by Fr. Scott McCaig, CC – Moderator of the Companions of the Cross
From a homily given on July 13, 2008
The decision to award the Order of Canada to the abortionist Dr. Henry Morgentaler has led to much public debate. Some of it has been encouraging. Several Members of the Order of Canada have even returned their medals in protest. But there has also been much that has been discouraging. Particularly disconcerting have been the opinion pieces that begin: “I’m a Catholic, BUT…” and then proceed to give reasons why the authors feel it is justified to support abortion and why we should be honouring those who perform them.
Yet in all these arguments there is a conspicuous absence, one thing that nobody acknowledges, which even abortion advocates no longer try to deny: in every direct abortion an innocent living human being is put to death.
From the moment of conception there exists a separate human being with a distinct genetic code. Her sex, eye color, blood type, fingerprints, and innumerable other personal characteristics are all her own, and different from her mother’s. A unique human being, unlike any that has ever been or ever will be has come into existence. All that remains is for her to grow. You and I were the same once, a living human being in our mother’s womb.
At 18-25 days old, her little heart is already beating. By four weeks, her blood circulation is well established, her arms and legs, little lungs and ears are forming, all before the mother is likely even aware she is pregnant. At 42 days, she has measurable brain waves, all her organs are in place and she is moving and kicking, though she is too small for her mother to notice. At week nine, she weighs about seven grams. The iris of her eyes and her fingernails appear. She can squint, swallow, move her tongue, and would make a fist if you stroked her palm.
By ten or eleven weeks, all her body systems are functioning. By week twelve, she is sucking her thumb vigorously and practicing breathing in her mother’s amniotic fluid. And all of this occurs in the first trimester of her mother’s pregnancy. Her growth continues even after she is born at around nine months. In fact, she will be only slightly less dependent on others after her passing through the birth canal than before. She will continue to develop right into her late teens.
It is important to note that none these facts are disputed on either side of the abortion debate. These are scientific facts. They can easily be found with an internet search on fetal development (for example at www.abortionfacts.com) with wonderful pictures of a living, growing human being at every stage.
We are not dealing with some nondescript cells lining the uterus or a mere ‘blob of tissue’. This is not the mother’s body tissue. Even in the earliest stages of embryonic development these cells contain different DNA than the mother’s. This is a distinct, individual human being. To see this, consider the following question: Does a pregnant woman have four eyes, two brains, or two hearts? Of course not, because it’s not her brain or her heart, it’s someone else’s! They are the fruit of her womb, but they are not her.
If you are unconvinced, try asking Gianna Jessen, Amy Charleton, Heidi Huffman, or many others who have survived after attempted abortions. Talk to Ana Rosa Rodriguez whose arm was ripped off in the process of an abortion. Listen to the words of Sarah Smith who survived an abortion, but her twin brother wasn’t so fortunate: “Andrew was aborted and we lost him forever.” (www.prolife.com/SARAH2.html)
The one undisputed fact, the most important fact, the one fact that is most carefully avoided is that in every direct abortion a unique, innocent, living human being is put to death by someone else. Those who promote abortion are claiming that one person has the right to take the life of another innocent human being.
– Whether they adopt the arguments of 19th century slave owners, who believed that one person could be the possession of another and so have life and death rights over them;
– or the arguments of racists who believe that some humans are more human than others and, therefore, should have the right to put their inferiors to death;
– or the arguments of those who opposed the right of women to vote, because, although they were human, they were not deemed equal, so only others were competent to decide their fate;
– or the arguments of dictators and oppressors throughout the ages who believed that the value of a life is measured by the degree of service or convenience it offers to the privileged few;
– or the arguments of eugenicists who believe that humanity should be improved by selectively killing those they deem to be imperfect.
They can spin it any way they want. Whatever justifications are used, it all comes down to this in the end: that it is somehow justified to intentionally put an innocent and defenseless human being to death. One does not have to be Catholic, or even a believer in God, to see that the above arguments are always and everywhere wrong.
First, no human being can be the possession of another. They can be dependent on another, under the care of another, responsible to another, but not their possession. Human beings are not objects to be owned and discarded at will. If you believe they are, then what is to stop someone from overpowering you and claiming you as their possession, or discarding you, or your family, at their whim? A child is under a mother and father’s care, but she is never their possession.
Second, some human beings are not more human than others. Human dignity is universal and inviolable. It is not conferred on us by our parents or anyone else; it is inherent to our nature. If not, then who decides who is superior or inferior? What would stop someone from claiming superiority over you because of your skin color, IQ, or economic situation? An unborn child is a human being with as much humanity as you or I have. Passing through the birth canal does not make a child more or less human.
Third, since every human being has equal dignity, each unborn child has the same right to live, grow up, laugh and play, and decide her own direction in life. If she doesn’t have that right, why should you or I? To deny the fundamental rights of one person is to endanger the rights of all.
Fourth, the value of human life cannot be measured by the service or convenience they provide to the privileged few. It is an injustice to make one class of people a lower “caste” to serve another.
Fifth, despite what modern eugenicists might say, our dignity is not measured by some arbitrary standard of perfection. Otherwise, some of the greatest heroes of human history would never have been allowed to live. It is indeed our task to improve humanity, but through love: by showing compassion to those in need and helping them to overcome disabilities, not by killing them.
Justifying abortion on the basis of lowering crime or poverty rates is ludicrous. If it is argued that some potential criminals have been destroyed, then it must also be granted that along with them have perished those who would have been scientists, poets, philosophers, doctors, humanitarians, and even recipients of the Order of Canada. In fact, any society that says it’s acceptable to intentionally kill innocent human beings is far more likely to produce a sick culture and depraved morals. Blessed Mother Teresa put it this way: “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion” (National Prayer Breakfast Speech, 1994). Or as Archbishop Collins of Toronto wrote: “A community’s worth is measured by the way it treats the most vulnerable, and no one is more vulnerable than in the first nine months of life’s journey.” (www.archtoronto.org/pdf/morgentalerjuly1088.pdf)
The moment you say that it’s justifiable to put an innocent human being to death, for whatever reason, you cannot have a humane and just society. Human dignity is either inviolable or it isn’t.
Blessed Mother Teresa summarized it well: “The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts – a child – as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.” (“Notable and Quotable,” Wall Street Journal, February 25, 1994, p. A14)
Many who advocate for abortion call themselves ‘pro-choice’. I believe strongly in the freedom to choose. My own great-grandmother was a well-known suffragette who fought for women’s rights in England. Free will is a precious gift from God.
But free choice has limits: Your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. I don’t have the right to choose to drink and drive because I would endanger other people’s lives. I don’t have the right to choose to stop feeding my elderly parents, no matter how inconvenient or dependent they are on me, because that would be abuse. I don’t even have the right to choose to drive without properly securing a child in an approved car seat, because I would be risking his or her life. It’s the law. We have such laws to protect the fundamental rights of everyone.
So why is it legal in Canada to choose to have a child dismembered alive in her mother’s womb? Or even kill her in the process of being born? Behind all the rhetoric, that’s the ‘choice’ in ‘pro-choice’. And what does it say about a society that honors those who do it? If you tried to do to a house pet what is legal to do to unborn children in this country you could be arrested (and rightly so). In fact, the womb has become the most dangerous place in Canada to be.
Now everything I’ve said so far is human logic. It is something any properly informed rational person can understand. We call it the natural law. People of every faith, and no faith at all, can and do recognize the truth that direct abortion is the taking of an innocent human life and that no argument, circumstance, or need can ever justify it. The end never justifies the means. Doing evil that some foreseen good might come of it is always self-defeating. It never works. It is like sawing the branch on which we are all sitting.
As Catholic Christians we recognize even deeper reasons why abortion is wrong. We know that God is the author of all life. We are not merely the products of a biological process. Before, beyond, and through the wonders of biological development, we were loved into being by God who chose each one of us and calls us by name. The prophet Isaiah says: “Listen to me and pay attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb; from the body of my mother He named me” (Isaiah 49:1). Through the psalmist God says to each one of us: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made, I knit you together in your mother’s womb” (Psalm 139). To the prophet Jeremiah He says, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb” (Jeremiah 1:5).
God has chosen every life and has a plan for every life and it is not our place to destroy it. We should avoid taking the life even of the guilty, let alone the innocent. J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, made this point beautifully in The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf tells Frodo, who is tempted to destroy his adversary Gollum, “Many that live deserve death, and some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.” (The Two Towers)
God writes straight with our crooked lines. No matter how difficult the circumstances of a child’s conception, they are wanted, welcomed, and chosen by God. They were created by Him and for Him, to love and be loved, in this life and for all eternity. As Pope Benedict reminded us in Deus Caritas Est, at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian is that “we have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). God loves each and every one of us with an everlasting love. To see the worth of every unborn child in God’s eyes, look carefully at a crucifix. The life of His own Son is the value God sets on every child He has created.
There can be no “I’m a Catholic, BUT…” ‘Pro-abortion Catholic’ is as much a contradiction in terms as ‘Pro-life abortionist’. Jesus has revealed to us that on the Day of Judgment, He will ask us what we have done to help and protect those in most danger and need. “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). He will ask us whether we have been merciful as He has been merciful to us, or if we have excused ourselves because virtue was just too difficult or inconvenient.
So what is God asking of us? Let me suggest a few things that all of us can do:
1. Speak up. Take the time to contact your political representatives. Sign the various pro-life petitions that circulate each year. Learn the facts about abortion and defend the cause of life in the places where you live and work.
2. Teach your children and grandchildren the truth: Life is sacred from conception to natural death.
3. Open your heart to those in need, especially pregnant women who are in dire circumstances. If you can’t help directly, then help those who do. Pro-life ministries are always in need. Be merciful and compassionate to those who have been victimized by abortion. Those who advocate for abortion and those who profit from it often deceive women into thinking that abortion will erase all their mistakes and problems. They don’t tell them about the pain, potential infertility, remorse, and even trauma. As Christians we need to welcome those victimized by abortion with the same love and mercy that we have received from the Lord.
4. Pray! We can pray for the healing of the women who have had abortions and for those who promote the culture of death. Pray for their conversion. With God anything is possible.
You might be surprised to discover that Norma McCorvey (the ‘Jane Roe’ of Roe vs. Wade which legalized abortion in the United States of America) was baptized and received into the Catholic Church in 1998. Now she is fighting the good fight for pro-life. The Lord won her back and now she is helping win others.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson was personally responsible for 75,000 abortions and was one of the chief architects of the modern abortion industry. He entered the Catholic Church in 1996, and became an impassioned pro-life campaigner. He was a more influential advocate for the culture of death than Dr. Morgentaler ever was. If God can reach Dr. Nathanson, He can get to anyone! He is only one of many former abortionists now fighting for the pro-life cause. We have no idea how powerful our prayers are. We need hearts to be converted and only God can do that. I would especially recommend mentioning this intention when you pray the rosary. Our Lady is the Patroness of the Unborn and will not let our pleas go unanswered.
Because so many have been deceived and victimized by the false and empty promises of the culture of death, I would like to close with the compassionate words of our late Pope John Paul II:
“I would like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly.
“If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitely lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord.
“With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.” (Evangelium Vitae, 99)
Fr. Scott McCaig, Moderator, Companions of the Cross
Reprinted with permission.