As we head toward June and a Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs abortion case, we should pause to consider a few simple questions.
For example: Why aren’t attacks on, and threats against, churches, worshippers, and religious services acts of domestic terrorism? If they’re not domestic terrorism, then why not, and what are they? At what point do public acts and threats of violence motivated by hatred of another’s beliefs fall below the threshold of Department of Justice interest? If ethnic- and race-related hate crimes warrant federal action, why wouldn’t abortion-related hate crimes directed against religious sites, like the desecration of altars and the painting of hate-graffiti on church walls and doors? Why is a president who publicly wears his Catholic ashes at the beginning of Lent and quotes Augustine in his talks so remarkably restrained when it comes to denouncing such acts?
Why would permissive abortion qualify as “settled law” when nearly 50 years of vigorous resistance proves that it isn’t? Why is the White House so slow in enforcing federal law against the intimidation of Supreme Court justices? And what, one wonders, would happen if intimidating mobs of abortion opponents turned up outside the homes of abortion-friendly justices? Why is arguing for the right to an abortion treated as sacred, while arguing for the rights of a child in the womb treated as blasphemous?
We’re long past the days when access to abortion was advanced as “safe, legal, and rare.” More than 50 million abortions later, it’s hard to see such reasoning as anything less than delusional. At best, this reasoning indicates a naive lack of foresight about the consequences of one’s actions. We’re now at a point where Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen is arguing that overturning Roe v. Wade “would have very damaging effects on the economy and set women back decades.” This, despite the fact that women, not men, have led the resistance to abortion for the past half century, and despite the ugly and astonishing utility that informs Yellen’s own words: In effect, unwanted children might gum up a profitable machine.
We both come from a generation that knows how widespread access to abortion changed American culture. We saw it happen. The family, key to a healthy society, is the place where children learn how to accept, respect, and contribute to life, protected by a loving environment. Real families, of course, are complicated and often wounded creatures. No family is perfect, especially in a turbulent time like our own. But even in homes with weak or broken love, children sense that love should surround them. The family, more than any other place, is where love—the gift of oneself to another, the glue of a humane civilization—should abound.
What permissive abortion, available up to the moment of a child’s birth, has wrought in our time is this: Children are a disposable choice, and the family is a legal convenience on its way to being an inconvenient fiction.
People may have hoped that once abortion became legal, the divisions provoked by the issue would disappear. The opposite has happened. The divisions have not gone away because too many people refuse to live in an infertile world committed to selfishness; a world where violence against developing human life is not only excused but valorized.
Our faith teaches that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Tragically, abortion demands that the baby lay down his or her life for the one deciding to abort.
News that the Supreme Court may overturn one of the worst legal decisions in our nation’s history is welcome, but it cannot heal the harm already done by abortion culture. If Roe is struck down, a basic wrong will be righted, but with or without a favorable decision, we need to use this opportunity to reclaim the place of love. Every child is a universe of possibilities reminding us that life, despite its challenges and disappointments, is finally good and worth fighting for, everywhere and always. How we act with one another should reflect that simple truth, both in the home and in the public square.
This is a moment to reexamine our values. It’s an opportunity to recognize the needs of every mother and child, born or unborn, and the claim they make on each of us. A civilization is judged by its treatment of the weak. Abortion is far from the only indictment that can be brought against the world we’ve built and the choices we’ve made. But it’s the issue where redeeming both can begin.
Charles J. Chaput, a Capuchin Franciscan, is the archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia.
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family.
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