Several years ago a Catholic newspaper published an article on abortion featuring a photograph showing several teenage students, parading publically, holding various placards opposing abortion. Normally I would have not reacted the way I did except the offensive signs read “abortion is killing and murder’! This harsh rhetoric could hardly be expected to bring about meaningful dialogue with the ‘pro-choice’ crowd.
In response, I submitted the following draft to the editor of the aforementioned (unnamed) Catholic magazine for publication:
It is one thing to use violent terms such as ‘killing’ and ‘murder’ to help us understand the gravity of abortion. It is quite another matter to accuse and confront others with hurtful verbiage. We simply cannot pretend to know their pain. Furthermore, threats will not help to bring about useful and necessary dialogue. As Christians we are called to the incredibly challenging and difficult task of bringing healing and understanding – not condemnation! This attitude is pivotal in entering into meaningful dialogue with any opponents or such groups as Pro-Choice.
As Christians, when faced with a crisis, we must try to understand it from Christ’s point of view. Imagine Jesus standing beside us while we are talking and listening to a person who challenges us on the topic of abortion. Would Jesus instruct us to confront the woman facing or having had an abortion, that such an act is “evil and murderous”? And, would Jesus encourage innocent young children to parade with provocative banners or signs? Let’s teach them wisdom, based in Christian compassion, not judgments based on what is right for our selves.
Jesus clearly put life ahead of all temporal matters and issues. Regretfully we often choose to the contrary. Any person who chooses abortion must be terribly broken and in need of healing. We must learn to listen and speak from deep within. That is never easy. We need to hear that gentle voice of Jesus say to our wounded friend “woman I do not condemn you, but do not sin again.
The point of my letter is to introduce a Voice of compassion regarding the question of abortion. If Pro Lifer’s desire to appeal to Pro-Choice groups convincingly, must it not do so with heartfelt compassion? We can hardly expect to win over opponents with harsh judgmental and condemning language. More importantly, easily influenced and innocent children should never be asked to support a cause so obviously adult in nature.
Alternatively, Pro-Life groups might perhaps consider promoting their well intentioned program by sponsoring women who have had abortions, to speak to students, in churches, high-schools, universities, etc., about their loss, pain or guilt.
The letter was never published.
Being Pro-Life does not make anyone a Christian or Catholic or a member of any other religious group. Conversely being Pro-Choice does not necessarily make anyone an atheist or agnostic. We are all sinners and we are all in need of God’s healing.
Enforcing or legislating our individual beliefs could ultimately deny our basic freedom to exercise those very beliefs. More importantly does it not completely ignore God’s calling to bring forgiveness, healing and understanding? For Christians, Jesus said ”I did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it”. To fulfill that law, which is written on our hearts, requires Christians to respond with unconditional love and compassion. Admittedly a very, very difficult thing to do.
It would be very different if Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups were to dialogue about abortion and it was understood to embrace life from the Alpha to the Omega. Finger pointing and confrontational attitudes merely present fodder for the media. Morals and/or ethical values are usually taught or passed on by parents, teachers, etc., but more often directly through the experience of life's difficult circumstances. Only when we are prepared to surrender our frailties can we be open to the inner gift of compassion and understanding. This gift brings a growth that is beyond the scope of debate, legislation and law making. By forcing people to choose on the question of abortion without having experienced God's gift of compassion is not the way Jesus taught.
Finally, in the recent words of a Pro-Choice Catholic:
I am a pro-choice Catholic because my Catholic faith tells me I can be. The Catechism reads, “[Conscience] is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” Even St. Thomas Aquinas said it would be better to be excommunicated than to neglect your individual conscience. So really, I am just following his lead. After years of research, discernment and prayer, my conscience has been well informed. Being a pro-choice Catholic does not contradict my faith; rather, in following my well-informed conscience, I am adhering to the central tenet of Catholic teaching -- the primacy of conscience.
My hope is that together the hierarchy of the Catholic church, the antiabortion movement and the pro-choice movement will help people of all faiths and no faith to develop well-informed consciences. However, this can only be done by talking about the whole picture -- from the dangers of unsafe abortion to the importance of preventing unintended pregnancy. By narrowing our focus to the legalization/illegalization of abortion, we are ignoring the realities which women and families face around the world. And that’s not serving anyone.