Now is a time to be heard: Archbishop Wuerl reflects on the annual March for Life and where we go from here

January 29, 2009

This past week we were all reminded vividly how the struggle against abortion – the willful destruction of innocent human life in the womb – continues to be the defining issue of our age. Just as the struggle against slavery and racism and its outcome were to determine the soul of our nation, so, too, today does the ongoing effort to eliminate abortion lay claim to be the most significant issue we deal with as we forge the character of our country.

Last week, together with bishops from all over the United States, I joined tens of thousands of young people at a Mass sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington in anticipation of the March for Life. Here we prayed for the victims of abortion and for a change of heart and mind for those who govern our country.

This event followed on the heels of the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, which was two days earlier and a few short blocks away. In his Inaugural Address, the President reflected upon the sense of vindication in the long march to overcome the evils of slavery and racism, one that had been undertaken persistently and with great faith.

As more than 150,000 people gathered for the March for Life last week, many people noted that the same religious fervor that energized the marches for the civil rights of African Americans is felt in today’s marches for life. While we can rejoice that the evil of slavery and much of the racism experienced by African Americans have been eradicated we need to continue to work so that the evil of abortion also is eliminated.

The annual March for Life and the Rally and Mass for Life that precede it are meant to lift up for our nation the value and worth of all human life and the need to protect the most vulnerable of human life in the womb who has no voice without us.

It was with great pride that we watched so many of our young people at the annual March for Life take on the responsibility of proclaiming the dignity of life. The public manifestation in favor of life and against the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling highlighted the place of religious conviction in public life. Here we see that the role of religion is precisely to sustain those values that make possible a common good that is more than just temporary political expediency. To speak out against racial discrimination, social injustice, threats to the dignity of human life or the evil of abortion is not to force values upon society, but rather to call our society to its own, long accepted moral principles and commitment to defend basic human rights, which is the function of law.

Over and over again we heard at the March for Life that a just social order has to be created in which unborn human life is protected. The reason the Human Life Amendment has been proposed for so long and why there is such intense effort to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision is because we are called to fashion laws that reflect our most deeply held values and that protect and defend all innocent human life.

While the March and Rally help proclaim the Gospel of Life, we still continue the quiet work of the Church by helping women in crisis pregnancies. Every day thousands of women receive medical care, financial support and spiritual guidance from our pro-life and family life initiatives, Catholic Charities and Catholic hospitals.

It was particularly disappointing to learn of the decision of President Obama to reverse the Mexico City policy which, up until now, prevented the United States from funding organizations that perform and promote abortion as a family-planning method in developing nations. The President’s decision, as both Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, point out, will only increase the number of abortions and do nothing to reduce this great human tragedy.

Last Sunday you heard and in the future you will learn more about the commitment of our archdiocese in union with the Church throughout the United States to fight against the enactment of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).

This particular piece of legislation would be better entitled the “Forcing of Conscience Act” since, if passed, it has the potential to force every Catholic healthcare institution to participate actively in the destruction of innocent human life. In material prepared by the USCCB, we learn that if FOCA is enacted the current legal protections given to motherhood would now be assigned to the abortion side of the scale: all medical oversight of abortion would be eliminated; taxpayer money would be given for abortions; partial and late-term abortions would be allowed with no real restriction and could be performed by non-physicians; and the the rights of a doctor or nurse to be a conscientious objector would be barred. It is especially this last point that brings FOCA and its supporters into direct confrontation with the Church, and her healthcare and charitable efforts.

A postcard-signing initiative now underway across the Church in the United States serves several purposes: It alerts all of us in advance to the destructive potential of FOCA and it provides Catholics and others of good will an opportunity to make our voices heard in the world of political decisions that will determine the direction of our nation into the future.

While we know that we have a long struggle ahead of us in the effort to overturn Roe vs. Wade, we know that we also have an immediate focus for our energies – the need to turn back the tide of FOCA support in our federal government.

To wait until the legislation is passed would be too late. Now is the time to be heard if we intend to sustain our freedom of conscience, freedom of action and our freedom to oppose abortion and refuse to be forced to participate in such evil.

Originally published in the Catholic Standard and El Pregonero newspapers.

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Susan Gibbs
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