosi's Misrepresentation of Church Teaching Against Abortion" ) on NBC's "Meet the Press" on August 24 (read the transcript here). Describing herself as an "ardent" Catholic, Pelosi affirmed that:
...[T]his is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition [when life begins]... We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose... And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins... As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this...
The bishops were quick to set the record straight. In part, their statement reads:
In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "Since the first century theCatechism of the Catholic Church 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" (n. 2271). In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church's moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development [emphasis my own].
Senator BidenIn a press release on September 10, the USCCB was forced to respond to further erroneous assertions about Catholic teaching on abortion, made this time by Senator Joseph Biden, and once again on "Meet the Press" (read transcript here). Biden was right in contending that human life begins at conception, but he erred in suggesting that this conviction -- his or any other Catholic's -- is "personal and private," a "matter of faith." But as the bishops point out to the senator, the answer as to when life begins -- at least the last time we checked -- is a matter of biology, not an article of faith. Wrote the bishops:
While ancient thinkers had little verifiable knowledge to help them answer this question, today embryology textbooks confirm that a new human life begins at conception [as further explained in a USCCB fact sheet]. The Catholic Church does not teach this as a matter of faith; it acknowledges it as a matter of objective fact.
In a related statement, Denver Bishops Charles Chaput and James Conley affirmed:
Abortion is a foundational issue; it is not an issue like housing policy or the price of foreign oil. It always involves the intentional killing of an innocent life, and it is always,Archbishop Chaput of Denver grievously wrong. In his Meet the Press interview, Sen. Biden used a morally exhausted argument that American Catholics have been hearing for 40 years: i.e., that Catholics can't "impose" their religiously based views on the rest of the country. But resistance to abortion is a matter of human rights, not religious opinion. And the senator knows very well as a lawmaker that all law involves the imposition of some people's convictions on everyone else. That is the nature of the law. American Catholics have allowed themselves to be bullied into accepting the destruction of more than a million developing unborn children a year. Other people have imposed their "pro-choice" beliefs on American society without any remorse for decades.
In his own response to Biden ("The Gospel According to Joe Biden" National Review Online, 9/1009), my colleague Fr. Thomas Williams also put it quite well:
The more serious problem for Joe Biden at this point is not the loss of his credibility as a Catholic, but as a person of conscience. When you say on national television that you agree with your Church that abortion is murder, but that you intend to support legislation that keeps abortion fully available, you leave voters wondering why you would support a right to what you consider to be murder.
The bishops' message, then, in a nutshell: abortion continues to be one of the defining issues of our times, and the right to life remains the fundamental right on which all other rights hinge. And they are insisting that their flocks bring those truths to the voting booth.
But as Fr. Williams rightly notes ("Don't Blame the Bishops," National Review Online, 8/29/09):
Fr. Thomas Williams, L.C.People -- including apparently some "ardent" Catholics -- seem to forget how central the pro-life issue is to Catholic morality and why that is so. We are not quibbling here about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is no exaggeration to say that the inviolability and sacredness of innocent human life is to Catholic morality what the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is to Catholic dogma. Both are not only non-negotiable; they are foundational.
Yes, the right to life is foundational. It is the most fundamental right. That is why no social realityFetus Sucking Thumb presents a greater threat to 'the American experiment in democracy' than the atrocity and degradation of legalized abortion. And this is why abortion, notwithstanding other issues that have their own degree of importance and imminent urgency, continues to be arguably the most vital issue of our times, and liquidating America's abortion license one of the pivotal goals of our continued existence as a free people.
Thoughts in Solitude - Thomas Merton
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” † † †"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way"...Rule of St. Benedict.
-Thoughts in Solitude
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