In recent years, many moral concerns have been grouped together in the Church under the rubric “Respect Life” and efforts to raise consciousness about them.
These concerns – among them abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia/“mercy” killing and physician-assisted suicide, war, care for the environment, poverty, immigration reform and so on – without any doubt are all rightly considered “life issues” and warrant the active attention of every human being who holds human life sacred at every stage from conception to natural death.
St. Teresa of Calcutta once observed, “We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, killings, of wars, or of hatred … if a mother can kill her own child, what is left for us but to kill one another (Nobel Prize Lecture, Dec. 11, 1979)?”
The Catholic Church calendar in the United States has designated the entire month of October annually as Respect Life Month, an incredible opportunity for the Church to lift up, consider, reflect and pray about the ways that human society assaults the gift of life given us by our Creator and attempts to justify this activity. The Church takes seriously its obligation to broaden the conversation to include every possible violation of human life in all its stages.
The March for Life to Washington, D.C., while cognizant of all these issues of concern, has a very particular focus: the tragic decision labeled “Roe v. Wade” made by the United States Supreme Court in 1973. In that January 22 decision, the court asserted for the first time in our nation’s history that the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment’s affirmation of the right to privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy (Roe v. Wade).” This landmark case, in effect, legalized abortion throughout our nation.
Again, St. Teresa of Calcutta reflected, “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love but to use violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion (Address to the National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 1994).”
The annual January commemoration of the tragic “Roe v. Wade” decision warrants its own unique place in our national history. It was the beginning of a national nightmare that continues to the present day, responsible for the destruction of millions of unborn children.
Pope Francis, as other popes before him, reminds not only the United States but the entire world that “every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection (Address to the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, Sept. 20, 2013).”
On another earlier occasion prior to his election as pope, Pope Francis proclaimed, “The right to life is the first among human rights (Jorge Cardinal Bergolio, “On Heaven and Earth,” 2011).” It was and has remained his conviction throughout his papacy, that: “Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological (Address of the Holy Father to the Italian Pro-Life Movement, April 11, 2014).”
His predecessor Pope Benedict XVI shared that conviction when he stated, “The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right – it is the very opposite. It is a deep wound in society (Address of the Holy Father to the Authorities and Diplomatic Corps of Austria, Sept. 7, 2007).”
As Catholics, we listen to and read with faith the words of the leadership and saints of our Church. But we must not forget that the human right to life is not a religious right, nor is it the making of the “religious right” as some often suggest, no. It is a human right without which no other human rights can be, no other human rights can exist, no other human rights can prevail. We who are religious then, who are people of faith, who believe in God who created us embrace that human right to life in the deepest parts of our very being because we are human and because of our faith.
As the “March for Life” approaches, we must once again say to our nation and, indeed, to the world “yes” to life in all its stages and “no” to death, especially the deaths of innocent children in the womb. That is why January 22, 1973 is important to remember every year.
Roe v. Wade has “deformed a great nation (Letter of Mother Teresa to the U.S. Supreme Court, February 1994), pitting mothers against children and women against men” in a war against the right to life. Love and love alone saves lives.