By Cardinal Justin Rigali
Archbishop of Philadelphia
As we once again approach the anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade
decision of the United States Supreme Court legalizing abortion, we take
this as our topic this week.
Foreseen, but nonetheless tragic
In St. Paul’s second Letter to Timothy, he writes: “For the time will
come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their
own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will
stop listening to the truth and will be spanerted to myths” (2 Timothy
4:3,4). St. Paul was able to foresee circumstances where a blurring or
falsifying of facts would lead to the embrace of beliefs which are not
only contrary to morality, but also to basic truth. The fact that he
wrote these words in the very early ages of the Church assists us in our
battle with the false “facts” and hidden realities surrounding the
burning issue of our own day: abortion. Nonetheless, it does not make
the issue any less disturbing.
One of the great gifts which we possess as creatures made in God’s image
is the ability to reason. This is such a powerful reality that it leads
us to what is called the natural law: that is, the law placed within
our minds and hearts, which enables all men and women, unless they are
mentally impaired, to have a basic notion of right and wrong. Since
this “law of the heart,” as it is sometimes called, has such a strong
attraction for basic truth and morality, radical means must be used if
these basic instincts toward virtue are to be overcome. Concerning the
issue of abortion, an edifice of errors has been slowly built in order
to undermine our basic sense of reason, which tells us that there is a
child in the womb from the moment of conception.
How did this happen?
Throughout history, but especially in the century which has just ended,
many have tried to turn the minds of people from the truth by various
means of deception. When we reflect on the methods used, we see that
these means often have a structure to them. Let us point out how an
edifice of erroneous thinking can be built up, in order to anesthetize a
people’s thinking, and bring about a desired result:
* Create an enemy in the minds of the people. This was done in the case
of communist revolutionaries, who made the “middle class” or the
“wealthy” the so-called enemies of the people and the source of all
their strife. The Nazi ideology did this with the Jewish people, telling
their listeners that the people of that race were the source of all
their problems. In both cases, the conclusion was that, if these people
who were considered troublesome could be eliminated, all would be fine.
This is, unfortunately, what is often done in the case of the child in
the womb. He or she seems to be treated as an unwanted intruder, a
spoiler of life’s plans and even a “punishment.” If we were only free to
rid ourselves of this intruder all will be well!
* Depersonalize the “enemy.” If we blur the reality of the inspanidual
person, it is much easier to accept that person’s harm or destruction. A
frequent tactic is to transform a person into more of a “thing,” which
can then be gotten rid of with less of a troubled conscience. If you
were to look at some of the propaganda films produced in Nazi Germany,
you would see how the mentally handicapped and the Jewish people were
turned into caricatures. They were often made to look grotesque, thereby
depersonalizing these human persons and making it easier to look upon
them as unwelcome intruders into what would otherwise be a peaceful
life. Lies were spread about these persons, making it easier to
participate in their destruction.
The use of euphemisms, such as “fetus,” “termination of pregnancy,”
“tissue mass” and “choice,” has succeeded in many cases in
depersonalizing the child in the womb, as a first step to his or her
destruction. In other times and places, euphemisms such as “ethnic
cleansing,” “separate but equal” and “work camp” sought to accomplish
the same end.
* Make it legal. In societies with a firm foundation of law and justice,
one can be tempted to use the law as a means of justification. In other
words: “legal” equals “right.” If I have been taught to obey the laws
of my country, those laws must be good. Those especially which do not
have a firm foundation in the higher law, which comes from God, will be
particularly susceptible to this form of legalism. In this way, even if
the laws of a country do not serve the common good by being based on the
natural law and the good of all a country’s citizens, they will accept
it because “legal” is equated with “right.” This was the argument for
slavery in our country and the argument given by Nazi leaders during
their trials: if it is legal, I am not doing anything wrong.
When the right to life itself is eroded, all other rights become
threatened. If this basic right is denied to some, then there cannot be
any other rights that make sense. This is why movements based upon
violence and hatred always grow worse. When basic rights are denied,
everything becomes fair game. The denial of the right to life for the
child in the womb threatens all of society. If one group of citizens, in
this case unborn children, are denied the protection of the law, who
will be next?
* Make it virtuous. The beautiful power of reason, which has been placed
within us by our Creator, has to be silenced if it wishes to justify
what it knows by instinct to be wrong. This can be done by turning what
is basically evil into something virtuous! Some tactics used in some
places have been: if you love your country, you also will want to be rid
of these people. This or that group is inferior anyway, so it makes
sense to treat them in an inferior way. Denounce your own family members
if they become enemies of the revolution and you will be performing a
service to your country. These are all lines of thought that were
actually used, and accepted, by millions of people.
It seems to be a corruption of reason itself to see those who oppose the
taking of the innocent life of a child in the womb being treated as
enemies. We are asked to think that if we care about women and love
freedom, we will favor legalized abortion. If we do not, then we are
seen as opposed to both. Therefore, the embrace of legalized abortion is
seen as virtuous.
What about the results?
When reason is corrupted, truth cannot be far behind. We live in an age
where there is, rightfully, a great interest in the right to know
information. However, when it comes to being told some of the results of
abortion, there seems to be a certain selectivity in the information
that is communicated.
For instance, did you know that over 2 million couples in the United
States are seeking to adopt a child? However, only a fraction of them
will be able to do so in our own country, mainly because approximately
1.5 million children are aborted each year in the United States.
Likewise, the psychological pain and suffering that often results for
the woman who has had an abortion often goes unreported.
When a guest on a very popular television talk show was asked about her
life and her advice to women, she began to say that her greatest regret
in life was having had an abortion. She said that she wanted to make
this known, so that other women hearing her would know some of the
results of her choice and not be left with her pain. The hosts of the
show quickly attacked her as attempting to tell women what they should
With the fear of the responsibility of parenthood taken away, young men
are now free to become more promiscuous than ever and, if conception
does take place, many feel that the woman is obliged to have that child
aborted because a pregnancy is not what was intended. This effect of
abortion on the morality and psychological make up of men is a study
that should be explored more fully.
This week, we have spoken very strongly about the defining issue of our
time. As I have said in this column on many other occasions, not for one
minute would I want any woman who has had an abortion, or any man who
has consented to one, to be in despair. The message of Jesus is just the
opposite: it is a message of mercy and forgiveness, but it is also one
The sufferings of Jesus were so great because His love is so great. The
sufferings we read about in the gospels and see on every crucifix are
the realistic signs of our sins, but also the radical signs of God’s
To conclude, let us always recognize the truth, and not be led into
myths. Secondly, if any have committed this sin of abortion, seek
forgiveness and live again in the peace and mercy of Jesus. In this way,
we can make use of a tragic anniversary as a means of recalling the
everlasting truth and mercy brought to us by Jesus Christ.
20 January 2011