Roe v. Wade is the topic of the day, and I intended to post a brilliant letter from my friend Fr. David Sibley that he sent to his congregation. But I think I want to go in a slightly different direction.
It is almost impossible to convince anti abortion extremists that pro choice is not pro abortion, and the usual messaging from pro choice advocates doesn’t help. They embrace reproductive rights, with which I agree, but fail to address the moral questions embedded in them. It leaves the moral argument entirely in the hands of the anti abortion crowd.
Speaking only for myself, I believe abortion is a sin. Not in the sense of moral failure, but in the sense that God’s desire for a full and abundant life for each person has stumbled over a tragic decision in which the value of an adult life of established promise is weighed against the potential life of an embryo or fetus. Such a decision can never be made as a matter of convenience, and I doubt that it is by most women facing a decision whether to terminate a pregnancy. The women who have come to me as their priest have had serious decisions to make about their own health and well being in the face of a pregnancy that faces overwhelming obstacles of many and complex kinds. It has to take enormous courage for a woman to consult their male priest, so I expect most women have the same gut wrenching conversation with trusted friends and relatives. It all depends on trust.
Anti abortion activists have a right to try to convince women, and the public, of their views, and to assist willing women in exploring alternatives that can work for them. For some, it may even be a religious obligation. So be it. They do not have the right to intimidate, harass, or commit any act of physical or verbal assault.
The assertion that this most intimate and tragic of personal decisions can be outlawed and criminalized by the full force of the government having no interest in the well being of an adult woman is reprehensibly immoral. It is utterly contrary to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution under the Fourteenth amendment, the Supreme court notwithstanding. The assertion that religious convictions of a minority can be imposed on a majority who do not concur is equally immoral and reprehensible. As a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, I assert that it is also blatantly unChristian.
Anti abortion activists tried for fifty years to convince a majority of Americans and failed. Neither could they convince a majority of the Congress. In the end, they only had to convince five justices who had previously sworn an oath that Roe v. Wade was settled law. That worked. It should send chills down the spine of every American who treasures our freedoms and the Constitution.
It creates a difficult conundrum. The American tradition of liberal government has long held that the Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means. Yet the court has sometimes erred. It did so in a number of cases that helped trigger the Civil War, and again in aiding the undoing of gains made by former slaves in the years following. It is, after all, an institution staffed by human beings. Over time it has always corrected its errors, but the interims have caused great harm endangering the foundations of liberal republican democracy that values “liberty and justice for all.”
Roe v. Wade guaranteed the right of women to make moral decisions affecting themselves and their pregnancies within agreed upon limitations. It resolved the centuries long problem of illegal abortions carried out by unqualified practitioners using methods causing injury. Overturning Roe v. Wade has made women second class citizens once again. Moreover, it signaled the vulnerability of other civil rights this particular court can easily overturn based on the specious argument that a right not specifically named in the Constitution is not a right at all. It’s only a privilege enduring only until it’s revoked.
NOTE: For those interested in reading Fr. David’s letter, go to stpaulsww.org