This day, January 22, is the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion on demand in the United States. I saw a tweet today noting that within 72 hours in January 1973, Nixon was re-inaugurated, LBJ died, the Paris Peace Accords ending U.S. military involvement in Vietnam were signed and Roe vs. Wade came down from the Supreme Court. Although the last was the news that’s most affected us today, my attention as a junior in a rural Missouri High School was on the peace agreement. It meant I didn’t have to worry about the draft at all, even though deferments kept college students out of the Army and I was planning to go to college. Peace was important after a decade of turmoil and dissent. I wasn’t Catholic then nor planning to become one, and I was glad the illegal abortionists were going out of business.
Cardinal Bernadin articulated my pro-life stance today with the Seamless Garment, a teaching Saint John Paul II seemed to support in The Gospel of Life. I’ve voting Pro-Life is never easy, because no one perfectly supports the Seamless Garment. Although I would like to see the laws changed, these realities and assumptions should be dealt with on both sides of the legislative process in the meantime, to lessen the perceived need for abortion and other violations of human dignity:
-The main threats to Life at any stage come from Fear and Poverty. Fear leads us to rash decisions that can lead us away from our principles, and accepting horrors we would otherwise avoid in order to survive. Poverty is connected to Fear, and likewise tempts us to abandon higher standards for short term survival. Berthold Brecht said in Threepenny Opera: “Food is the first thing, morals follow on.” Any strides we can make against Fear and Poverty on any front will help, and any deep exploration of how they affect our society and its processes will help us all.
Pope Francis has said the biggest threat to the family is poverty above all else. I don’t think one has to go far to find validation for this idea.
-The reality that men are exempt from sexual self-control, “boys will be boys,” and are not punished unless caught red-handed should be challenged. Self-control of every kind was taught as a virtue in Antiquity, and lack of self-control of every kind is dangerous. We men should think of others as humans with dignity rather than as targets for our libido. Men are more than their libido, but using others are objects of personal gratification shouldn’t be written off if the man’s perceived value is great enough. Women are not objects.
-The assumption of women they have to trade sex for affection should be undone, as well as using sex as barter for anything else a woman might need/want. The track record for this is spectacularly negative, and only seems to work enough for the myth to be perpetuated. They shouldn’t have to trade sex for career advancement or job security, either. Men are not a means to get what you want, either.
-The assumption that sex is a cure for loneliness should be challenged. I’ve known many people who’ve had a lot of sex who are profoundly lonely. Unless it feeds a healthy, ongoing relationship, this cure doesn’t last long, even at best. This try at a cure also makes possible an unplanned conception under bad circumstances.
-The assumption by employers that loyalty and commitment to family comes second to work, and pregnancy should be treated as a disease should be challenged. Unless you’re an ER staffer, a firefighter, a soldier, a minister, or any other vocation that serves life-and-death emergency needs, no job is more important than family. Your first loyalty in life shouldn’t be the fast food franchise, factory line, or office you work in.
-The assumption that caring for children is unproductive work for society as a whole, and shouldn’t be compensated as such. Good care of our children means more productive people in society. Bad care is dumb, and what a lot of folks get is dumb.
-The assumption that education doesn’t matter enough to make it a public service, provided free or at minimal cost, should be challenged. There are too many dumb people in the world already. Not letting poor people be educated is a means of control, similar to the plantation owners who didn’t want their slaves taught to read or write. Not educating ordinary people adequately means a bleak future.
-The assumption getting whatever we want, whatever the cost, is the same as getting what we need. A lot of human dignity is burned to entertain us or give us luxuries. A lot of human dignity is burned through accumulating debt in pursuing irrelevant desires and accumulating luxuries. Self-control and discernment should be valued, not written off.
-The assumption our worth is only in what we can produce is downright evil should be challenged. It’s part of the reason we treat our senior citizens so poorly and do not recognize what they’ve done for us. We are not here to be used and used up; we are not machines. Our human dignity should not be valued by our accomplishments.
-The assumption that caring for our elders is an obstacle to living fully, and unproductive unless you’re paid for it should be challenged. Ingratitude is something that still tweaks our consciences, and abandoning our elders is an expression of precisely that. The industry of elder care has its good places, but as a whole it is deplorable, treating patients differently according to the attention family members give their loved ones. Those who have no relations or friends risk spending their last days in horror and neglect, especially if they’re not paying for their care themselves.
-The assumption that dying with dignity means not suffering pain, the ability to do everything we want until the end, and leaving an attractive corpse should be challenged. Other than the fact many people have no control over how their lives end through accident, war or sudden illness such as a heart attack, we never know how our lives affect others, and what our departure will mean to those we care for. Properly understood, even the bed-ridden who need constant care are a resource and a gift that is usually unrecognized. Dignity is such a subjective word it is foolish to use it in an objective sense. Being dignified usually makes us look foolish if that’s what we’re trying for; any dignity is God given and comes from within.
Being Pro-Life shouldn’t be about judgement, either of others or of the laws of any country. It should be about changing hearts and rewriting laws for the benefit of all. Being Pro-Life shouldn’t be about articulating God’s condemnation, or using unethical means to accomplish its goals (for the end never justifies the means.) Being Pro-Life shouldn’t be about causing fear or poverty, directly or indirectly: I don’t think the God of Love wants us to turn to him because we’re afraid not to. We turn to God, as individuals and as a people, to find our best selves and the most joy in living.
To say all life is Sacred is an act of faith. Circumstances can throw us into awful choices with no good option, but if we don’t take the sacredness of all life we run the danger of destroying it willfully and selfishly. It’s a disrespect for the One for created all life, and the rest of the living. To say all life is sacred is a simple, internally consistent view of life that cannot lead one wrong, whatever one’s religious beliefs or concept of God is.