The past 12 months brought many challenges to our community and our families. Just one year ago, the global economy was on the verge of total meltdown; energy prices were about a third higher than they are today; a presidential campaign was under way that showed a nation nearly equally divided about candidates with fundamentally differing points of views. As these issues resolved, it almost seems that problems have multiplied rather than lessened.
The economy may have turned the corner, but the recovery in the United States is being considered a jobless recovery for the time being. Billions of dollars of private debt was transferred to the public through various government-bailout mechanisms. The country remains much divided about significant issues of domestic and foreign policy.
Federal and state policy decisions about life issues were particularly bleak this past year. The Obama administration announced the expansion of federal dollars for human embryo research; federal conscience protections for health-care workers and institutions were weakened; and proposals for health-care reform were floated that expand funding and access for abortion. The state of Washington implemented physician-assisted suicide. Provisions in the health-care reform bills give pause concerning the intent for treatments that patients will have available at the end of life. New York state, under the Paterson administration, announced that women will be compensated for agreeing to have their eggs harvested for research, although pharmaceutical intervention and invasive surgery are required to do so. The provisions of last year’s RHAPP bill are being promoted through a variety of single-issue bills and policy initiatives.
So is there anything to celebrate this Respect Life Month?
Actually there is, and quite a lot at that. A primary point to note is for the first time since 1973 when abortion became legal, a majority of Americans identify themselves as pro-life. An even larger percentage, 62 percent, believe that such requirements as eliciting informed consent from the mother prior to an abortion and requiring parental notification of minors seeking abortions are desirable. This is a significant attitudinal change. It reflects a populace that is increasingly aware of the harsh physical realities of abortion and the spiritual emptiness that often precedes and follows abortion.
The debates surrounding the reform of health care indicate that there is by and large concern for our neighbors in this country. The U.S. bishops were a constant voice for more than 20 years for those without access to health care. With health-care and health-insurance reform finally on the national political agenda, the U.S. bishops and the Catholic community bring voice to concerns that policies are in place that protect people on the margins of life: the unborn, the disabled, the elderly, the dying. The questions put to congressional representatives by unprecedented numbers of concerned constituents about the care of our most vulnerable citizens reflect the open hearts of voters who have heard Jesus Christ’s message of love for God and neighbor and the requirement to take action.
Real progress is being made using advanced communication technologies. There is increased familiarity with and access to the Internet. More people of the Diocese of Rochester are participating in e-alert services, like that available at www.nyscatholic.org. With the cooperation of pastors and pastoral staff, parishioners were quickly notified of the need to contact their elected officials on specific issues. State and local representatives noted these communications and know that increasing numbers of voters will hold them accountable for their votes. This month, Project Rachel will launch a YouTube video that will allow another generation of women and men hurt by abortion to avail themselves of this healing ministry.
Perhaps what I am most grateful for in our diocese is the number of pro-life people who have formed groups whose members pray, witness, serve and advocate for those at the margins of life. At last count there were more than 20 organizations in the diocese committed to the protection and defense of the dignity of human lives. Regardless of which of the 12 counties of our diocese named, there are clusters of people who extend the love of God in faith and action. The unborn child, the frightened mother, the individual at the end of his life, the indigent family all may find help and assistance through people who so generously give of their time and talent. Leading or working at a pregnancy center, coordinating a prayer vigil or bus trip, contacting legislators, speaking out about the dignity of every human life — all these activities take time and talent. I thank these people not only for their commitment year in and year out, but particularly this past year, when I was frequently away from the office. Your work is highly valued at the diocese.
Armantrout is diocesan life-issues coordinator. She may be reached at 585-328-3228, ext. 1304, or email@example.com.