By Richard E. Clinton Jr., Strake Jesuit College Preparatory and SJV Parishioner
As someone who was adopted as an infant, I owe my very existence to my biological mother’s decision to “choose life.” As such, one might reasonably assume that for this very personal reason, I have always been a staunch pro-life advocate. But this is not the case.
For many years, I never really gave the issue of abortion a great deal of thought. My position might best have been described as one of ambivalence. On the one hand, I was certainly both conscious of, and grateful for, the fact that my own biological mother had decided to see her unwanted pregnancy through and give me up for adoption. On the other hand, though, I was not yet ready to take a moral stance on the issue of abortion. After all, as a young and impressionable college student, I was too easily receptive to the seductive arguments of the pro-choice crowd. After all, who wants to be against the freedom of choice, right?
Not surprisingly, my indifference to the issue of abortion coincided with my estrangement from the Catholic Church. My freshman Philosophy professor was an avowed pro-choice atheist, and most of my friends and classmates were hostile toward Christianity. To be openly pro-life – or even openly religious for that matter – was certainly not “cool.” What was cool, however, was bashing authority, mocking religion, and espousing Marxist platitudes. Like many college students – both then and now – I abandoned my faith all too easily when challenged by the secular world.
It wasn’t until many years later that I would recognize that the intellectual climate in which I found myself at that time was one of moral relativism. In the name of tolerance, I had embraced what Pope Benedict XVI would later call the “dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
But God is merciful, and just like the Prodigal Son in St. Luke’s Gospel, I found my way back to the Catholic Church and in the process began to take a much more thorough and prayerful look at the abortion issue. There is a great deal of excellent pro-life literature available for those who are willing to approach the issue of abortion with an open mind and open heart. In the process, I discovered that there is no fundamental conflict between science and faith when it comes to the often-polemical topic of abortion.
Much of the abortion debate centers on the question of sanctity of human life, and, more specifically, when that human life begins. On this issue, both science and faith concur. Thanks to advancements in modern medical technology, human fetuses can be viable as early as 22 or 23 weeks, and survival rates skyrocket at the beginning of the third trimester. So how can someone argue that a fetus is not a human at say, 23 weeks and 6 days, but is human one day later? The answer, of course, is that human life begins at conception. Although that unborn baby cannot live outside his or her mother’s womb until some six months later, the unborn baby is still intrinsically human. Sacred scripture is unequivocal on this point: the Bible is replete with references to human life in the womb. Two of the better known passages are Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” and Psalm 139:13, “you formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.” Isiah 44:2 also speaks to this point: “Thus says the Lord, who formed you from the womb.”
Once one accepts the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, there is no other conclusion but that abortion is murder. Human beings are created in the image of God, and His commandment “Thou shalt not kill” should be the definitive word on the matter. Despite the propensity of the abortion industry to employ euphemisms (“pro-choice,” “termination of pregnancy,” etc.) to obfuscate the horrific nature of their business (and it is a very profitable business, as the recent Planned Parenthood videos gruesomely attest), the reality is that abortion is, as St. John Paul II concluded in his magisterial Evangelium Vitae, a “grave moral sin.” “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever,” the Holy Father went on, “can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.”
It is only fitting that as we approach Christmas, we recall the explicitly pro-life themes that underscore the birth of Christ. Our Blessed Mother Mary embodies the decision to choose life with her unequivocal “yes” to God’s call to sacred motherhood. Shortly thereafter, a pregnant Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is herself pregnant with John the Baptist. St. Luke’s Gospel tells us that “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” The birth of our Savior should serve as the ultimate reminder of the pro-life message of this joyous season, for as St. John Paul II notes in Evangelium Vitae, “Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfillment of joy at every child born into the world.”
Richard Clinton is a college counselor and AP U.S. History teacher at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish, and also holds an M.A. in International Relations and a Ph.D. in History from Ohio University. Richard also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala from 1988-1990. Richard’s greatest blessings are his wife, Vivian, and daughters Gabriela and Samantha.
Our Church’s teaching on Life and the Dignity of the Human Person, however, goes well beyond the issue of abortion. It encompasses a plethora of other topics as well: natural family planning, biotechnology, capital punishment, end of life care, euthanasia, and assisted suicide just to name a few. Although it would be impossible to thoroughly cover each and every subject in this issue, it is our desire to begin with just a few of these topics and gradually work through the rest in the following issues.
A good place to begin is to read the USCCB’s 2015 – 16 Respect Life Program Articles. These seven articles show us through brief anecdotes and life lessons why “every life is worth living.” For now, let us focus on two of the pro-life topics that are seldom talked about: capital punishment and end of life care.