34 years after Roe: Where are we now?

Commentary by Judie Brown

I fondly recall the day in 1974 when Humberto Cardinal Medeiros told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, “As for an amendment which would generally prohibit abortion but permit it in certain exceptional circumstances, such as when a woman's life is considered to be threatened, the Catholic Conference does not endorse such an approach in principle and could not conscientiously support it.”

My, how times have changed. Over the intervening 33 years, we have seen growing pro-life support for bills that contain not only exceptions for cases in which the mother’s life is said to be endangered, but also exceptions for cases of rape and incest. We have seen a house divided, bickering about what the polls will accept, what realistic legislation looks like and how politicians need to be comfortable with the requests we make of them.

It has become, as far as I can tell, a decaying web of political intrigue peppered with pandering to public opinion. But how often has any one of us stopped to ask a simple, yet profound question: What is it that we have done to contribute to a culture in which more and more Americans are tolerant of some abortions? For while some polls say that fewer Americans favor abortion today, the fact is those very people do favor abortion when the question involves rape, incest and life of the mother. Why do we not understand that those who favor such abortions are in fact not pro-life?

Perhaps our beloved pro-life movement has succumbed to the temptations of moral relativism. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, said, "Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism … while relativism-letting ourselves be carried away by any wind of doctrine-is made to appear the only attitude acceptable in today's times."

We can apply the same definition to pro-life teachings. Those of us who hold that only by clearly and consistently supporting exception-free legislation can we achieve a meaningful victory are considered fundamentalists. Those who do what is “acceptable” (supporting exceptions, endorsing bills that merely regulate abortion and the like) have been carried away by the winds of politics.

These differences have driven deep divisions into the movement itself, causing disagreement, disparagement and outright undermining of one faction by the other-all to the total joy of the pro-abortion crowd, I am sure. But why?

Dennis Howard, founder of Movement for a Better America, said this has come about because there are those who “are committed to developing the most cost effective means of winning the battle first for the minds and hearts of Americans in order to build an unbeatable pro-life majority, and then to win the political battle.” He tells us, “a large part of the pro-life movement wants to reverse that order, which keeps them in a continually insecure position and pushes any kind of permanent victory always just out of reach.”

A permanent victory, of course, would be the adoption of a law or amendment that protects every innocent preborn baby from violent death by abortion.

Howard’s analysis is certainly part of it. Ever since Cardinal Medeiros, speaking for all the bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States, made his statement, things have gotten progressively more political and less educational. In that process the very principle to which Cardinal Medeiros was wedded has become secondary to what is “possible,” what is “practical” and what is politically acceptable. To my mind, that is where the problem resides.

In Colorado, the term “compromised incrementalist” was coined. This is the way to describe the pro-lifer who shoots himself in the foot by supporting exceptions. As Jon Davis of Larimer County Right to Life wrote, “Why would I be happy with a parental consent allowance clause? Such law ends with the murder of a child. I do not believe that this clause protects life at all. It just includes another party in the allowance of murder.”

“Voting with a Clear Conscience,” a booklet distributed by Priests for Life, tells us that “in choosing to limit an evil, you are choosing a good.” Yet when the evil we are discussing is the act of murdering an innocent preborn baby, what exactly does such a statement mean? Are we saying that it is acceptable to accommodate some evil? What can possibly be acceptable about some murder?

That is precisely where we are, however, some 33 years after Cardinal Medeiros clearly and unhesitatingly said that the Catholic Conference could not conscientiously support any murder for any reason. At that time he spoke for all pro-lifers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. There was no division.

But over time the principle has been watered down. If we were playing football, we could say that obviously the playing field has become muddied with rhetorical fumbles; the end zone has gotten farther and farther away; the baby’s reality has given way to interceptions by abortion proponents.

It’s time to take the field back and listen to the new generation of pro-life leaders who mince no words and deliberately draw the lines in the sand precisely where they must be drawn.

We love all our fellow pro-lifers; but above all, we love the babies and it is for them that we toil. We do what we do, not to curry political favor or excuse watered down proposals as being the best we can get; we do what we do because we love the babies and we don’t want to see a single one of them excused from life.

It is high time that each of us affirms that we do not want to be carried away by the political winds; we do not want to do what is acceptable in today’s culture or with today’s politicians unless it is first and foremost acceptable to God and in total compliance with His almighty word.

Let’s do everything we can to make 2007 the year of victory over moral relativism. Let’s do it for the babies. Let’s get this movement back on track, focused on individual babies and committed to teaching truth, whether in season or out.

Release issued: 18 Jan 07