By Cardinal Justin Rigali

As the tragic anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court occurs again, we must not weaken in our efforts to end its terrible effects in our country.

The encouraging words of St. Paul
I am fond of quoting the words of St. Paul: “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). As we recall again the tragic anniversary of the infamous decision of the United States’ Supreme Court, known as Roe v. Wade, we may be tempted to grow weary.

Since that decision was handed down on Jan. 22, 1973, approximately 50,000,000 “legal” abortions were reported in the United States. The word “legal” is used within quotation marks because no law of any state or government can transcend the law of God. It suffices to recall that most of the horrific actions of the Nazi government in Germany were “legal” according to the judgments of those in power at the time.

Just as this fact, rightfully, was not considered a valid defense at the Nazi war crimes trials after the Second World War, so it cannot be considered a valid defense in the case of “legalized abortion.” The numbers are staggering. If we think for a moment of our sympathy at the suffering or hunger of one infant at one time, how can we begin to fathom the reality of approximately 50 million infants killed in the womb? If this does not disturb us, we are becoming anesthetized to evil.

We may be tempted to grow weary in this fight after 37 years. However, we must not slacken in our efforts. In fact, we can see encouraging signs. The number of Americans opposed to legalized abortion has actually grown. The numbers of those attending the March for Life in Washington, D.C., has grown from 20,000 in 1974 to approximately 200,000. It is significant to note that in both groups, those who are increasingly opposed to abortion and those who attend the march each year, there are large numbers of young people. Likewise, the number of abortions performed in the United States each year has actually decreased steadily from its all-time high in 1990.

The coming of the Son of God as an Infant
We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus, who came to earth as an infant. We now recall the tragic destruction of millions of infants in the womb through abortion, made possible in our country through the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court. These topics are related.

The coming down to earth of the Eternal Son of God for our salvation should be an occasion of great joy. This is why, for almost 2,000 years, it has always been treated as such. The reason that festivities, filled with spiritual and human joy, have long been associated with Christmas is that this is an event of great significance for the entire human race. We should indeed rejoice at the birth of our Savior. However, we all know that, little by little, the joy of Christmas has been attacked in our country. The celebration of the Infant Savior’s birth, which has been heralded as an occasion of blessings and joy for so long, has now become a battlefield.

Every Christmas season, we read of yet another angry person or group wishing to transform an occasion of great joy into either a nameless and vague celebration of nothing in particular, or something to be completely ignored. The proponents of abortion do something very similar. The birth of a child, which is an occasion of great joy for parents, and for society as a whole, is now sometimes viewed as a “punishment.” The twisted reasoning that takes what has always been considered a blessing for women, couples and society at large and turns it into a battlefield is truly frightening.

Of course, it is necessary to acknowledge the many challenges present in being a good parent. There are many sacrifices which loving parents are called upon to make and which so many do make. There are also challenges to being a Christian. Those who celebrate Christ’s birth with the spirit in which it is intended are also challenged to live as Jesus taught. However, in all these cases, the challenges are meant to be lived out faithfully with trust in God and in the blessings that He gives, even in this life, to those who are faithful.

We must also acknowledge that when children are conceived within a committed married relationship, the support system for both children and parents is much stronger and it helps parents greatly in living out their responsibilities towards their children.

This year’s challenge
Another great challenge in the pro-life cause is given us this year at the very same time that we “march for life” in our nation’s capitol: the possible inclusion of an abortion provision in the proposed Health Care Reform Bill. I repeat here some basic points made by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which I asked to be shared with the faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last weekend. They underline the following events that occurred since last fall:

* The U.S. House passed health care reform that reaffirms the essential, longstanding and widely supported policy against using federal funds for elective abortion coverage.

* The U.S. Senate has rejected this policy and passed health care reform that requires federal funds to help subsidize and promote health plans that cover elective abortions. All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions through a separate payment solely to pay for abortion.

* These two bills are being combined into one bill that both the House and Senate will vote on in final form.

As longtime advocates of health care reform, the U.S. Catholic bishops continue to make the moral case that genuine health care reform must protect the life, dignity, consciences and health of all, especially the poor and vulnerable. However, health care reform must not be used to advance a pro-abortion agenda in our country.

As these matters come up for voting, we will hear many numbers: the numbers of votes needed, the percentages of Americans who are for or against the bill as it will be voted upon and the final voting numbers, which will determine what will become the law of our country. God grant that these numbers reflect a true concern for the lives and dignity of all, especially the most vulnerable, who are the children in the womb who cannot defend themselves.

However, while we strive to the utmost to make our opinion known and we use every means to share the truth about life with our legislators and our fellow Americans, we must not think for a moment that votes determine truth.

The Psalms proclaim: “The truth of the Lord endures forever.” Jesus says of Himself and His message: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Likewise, the commandment of God, which thundered from Mount Sinai, continues to thunder in Washington, D.C.: “Thou shalt not kill.”

Defense of all creation
In his recent address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI referenced his recent message for World Peace Day. This message has as its theme: “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.” The Holy Father reminded his listeners that this cause is not limited to concern for the environment, which is very important, but above all with the protection of that part of creation made in God’s image and likeness: the human person.

He said: “If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate, or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn? It is in man’s respect for himself that his sense of responsibility for creation is shown” (Address, 11 January 2010).

As we recall the sad anniversary of a tragic American act of injustice, God grant that with His grace, the courage of legislators and the voices of the faithful, yet another injustice against the innocent unborn may be prevented. No one must be constrained to help pay for any abortion. No one can be deprived of freedom of conscience and religious liberty.

21 January 2010