On March 8, Catholics from around the state traveled to Albany for the annual “Catholics at the Capitol” day, sponsored by the State Bishops’ Conference. The purpose of the day is to offer Catholics an opportunity to stand together on the broad range of issues of concern to us — protecting life, strengthening our schools, caring for the poor and sick — and to speak to our state legislators.
One of the issue papers distributed by the Conference was entitled “Making Abortion Rare”. This document explained our Church’s opposition to the radical Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would lead to an increase in abortion, by placing it beyond any reasonable regulation. A second issue was our opposition to the Governor’s elimination of all funding for the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation. That foundation supports local initiatives and organizations that offer alternatives to abortions, and have helped thousands of women have their babies.
These positions are a practical response to the challenge issued by Archbishop Dolan at his press conference in January about the appalling abortion rate in New York City: “I invite all to come together to make abortion rare, a goal even those who work to expand the abortion license tell us they share.”
Some of our pro-life supporters have expressed discomfort with saying that we wish to “make abortion rare”. They are worried that this might imply that we are conceding the legality of abortion, and that we have given up our ultimate goal of defending every human life.
This concern is understandable, because people rightly can’t be satisfied with anything short of full protection for the unborn. I understand this concern, but I believe it is unfounded.
Our ultimate goals in this struggle have never changed. Nobody has any doubt about the position of the Catholic Church on abortion. We are absolutely, unalterably, irrevocably opposed to legal abortion, and will never accept the legitimacy of laws that permit it. We hold steadfastly to building a culture of life in which every life is valued in our society and its laws.
But while we pursue those ultimate goals, we have to take into account the political and cultural situation in which we find ourselves. Then, relying on the virtue of prudence, we have to mitigate the harm that is being done by legalized abortion, and try to achieve realistically attainable results to advance the culture of life.
This approach was outlined in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, The Gospel of Life:
The Church well knows that it is difficult to mount an effective legal defense of life in pluralistic democracies, because of the presence of strong cultural currents with differing outlooks. At the same time, certain that moral truth cannot fail to make its presence deeply felt in every conscience, the Church encourages political leaders, starting with those who are Christians, not to give in, but to make those choices which, taking into account what is realistically attainable, will lead to the re- establishment of a just order in the defense and promotion of the value of life. (90)
The challenge to “make abortion rare” is just such an initiative. It takes into account the political and cultural fact that a complete abrogation of abortion laws is not attainable in our current cultural and legal climate. It is directed not to people who are already committed to the cause of life. Instead, it is an appeal to those who consider themselves “pro-choice”, but are uncomfortable with abortion and may be open to work with us on practical measures to reduce it.
In other words, it is an effort to change hearts, to rebuild the foundation for a true culture of life. As hearts change, laws will follow.
Our vision and our goals will always remain the same. As the United States Bishops said in their statement, Living the Gospel of Life:
The Gospel of Life must be proclaimed, and human life defended, in all places and all times. The arena for moral responsibility includes not only the halls of government, but the voting booth as well. Laws that permit abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are profoundly unjust, and we should work peacefully and tirelessly to oppose and change them. Because they are unjust they cannot bind citizens in conscience, be supported, acquiesced in, or recognized as valid. Our nation cannot countenance the continued existence in our society of such fundamental violations of human rights. (33)