26 January 2010

'Concessions on abortion are no cause for rejoicing' - Bishop Robert Vasa

When I was young and still living in Ireland many were advocating a change in the law that labelled children born outside of marriage as 'illegitimate'. Some coined the slogan 'There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents'. The law was eventually changed.

Those advocating the change rightly pointed out that children should not be punished or stigmatized because of the sins or their parents. Nobody would advocate going back to the old days on this particular issue.

But at a more basic level many do want to regress to the past in a more radical way. They want to prevent 'unwanted' children from being born. Even in the old days nobody advocated that 'illegitimate' children should be killed. Not only are many advocating that 'unwanted' children should not be born, but they are advocating that the mother has the 'right' to have her pre-born child killed.

Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, USA, faces this in his weekly column in Catholic Sentinel, the Catholic weekly in the state of Oregon, dated 21 January. He writes in the context of the ongoing debate in the USA about the Health Care Reform Bill. Here is Bishop Vasa's article. I have highlighted some parts of it and made some [comments].

Concessions on abortion are no cause for rejoicing

By Bishop Robert Vasa

BEND — There has been a bit of jubilation over the claim that the Health Care Reform Bill would not use federal dollars to pay for abortion except in those very rare cases of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when the life of the mother is in danger. Whether abortion funding will be limited to these remains to be seen. While including restrictions on federal funding for abortion except in these cases sounds very much like a Pro-Life victory it is important for us to recognize that it is not a victory at all. In truth, these exceptions are concessions which deserve no rejoicing at all. I am a realist and I recognize that the concession of these more difficult situations may be deemed necessary in order to gain a law which protects at least some of the pre-born community but such a concession is no cause for rejoicing.

Consider the cases of the following women. Woman A is with child, she is married but she and her husband find the timing for the child to be inconvenient. Woman B is with child, she is not married and she and her boyfriend never intended the child. Woman C is with child and the child’s father is also the child’s grandfather. Woman D is with child and the child’s father is her rapist. Woman E is with child and she is very ill with a pregnancy-related illness. Woman F is with child and her husband has unexpectedly become critically ill.

Which of these children can we sacrifice on the altar of political expediency?

It is common and expected to focus on the plight and anxiety of the women in these cases and the situations are undeniably heart-rending. The key question, however, is: “How are these children different from one another?” All of these children, without exception and in all that essentially matters, are identical. Each of these children is a human being. Each of these children is vulnerable. Each of these children is entirely dependent. Each of these children is completely innocent. Each of these children is beloved of God. Each of these children, without exception, possesses a human dignity. Each of these children has a God-given right to live. Each of these children has a soul. Each of these children is an entirely unique and irreplaceable member of the human family. The external circumstances under which these children were conceived certainly vary but those circumstances do not, in any way, touch the dignity or worth of the child. No one of these children should be viewed or treated any differently from any other of them. There is no justifiable reason to view the children conceived by rape or incest as somehow less worthy of protection than any other child. The Church, with its preferential option for the poor, cannot ever give even the slightest appearance of having abandoned or neglected these poorest of the poor.

The late Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-Hwan of Korea with a young friend. The cardinal's paternal grandparents were sentenced to death during a persecution in Korea. His grandfather was killed but the persecutors spared his grandmother because she was pregnant. The child in her womb was the Cardinal's father.

It may be politically expedient and even necessary to recognize that we may not be able to exclude rape, incest or the life of the mother from an insurance plan but we must never concede these or broker a deal with the children in these situations as the pawns. I am not suggesting that we adopt an all or nothing modality, only that we never rejoice over sacrificing one to save more. It is especially important that we never glibly dismiss the children with less than desirable beginnings or still worse, rejoice that we had to sacrifice only these unfortunates in order to save others. The politically expedient decision to carve out these exceptions belies the foundation of our Pro-Life stand. We are not Pro-Life because the circumstances surrounding a child’s conception are voluntary or societally acceptable. We are Pro-Life because every child has a right to life and the circumstances of his or her conception are irrelevant. [When people worked to get rid of the category of 'illegitimate children' they did not make any exceptions, recognising the dignity of each child.]

I want to repeat that: In terms of a child’s right to life, the circumstances of his or her conception are irrelevant!

This in no way implies that the woman’s distress or confusion are irrelevant in themselves. They are only irrelevant in that they in no way affect the humanity of the child.

There is also a danger in seeming to accept the exceptions. When these exceptions are incorporated into law, seemingly with ecclesial approval, then the impression is given that a woman’s individual circumstances determine whether abortion is morally justifiable or not. Each woman is then, in effect, given permission to determine if her circumstances are difficult enough to justify an abortion because abortion then is focused on the woman’s circumstances rather than on the individuality and personal right to life of her child. The circumstances of rape, incest and life of the mother are certainly factors which tend to cloud the ability to see and recognize the child as a unique “other” but these circumstances change nothing about that unique otherness of the child.

There is an ongoing educational initiative known as “No child left behind.” This same commitment certainly under girds the thoughts and efforts of all in the Pro-Life Community. Abortion is a tremendous source of and cause for extreme grief in our country. Recent efforts to improve the nature of health care in the United States shows a certain degree of appropriate concern for the underserved, the uninsured and those with compromised health. The pre-born children in every one of the examples I cited above need and deserve good pre-natal care. It is unconscionable that some of them are deemed worthy of health care while others of them, due solely to a circumstance entirely beyond their control, should be marked for death. Insult is added to injury when we consider that these left behind children are not only marked for death but marked for death at government, translated our, expense. [In what way is the policy of using state money to kill children different from that of the Third Reich where the taxes of the German people were used to exterminate Jews and other 'undesirable'? One difference is that the scale of killing is far worse in the USA and in some other countries that it was under Hitler. Close to 50,000,000 pre-born Americans have been legally killed since Roe v Wade in 1973, many of them during the process of birth.]

Anyone who rejoices that a health care bill may be achieved and that its achievement may only cost the lives of the pre-born children conceived in rape or incest fails to properly value human life. I hope that some good can come from this massive health care reform work but I have great reservations for a number of reasons the major of which is that, at its very foundation, the effort fails to take full account of human worth and dignity. It was intended to cover every abortion as a right and Pro-Life efforts got that reduced but the lack of reverence for life has not changed. Any law which excludes, intentionally leaves behind or, God forbid, pays for the killing of any child, is not a cause for rejoicing.


Crux Fidelis said...

Well said, Father. All human life is sacred.

However, I remember the term 'illegitimus' (or 'illegitima') being entered in baptismal registers against the names of those born out of wedlock. I also remember that Canon Law stated that a man born out of wedlock may be ordained to the priesthood but not to the episcopate. This was as recently as 25 years ago. Is it still the case?

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you, Crux Fidelis. I know that a man born out of wedlock may be ordained to the priesthood. I have two friends who were adopted and are now priests. I'm not sure about the canon law with regard to the episcopate but if there is such a bar it could be lifted.

Isn't it extraordinary that the persecutors of the Church in Korea who executed the paternal grandfather of Cardinal Kim spared his grandmother because she was pregnant!

Bishop Vasa is such a clear thinker and a man who writes in the context of his many pastoral journeys within his failry extensive diocese.