The designation of October as Respect Life Month by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gives us an annual opportunity to pause and consider the sacredness of human life. This year, reflection upon what each of our roles is in defending and protecting the lives of our sisters and brothers is of particular importance because of the upcoming general election in November.
The faithful citizenship materials in circulation throughout the diocese call each of us to fully form our consciences in the light of the teaching and tradition of our church. We are privileged to be members of the church that, since its beginnings, has recognized and worked to protect the lives of the most vulnerable members of society, rejecting abortion and infanticide as early as the first century. Yet some politicians, even those self-identifying as Catholic, would mislead the public to believe that there is confusion in the church regarding the sanctity of the lives of the unborn. Issuing a clarifying statement in September of this year, the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities stated:
“Given the scientific fact that a human life begins at conception, the only moral norm needed to understand the Church’s opposition to abortion is the principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with the respect due to a human person. This is the foundation for the Church’s social doctrine, including its teachings on war, the use of capital punishment, euthanasia, health care, poverty and immigration.”
The faithful citizenship documents repeatedly affirm the unifying nature of the commitment to the right to life of every individual, from the moment of conception through natural death. In the development of public policies and law, the intrinsic evilness of acts such as abortion and euthanasia is often ignored and sometimes even advanced by those charged with making, enforcing and interpreting the law of the land. The conscientious voter must think through what sort of laws will be developed by individuals and political parties when the major issues that are before our nation are decided.
Several specific questions come to mind. What sort of changes will occur in our health-care system over the coming years? Already in the state of Oregon, the only state in the union with both legal assisted suicide and comprehensive state-provided health insurance, patients are engaged in court battles to obtain life-extending drugs and treatments although suicide drugs are fully funded and sometimes even suggested. How do private “choices” such as artificial birth control and abortion become government-enforced policies that direct individuals and institutions to violate conscience? Bills given euphemistic names such as New York state’s Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act and the Freedom of Choice Act recently introduced in Congress, if passed, will mandate such services as abortion at all institutions receiving government funds. What is the best way to restore values that were once almost universally accepted in this country, such values as opposition to torture? It is unrealistic to expect that the rights of those with whom we are engaged in conflict will be respected, if the rights of the innocent are violated in our own nation. Will the public good of access to adequate shelter, nutrition, education, health care and work with just wages for every family ever be realized if we are willing to endorse leaders who turn a blind eye to the violation of human dignity in policies at home and abroad?
These are important issues and the outcomes of governmental decision-making always shapes and impacts the culture in which we live. The church realizes the link between the rights and protection of each human life and the duty and responsibility that must be exercised toward all human beings. Let us study the issues before us this Respect Life Month, and seek the guidance of our church and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as we answer our call to the exercise of faithful citizenship.
Armantrout is life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester.