A Consideration of the Facts of In Vitro Fertilization and the Human Tendency to Demand What We Want, No Matter Who Gets Hurt.

Alabama’s state Supreme Court ruled last week that embryos created by In vitro fertilization, (IVF), are considered children. and this has raised concerns that embryos that are destroyed or damaged could lead to civil liability. So some Alabama fertility clinics are halting operations, and even some, otherwise pro-life advocates are are opposed to the decision.

But why should they be opposed. If life begins at conception, a foundational belief of the pro-life movement, should not embryos be protected from deep freezing and frequent discarding once they are no longer “needed?”

The Church has long opposed IVF. But why? Lets consider the concerns that are properly raised with IVF and the mess we have gotten ourselves into by our many attempts to play God.

All pro-lifers agree that we clearly play God by sentencing innocent life to death by abortion. This is life God has created (cf. Jer 1:5; Psalm 139 ). Through abortion we snatch the life from God’s creative hands and say, “This shall not be.”

But we also play God by insisting that infertile couples have a right to conceive and bear children, when nature and God have said no. It is not always clear why couples cannot conceive and even less clear why God might say “no” or “not now”  to a couple who wish to conceive a child at some given moment. The desire for a married couple to have children would seem always to be a good thing.  But simply because we deem something good, does not gift us the absolute right to overrule God to whom human life owes its first cause. With in vitro fertilization we go beyond assisting fertility and the marriage act. and we, in effect, sideline the God given manner for conception and turn it into a technology in a petri dish. This amount to telling God “This shall not be” in reference to infertility when it occurs.

Let’s consider the problems with In Vitro fertilization that has caused the Catholic Church to forbid it.

  1. Life becomes like a Consumer Product – In IVF,  fertilizable ova are removed from a woman’s ovary and put in a petri dish (the Latin for dish is vitrum) to which a few concentrated drops of sperm are added. This removes human conception from the marriage act, its sacred and proper place, where God acts to bestow life.  IVF puts it in the laboratory where man controls the process and conception is treated as a technology and a kind of sought after consumer product, rather than as part of a mystery of fruitful love caught up in the marriage embrace and the love God.
  2. It conveys the wrongful idea that a person or couple has a right to a child. A child is a person with rights; he or she is not merely an object, a possession, or a technological product. Further, life is something God grants, not something he must give simply because we want or demand it.
  3. God is Wrong! From a faith perspective, IVF simply refuses God’s failure to act in accord with the wishes of the parents, and removes the decision from God. God may be teaching something to the couple due to their infertility. Perhaps he wants them to adopt, perhaps he has a special work or cause he wants them to be devoted to. But IVF suspends such discernment, and forces the solution.
  4. There is a strong bias today toward only caring about what is best for adults. This is widespread in our culture. Hence, if adults are unhappy they can divorce, not matter what this does to children, the children have no legal voice or say in the matter. Further, if a child comes at an unexpected or inopportune time, many just abort. Again, it is the adults who matter. In IVF there is also some of this thinking since what seems to matter most is that the adults want a baby. Never mind what IVF may do to how we think of life, as a technology to be exercised at our whim, rather than a sacred mystery. Never mind that imperfect embryos are discarded or frozen. Never mind that many IVF procedures selectively abort later. Never mind that IVF children are more often born prematurely, or suffer higher rates of birth defects. What matters is what adults want and demand.
  5. Discarding Embryos – As already stated, it is a usual practice that more eggs are fertilized than the woman will need. This is because not all embryos survive. Thus, more than one egg, usually several or numerous eggs, are fertilized. If “too many” embryos survive the rest are either discarded (i.e. killed), frozen or mined for stem cells (i.e. killed). In some cases as well, if “too many” embryos are accepted by the woman’s womb, they may be selectively aborted later so that the “desired number” of children is not exceeded.
  6. For reasons such as these, the Church considers IVF to be gravely sinful.
  8. There are certain procedures allowable to Catholics which enhance fertility but do not remove or replace the marriage act. But IVF is far beyond what is approved for the reasons stated.

So here we are with another cultural show-down. But but please consider that IVF and abortion have this in common: Playing God and saying that I have a right over life, that I call the shots. Abortion demands the right to end life, IVF demands the right to produce it. Neither is a right we should claim. God is the author of life. IVF goes beyond assisting what God has set forth (i.e. the marriage act) and seeks to force an outcome, in effect, removing God sovereignty over human life.

Further, while many of its members and “consumers” of IVF services may choose not to think so, discarding of embryos is killing, is aborting. Freezing them is a cruel delay and a further indignity. Imagine keeping children “on ice” until their arrival is more convenient. And what if they never become convenient? The big chill continues until they become stale (i.e. dead).

Disclaimer – Now, there are likely many well-intentioned couples who may never have thought through all this, or have been misguided, or are just so desperate for a child that they’ll do almost anything. But in the end, IVF is problematic and morally wrong for the reasons stated.

We live in times where too many think that they can just have what they want. Many think that, if we can do something, we should be free to do something. But there are more things at stake than just what people want. There is reverence for the sacred mystery of life, there is concern for the common good, there is what actually happens to imperfect or superfluous embryos.

The Common Logic of Those Who Defended Slavery in the Past and Those Who Defend Abortion Today

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) recently made remarks declaring that the moral stance of pro-life Americans is akin to racism.

I think there’s [sic] some issues that have such moral clarity that we have, as a society, decided that the other side is not acceptable,” Gillibrand said.

“Imagine saying that it’s OK to appoint a judge who’s racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic,” she continued. “Asking someone to appoint someone who takes away basic human rights of any group of people in America … I don’t think those are political issues anymore” [*].

Her conclusion is that our pro-life view, our side of the issue, is as unacceptable as racism. There is for her no room to accept that reasonable people can and do differ with her pro-abortion stance and do not see killing a child in the womb as an exercise of “reproductive choice.” Her position is that our view deserves no consideration at all and is not just wrong but immoral—as immoral as racism.

To this I can only reply that her allusion to racism has an irony she doubtless did not intend. The very movement she celebrates uses a logic almost identical to that used by racists (and others) to justify slavery. Consider these parallels between abortion and slavery:

      • The fate of certain human beings is dictated by the personal and financial interests of others.
      • The courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States, used categories of partial humanness prior to the civil war. Slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person for legal purposes and deemed the property of their owners. Today, children in the womb are not deemed persons at all but rather “products of conception.” An unborn child is treated more like a tumor inside the mother’s body than a unique, distinct human being.
      • Slaves were bought and sold at the will of the owner. That this separated married couples and families, undoubtedly causing tremendous pain and anguish, was not considered important or relevant. A slave owner could do what he wanted with his own property. Similarly, children in the womb and the effects on them are not even considered today; a woman may choose to do what she wants with her “own body.” This of course denies the reality that another distinct, unique human person, who we believe has rights as well, is killed in the “choice” involved.
      • The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not inalienable for the unborn child today. Just like the slaves, they are excluded from the vision that “all men are created equal.”
      • Babies in the womb, like the slaves of old, are not held to receive fundamental rights “from God.” Rather, they only have rights if more powerful people decide that they do.
      • The rights and desires of powerful individuals—slave owners, in the past; those already born, today—take precedence over those of others.
      • Like the slaves of yesterday, children in the womb today lack legal standing. They cannot advocate for themselves.
      • Fundamentally, both slavery and abortion are economic and convenience issues. Slavery was considered by many a “necessary evil” to protect economic, political, and social interests—so today with abortion.
      • Overturning the injustice depends on the unrelenting, courageous effort of people who are often labeled “fanatics” by their opposers. (“Abolitionist” was viewed as a pejorative by many at the time.)

I hope that Kirsten Gillibrand and others who share her views will consider how eerily similar their arguments are to those of slavery supporters. Far from being racists, we pro-lifers are the abolitionists of our day. The abolitionists of old were excoriated and hated, called extremists and religious zealots—but they were right. As a nation, we now look back with embarrassment that we ever supported slavery with such thinking.

Still not convinced? Let’s recast some common pro-choice statements in terms of slavery and see how they sound:

      • I am personally opposed to slavery, but I don’t want to impose my values on somebody else.
      • I’m not personally pro-slavery, but I do think slave owners should have the right to choose how they run their own plantation.
      • Let’s keep slavery safe, legal, and rare.
      • Releasing slaves might cause burdens on their owners and others.
      • Released slaves might have a hard life, living in poverty and tending to commit crime.
      • Slavery has been upheld by the Supreme Court. It is the settled law of the land and must be respected as such.
      • We really can’t say a slave is a person.
      • Abolitionists are just trying to impose their extreme religious views on us.

What do you think? How are they different than the current thinking about abortion? I wonder if Kirsten Gillibrand and others who pitch around this “racism” equivalency have really thought about the sound of their arguments.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Common Logic of Those Who Defended Slavery in the Past and Those Who Defend Abortion Today

Of Weather and Warnings: A Pro-Life Meditation

The weather in Washington, D.C. was dismal on Saturday: more than two inches of rain. 2018 has now surpassed 1889 to become the wettest year since records have been kept. So far, more than 62 inches of rain have fallen this year; the annual average is only about 40 inches.

On this cold, rainy December morning, a group of us stood in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic in northeast D.C, just as we do on many Saturdays throughout the year. We prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. We sang some Christmas carols. We engaged in some sidewalk counseling. We called the “escorts” to conversion. These escorts try to shield the women entering the facility from having to hear the truth we speak and our pleas to reconsider their plans to abort their children. The escorts are trained to keep their eyes fixed forward and to avoid making eye contact with us. I say to them, “One day you will stand with us. We are praying for your conversion and for an anointed realization of what abortion really is.”

Earlier in the day I read a psalm from the Office of Readings that contained God’s lament of how lost and corrupted His people and nation have become.

The psalm begins with a reminder of the blessings the Lord lavished on His people:

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good:
for his love endures forever.
Who can tell the Lord’s mighty deeds?
Who can recount all his praise?

… He threatened the Red Sea; it dried up
and he led them through the deep as through the desert.
He saved them from the hand of the foe;
he saved them from the grip of the enemy.
The waters covered their oppressors;
Then they believed in his words;
then they sang his praises
(Psalm 106:1-2, 9-12).

In the United States, we too have been blessed and favored.

The psalm continues with the lament of God (through the psalmist):

But they soon forgot his deeds
and would not wait upon his will.
They yielded to their cravings in the desert.

… They fashioned a calf at Horeb
and worshiped an image of metal,
exchanging the God who was their glory
for the image of a bull that eats grass.
They forgot the God who was their savior,
who had done such great things in
such portents in the
land of Ham,
such marvels at the
Red Sea.

… Then they scorned the land of promise:
they had no faith in his word.
They complained inside their tents
and would not listen to the voice of the Lord.

… They bowed before the Baal of Peor;
ate offerings made to lifeless gods.
They roused him to anger with their deeds
and a plague broke out among them
(Psalm 106:13-14, 19-22, 24-25, 28-29).

In the next part of the psalm comes the greatest darkness of all:

… They worshiped the idols of the nations
and these became a snare to entrap them.
They even offered their own sons
and their daughters in sacrifice to demons.
They shed the blood of the innocent,
the blood of their sons and daughters
whom they offered to the idols of
The land was polluted with blood.
So they defiled themselves by their deeds
and broke their marriage bond with the Lord
(Psalm 106:36-39).

Yes, so evil did their hearts become that they sacrificed their own children on the altars of the pagan gods with whom they committed adultery. This is where we are today in the U.S. Some “celebrate” abortion and worship at the altar of “choice” and “sex without consequence,” even if others must die as a result.

I do not suppose that every patient who enters an abortion clinic fully understands the meaning of her plans or intends to worship Baal, but I believe that she will be traumatized as the life in her womb is either surgically removed or burned away through caustic chemicals. Perhaps she has been misled. Maybe she has been pressured by her parents or by the irresponsible “father” of the child. It is also possible that she coldly enters knowing full well what she does; that is for God to know. I only pray that when she does come to understand what she has done, she will not despair; the Church is still here for her through the Sacrament of Confession as well as Project Rachel and other support groups.

Collectively, we Americans know what we are doing. The science is clear that human life begins at the moment of conception. The Pro-life message is effective and clear. Our consciences are testifying to us. We know better and are better than this. We once forbade the killing of the innocent through abortion. This once Christian nation has forgotten the God who has blessed and saved us; we have scorned the promises of our own land.

God will not forever abide our rejection of His vision. The blood of the innocent cannot forever be silenced as they cry out to God from the soil of this blessed and rich land. One day soon God say to us,

What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground (Gen 4:10).

In the Liturgy of the Hours each psalm has a New Testament verse to frame it. Psalm 106 is paired with this warning:

These things have been written for a warning for us, for we are living at the end of the ages (1 Corinthians 10:11).

Beware indeed; there will be a reckoning. Stand up now and choose sides. The Lord’s justice cannot be forever avoided. Perhaps He will delay, simply for the sake of the remnant who pray and witness against this killing, which is claimed the lives of more than 50 million children in the U.S. since the legalization of abortion in 1973.

Psalm 106 stood to warn an ungrateful and increasingly faithless people of the punishment that awaited them if they did not repent and end the infanticide as well irreligion and injustice within them. It can be no less for us, who have been even more blessed than they. God laments our condition more than we can know. In mercy He offers us time to convert, but injustice cannot forever continue. God will and must end this if we will not.

On a dreary, cold, rainy morning in D.C., both the weather and Psalm 106 speak ominously to our condition. What is the forecast for tomorrow? That depends on us.

Marching for Life and Acknowledging Those Who Have Died

Today’s March for Life focuses on the tragic issue of abortion, but of course abortion emerges from other moral choices and attitudes that are sinful.

One common “moral” standard that many apply today, especially regarding sexual matters, goes something like this: “Two consenting adults should be able do what they please as long as nobody gets hurt.” Of course the sinners who talk like this think that they get to determine whether anyone gets hurt. Generally, their notions are egocentric, mostly considering only themselves, and in addition their conception of what constitutes getting hurt are often misguided.

Today, I marched with many who tried to give a voice to the at least 50 million who didn’t just get hurt by the behavior of certain “consenting adults” — they got killed.

Consider the fact that 85 percent of abortions are performed on single women. That means that fornication (premarital sex) is the single largest contributing cause to abortion. Many of these couples went into their dalliances insisting that nobody would get hurt, but the babies they aborted would beg to differ. They were hurt and then they were killed.

The claim that no one is getting hurt is a lie.

Here are some others who are hurt by sexual immorality:

  1. Those who grow up in single parent homes – Thank God they survived at all — most don’t. Their “parents” had sex but didn’t have the commitment or maturity to say, “Now that there’s another life involved we’d better grow up, be less focused on our own happiness, and think of someone else.” Some others made a poor choice for one night or for a brief time and to get married would have made little sense, but the result is that a child is raised without one of his parents (typically the father). Thankfully those babies were not killed, but they are still hurt because they deserved a complete home with a mother and father there to love them.
  2. Our culture, our nation, and the Church – None of these three sectors is as strong if the traditional family is not strong. Fornicators, adulterers, and those engaging in homosexual activity all weaken the family, and the family is the basic foundation of everything. It is hard to find a culture or nation that can survive the loss of family structure and loyalty or the loss of sexual self-control. The “as long as nobody gets hurt” people think that they can go on taking the prerogatives of marriage (e.g., sexual intimacy and parenthood) and not harm the culture. They are wrong; history, common sense, and current statistics show that we are all harmed — exceedingly — by the “as long as nobody gets hurt” crowd. The number of abortions has skyrocketed as has the number of teenage pregnancies and single mothers, while the number of marriages has plummeted. This is not healthy for any culture or for any child raised in such a “culture.”
  3. The “nobody gets hurt” people themselves – After enough of their behavior, they often have sexually transmitted diseases, “unwanted” pregnancies, broken hearts, and quite end up feeling used and discarded. They start out claiming that no one is getting hurt; they end up hurt, bitter, diseased, pregnant, post-abortive, alone, and unfulfilled. Did I mention alone? Alone — very alone in terms of support — but bearing many burdens.

Those who claim that “nobody gets hurt” cannot truthfully say that, nor can they give any assurance that no one is getting hurt or will be hurt. How can they possibly know that no one will get hurt? Experience and common sense (which isn’t so common today) indicate otherwise.

Today, I marched for the more than 50 million who were hurt and then killed as well as for the many mothers whose lives are now shattered, who felt “driven” to abort because they were either pressured or alone. Any counselor or Catholic priest will tell you that post-abortion trauma is real. Sadly, the damage is deep and does not go away easily. Abortion is an act of violence perpetrated not only on the baby but also on the mother. Few who come away from this act can honestly describe it as anything other than violent and traumatic.

Many people are getting hurt! Enough of this “Consenting adults should be able to do what they please as long as nobody gets hurt” lie.

And lest we who believe forget, let us remember that Jesus got hurt for what we have done. Every sin ever committed added to His pain and suffering on Calvary.

There is a lot of hurt. Anyone who says otherwise is deceived and the truth is not in him.

Iceland Is Not Alone in “Freezing Out” the Disabled

Most of you have probably heard or read the reports trumpeting the “eradication” of Down syndrome in Iceland). The problem is that what is being termed “eradicating” the “problem” actually means that those with Down syndrome are being put to death. The celebratory language is all too similar to the way we once spoke of wiping out malaria by killing infected mosquitoes. But of course children in the womb are not mosquitoes; they are human beings, love and willed by God. Imagine saying that we had eradicated malaria by killing every person who had it!

A low point in the article linked above comes at the end, when a proponent of aborting babies who likely have Down syndrome is quoted as saying,

“We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication … preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder—that’s so black and white. Life is gray.”

Well, pardon me for considering murder to be so black and white! One minute a heart is beating heart, the next minute it’s not. The “thing” that you ended is a human life. Calling such a child a “possible life” is scientifically dishonest. A beating heart does not exist in something that is possibly alive; he or she is alive. No linguistic gymnastics can legitimately describe the situation otherwise.

Further, “preventing suffering” by killing the patient is an illustration of the twisted logic of the culture of death. Death is the increasing being proposed as the solution to today’s problems. If you—or more perniciously, “we”—decide that your life is not worth living, we will kill you and call ourselves compassionate for doing so.

The greatest tragedy in all of this is that we veto the gift of God. Some of God’s gifts come in paradoxical packages; those with disabilities and special needs have much to teach us and many ways to bless us. Without them we may never reach our full humanity, which is meant to include compassion, humility, reverence, and respect. Not one of us is perfect. All of us have difficulties that require support from others. When we forget or reject this we lose an important aspect of our humanity: interdependence.

Iceland is not alone in this; much of the rest of the world has also refused to accept the disabled into our communities.

Here in the United States, this is perhaps most sadly evidenced by the fact that more than 90% of unborn children with poor prenatal diagnoses are aborted. Perhaps the parents are informed that their child will have Down syndrome or a birth defect that will lead to a lifetime of challenges and an early death.

The pressure placed on such families to abort is often enormous. They are told, “It’s the right thing to do,” or, “You shouldn’t make your child suffer.” Some are even made to feel that they are doing something unethical by bringing forth such children. In addition, parents are often pressured to make a decision quickly; doctors may want the decision to terminate made within a matter of days.

Is there such a thing as a life not worth living? Many in our culture seem to believe that there is. A “therapy” increasingly proposed in today’s culture of death is killing the patient in order to solve the “problem.” People, it would seem, do not have problems, they are the problem, and thus their elimination makes the problem go away. Never mind that a human person of inestimable value is actually killed … Problem solved! Thus has arisen idea that an appropriate “treatment” for disabled unborn children is to kill them. Of course death is neither a treatment nor a therapy; it cannot be considered an acceptable solution for the one who loses his or her life. Yet this is often the advice given to parents faced with this situation.

All of this “advice” and pressure goes a long way toward explaining the dismal abortion rates of the potentially disabled unborn. We in the Church cannot remain silent in the face of this; we must reach out compassionately to families experiencing such a crisis. Many of them are devastated by the news that their baby may have serious disabilities. Often they descend into shock and are overwhelmed by fear, conflicting emotions, and even anger toward God or others. Sometimes the greatest gifts we can give them are time, information, and the framework of faith. Simply considering some of the following may help:

  1. Despite what parents are told, there is no rush. Serious, life-changing decisions should never have to be made within a short period of time. Pressure should not be applied to families (by medical personnel or others) in order to force a quick decision; doing so is a grave injustice.
  2. Prenatal screenings are not always accurate. We often think of medicine as an exact science; it is not. Data can be misinterpreted and predictions can be wrong. Further, there is a difference between the result of a screening and an actual diagnosis. A screening can point to a potential problem and assess its probability, but it is not a definitive diagnosis. Further study is always called for if a screening indicates a possible issue. Sometimes, further testing reveals that in fact there isn’t a problem at all.
  3. As Pope Francis has pointed out, disabilities are not always as terrible as we, in our insistence on perfection, might imagine. Many people with disabilities live very full lives and are tremendous gifts to their families, the Church, and the world. Providing families with more information about disabilities and connecting them with other families who have experience is essential in helping them to avoid the doomsday mentality that can easily set in.
  4. It is vital to connect the faithful with the most basic truths of our Christian faith. To the world, the cross is an absurdity, but to those of the Christian faith it brings life and blessings in spite of the pain. Were it not for our crosses, most of us could never be saved. Raising a disabled child is not easy, but God never fails. He can make a way out of no way; He can do anything except fail. My own sister, Mary Anne, was mentally ill and carried a cross. We, her family, had a share in that cross. But Mary Anne brought blessings to us as well. In fact, I don’t know if I’d be a priest today if it had not been for her. I’m sure that I wouldn’t be as compassionate and I doubt that I could be saved were it not for the important lessons Mary Anne taught me. I know that she brought out strength and mercy, not to mention humility, from all of us in the family. Her cross and ours brought grace, strength, and many personal gifts to all of us. The cross is painful, but it brings life as well. Easter Sunday is not possible without Good Friday. Yes, to the world the cross is an absurdity. To us who believe, it is salvation, life, and our only real hope; it is our truest glory to carry it as Christ did.
  5. Disability is not an all-or-nothing proposition; it exists on a continuum. All of us are disabled in some way. Some have serious weight problems; others are diabetic, have high blood pressure, or experience heart problems. Some are intellectually challenged. Others struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction, or compulsion. Some experience a loss of mobility as a result of an accident or just due to the aging process. The fact is, all of us have abilities and disabilities. Some disabilities are more visible than others; some are more serious than others. In most cases, though, we are able to adjust and still live reasonably full lives. We may not be able to do all that we would like, but life still has blessings for us. And even our weaknesses and disabilities can, and do, bring us blessings by helping to keep us humble. How much disability is too much? Can we really be the judge of that? Can we really decide for someone else that his or her life is not worth living?
  6. Life is often not what it seems. In this world, we value things like wealth, ability, strength, and power, but God is not all that impressed by these sorts of things. He has a special place for the poor and the humble. The Lord has said that many who are last in this life will be first in the next (cf Mat 19:30). There is a great reversal coming, wherein the mighty will be cast down and the lowly raised up. We may look upon those who suffer disability with a misplaced sense of pity, but they are going to be the exalted ones in the kingdom of Heaven. As we accept the disabled and the needy in our midst, we are accepting those who will be royalty in Heaven. We ought to learn to look up to them, to beg their prayers, and to hope that hanging on their coattails may help us to attain some of the glory they will enjoy. The world may refuse to see their dignity, but we who believe cannot fail to remember that the last shall be first. Yes, life is not always what it seems.

What about those who aborted their babies? We as a Church cannot avoid our responsibility to declare the dignity and worth of the disabled. More than ever, our world needs the Church’s testimony, for this 90% statistic is a startling one. But even as we witness to the dignity of the disabled and to the wrongness of abortion, we must also embrace those who chose abortion and now struggle with having made that decision. We are called to reconcile and to bring healing to all who have faced this crisis and fallen. Many were pressured and felt alone and afraid. We offer this embrace through confession and through healing ministries like Project Rachel, which offers counseling, spiritual direction, support groups, and prayer services. Even as the Church speaks out against abortion, she must also reconcile those who have fallen under the weight of these heavy issues.

Tomorrow I will write a little bit more on this topic and present a parable of sorts.

Here are some resources for more information:

National Catholic Partnership on Disability
Project Rachel (Post-abortion healing)
Be Not Afraid (Outreach to parents who have received a difficult prenatal diagnosis)
Parental Partners for Life (Support information and encouragement for carrying to term after receiving an adverse prenatal diagnosis as well as support for raising a child with special needs)

On a Sad Sidewalk, a Small Foretaste of Jesus’ Words, “You Will Weep … but Your Grief Will Become Joy”

Something about today’s Gospel (Friday of the 6th Week of Easter) reminds me of an incident on the front lines of the battle to end abortion.

Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you
(John 16:20-23).

It was a mild spring day in front of the Planned “Parenthood” facility here in Washington, D.C. Twenty of us were gathered to pray the rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet. The weather was fine, but as always the mood was heavy, knowing of the toll of life exacted at this facility and the outright confusion of those who think themselves righteous for advocating the death of innocent human beings.

Two sidewalk counselors were courageously at work, seeking a last-minute change of heart from the downcast women (often accompanied by boyfriends or parents) who entered. We supported the sidewalk counselors with our prayers.

Five escorts in orange vests tried to shield the entering clients from us who would shine the light of truth on what was really happening inside.

Keep praying, I thought, for indeed, some among our group were converts to the pro-life cause thanks to the prayers of others.

A low moment came when a few joyful “clinic” escorts shared the news among themselves that a certain woman emerging from the center had “successfully aborted.” Smiles among the escorts, a high five between two of them, and a gloating look over at us from another one brought Jesus’ words painfully alive:

You will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices.

Yes, the hardest part of being on the front lines of the pro-life movement is hearing an abortion called a success and seeing some even joyfully announcing victory.

I gathered close to my fellow prayer warriors and encouraged them between the decades by quoting these words of Jesus’: You will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices. Yet we should also remember that He went on to say, you will grieve, but your grief will become joy … [You] are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.

It was not enough that we should grieve; we should also offer our sorrow for the ones who were now rejoicing. We must offer our grief for their conversion. For Jesus says,

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep (Luke 6:25).

Indeed, if they are not converted now, they will answer one day to God. Pray for conversion prior to judgement! It gave me the strength to go to each escort, look him or her in the eye, and say, “Think about it now. You know deep in your heart that this is wrong, that this is murder.” It was interesting to me that not a single one of them said anything in reply.

In the distance, I saw one of our sidewalk counselors urgently waving for me to come over. She had not been able to dissuade a certain young woman from entering, but her boyfriend had listened, taken it to heart, and was now asking for confession! He had tried to bring his girlfriend out to join him, but she refused. Now sorrowful and contrite, moved by the words of the sidewalk counselor and the signs our group held, he sought mercy. The counselor said to me, “He’s ready for you Father; he’s ready for mercy.”

Thank you, Jesus. We could not save everyone that day, but at least we saved one. Sorrow was turned to joy. I pray only, Lord, that our joy may one day be complete.

“Keep praying, witnessing, and working.” was all I heard.

The Miracle of Life as We March

063009-Pope1-AThe magnificence of life is really too wonderful too describe. Some years ago, I found this description, which summons reverence by its very ability to baffle the mind:

MIRACLE OF LIFE– Consider the miracle of the human body. Its chemistry is just as extraordinarily well tuned as is the physics of the cosmos. Our world on both sides of the divide that separates life from lifelessness is filled with wonder. Each human cell has a double helix library of three billion base pairs providing fifty thousand genes. These three billion base pairs and fifty thousand genes somehow engineer 100 trillion neural connections in the brain—enough points of information to store all the data and information contained in a fifty-million-volume encyclopedia. And then after that, these fifty thousand genes set forth a million fibers in the optic nerves, retinae having ten million pixels per centimeter, some ten billion in all, ten thousand taste buds, ten million nerve endings for smell, cells that exude a chemical come-on to lure an embryo’s lengthening neurons from spinal cord to target cell, each one of the millions of target cells attracting the proper nerve from the particular needed function. And all this three-dimensional structure arises somehow from the linear, one-dimensional information contained along the DNA helix. Did all this happen by chance or do you see the hand of God?

Friday, many of us are marching for life, here in Washington, D.C. and in other communities. Today we ponder the great mystery that is expressed in the 139th psalm:

For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being. … Already you knew my soul my body held no secret from you when I was being fashioned in secret …. [E]very one of my days was decreed before one of them came into being. To me, how mysterious your thoughts, the sum of them not to be numbered! (Psalm 139 varia)

No human being is an accident, no conception a surprise or inconvenience to God. He knew and loved us long before we were ever conceived, for He says, Before I ever formed you in the womb I knew you (Jer 1:4). God has always known everything we would ever do or be.

It is often mysterious to us why human life is sometimes conceived under difficult circumstances such as poverty, times of family struggle or crisis, even disability and disadvantage. But in the end we see so very little; we must ponder the mystery of God’s reminder that many who are “last” will be first in the Kingdom (e.g. Matt 20:16; Luke 1:52-53).

So on Friday, many will march, but all are called to remember the sacred lives that have been lost. We acknowledge our loss, for the gifts of these children have been swept from us. We pray for women who struggle to bring children to term and experience pressure to consider abortion. We pray for the immediate conversion of all who support legalized abortion for any reason as well as for the dedication to assist women facing difficulties in giving birth to or raising their children.

The following video is a shortened version of the masterpiece “Genesis,” by Ramos David. It depicts fetal development in magnificent fashion. Because this is an abbreviated version, I have taken the liberty of adding a different music track. The piece you hear is William Byrd’s Optimam Partem Elegit (She has Chosen the Best Part). The title is most fitting as we pray that all mothers will choose life. The full length video, in higher definition, can be found on YouTube by searching for “Genesis Ramos David”

Ancient Testimonies Against Abortion

In doing research for an Our Sunday Visitor column (my regular Q and A column), I found it necessary to comb through some of the early Church sources regarding the teaching against abortion. I thought it might be helpful here, by way of a resource, to post some of those teachings here. While I have seen a quote here and there, I was actually quite pleased to find several quotes I had not seen or read before on the question of abortion and to assemble in one place a good number of quotes.

I also ask your help in adding to the list I have assembled here. For the sake of some scope I have limited the quotes to generally no later than the 4th Century. While you can feel free to add from later periods as well, I find the early centuries to be of particular value, due to their antiquity.

As with many quotes from the ancient world, some of the quotes herein are perhaps quite harsh, and some may be critiqued at their focus essentially on the women who procure abortion, with little mention of the men involved. In our own time the Church is more careful to articulate and understand that abortion often occurs when women are under duress, or on account of family crisis, poverty and other social factors. Hence, we who speak against abortion must be ready and able, as I think the Church admirably is, to assist women and families in crisis to give birth. Yet the churchmen who are quoted below were men of their times, and, as my father was often heard to say of the “old days” Things were tough all over.

Whatever the tone, the teaching is not at all unclear, and for this we can be grateful.

A couple of years ago a former Speaker of the House, whose name need not be mentioned here at all, showed herself an amateur theologian lacking in even basic knowledge by claiming (on what she called Jesuitical authority) that the Church teaching on abortion was no older than the 1950s. The usually cautious American Bishops lost no time in issuing vigorous correction. And rightly so, of course, as quotes like these will show.

Here then are some of the quotes:

The Didache (“The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”) ca 110 AD. Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion. (2:2)…The Way of Death is filled with people who are…murderers of children and abortionists of God’s creatures. (5:1-2)

Letter of Barnabas, circa 125: You shall not kill either the fetus by abortion or the new born

Athenagoras the Athenian (To Marcus Aurelius), ca 150 AD: “We say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion…, [For we] regard the very fœtus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care… (# 35).

Clement of Alexandria: (circa 150 – 215 AD) Our whole life can go on in observation of the laws of nature, if we gain dominion over our desires from the beginning and if we do not kill, by various means of a perverse art, the human offspring, born according to the designs of divine providence; for these women who, if order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the child completely dead, abort at the same time their own human feelings. Paedagogus, 2

Tertullian circa 160-240 AD: For us, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter when you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one: you have the fruit already in the seed. Apology 9:6

Tertullian (circa 160 – 240 AD): …we are not permitted, since murder has been prohibited to us once and for all, even to destroy …the fetus in the womb. It makes no difference whether one destroys a life that has already been born or one that is in the process of birth. Apology (9:7-8)

Tertullian circa 160-240 AD: [John the Baptist and Jesus] were both alive while still in the womb. Elizabeth rejoiced as the infant leaped in her womb; Mary glorifies the Lord because Christ within inspired her. Each mother recognizes her child and is known by her child who is alive, being not merely souls but also spirits. De Aninta 26:4

Hippolytus (circa 170-236 AD): Whence certain women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility and to gird themselves round, so as to expel what was conceived on account of their not wanting to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time. From “Refutation of all Heresies” 9:7

Minucius Felix (180 – 225 AD): Some women take medicines to destroy the germ of future life in their own bodies. They commit infanticide before they have given birth to the infant (Octavious (30, 2))

St. Basil the Great (330 – 379 AD): The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed. In this case it is not only the being about to be born who is vindicated, but the woman in her attack upon herself; because in most cases women who make such attempts die. The destruction of the embryo is an additional crime, a second murder, at all events if we regard it as done with intent. The punishment, however, of these women should not be for life, but for the term of ten years. And let their treatment depend not on mere lapse of time, but on the character of their repentance. Letter 188:2

St. Ambrose: (339 to 397 AD) The poor expose their children, the rich kill the fruit of their own bodies in the womb, lest their property be divided up, and they destroy their own children in the womb with murderous poisons. and before life has been passed on, it is annihilated. Hexaemeron”, (5, 18, 58)

St. John Chrysostom (circa 340 – 407 AD): Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before the birth? For you do not even let the harlot remain a mere harlot, but make her a murderer also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather something even worse than murder. For I have no real name to give it, since it does not destroy the thing born but prevents its being born. Why then do you abuse the gift of God and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the place of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? Homily 24 on Romans

St. Jerome (circa 342-420 AD): I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the church, their mother….Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder. Letter 22:13

The Synod of Elvira, 306 AD: If a woman becomes pregnant by committing adultery, while her husband is absent, and after the act she destroys the child, it is proper to keep her from communion until death, because she has doubled her crime. Canon 63.

The Synod of Ancyra, 314 AD, Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees. (Canon 21).

Council of Trullo (692 AD): Those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the fœtus, are subjected to the penalty of murder. (Canon 91)

Ancient Testimonies against abortion. Please add to this list.