This month sees a new president inaugurated and a new Congress in session. A new chapter in our much envied America experiment in democracy begins. How this particular chapter will be remembered in history depends much on the continued engagement of America’s citizenry in the great issues of our day – for in electing those who will lead us we do not abdicate our responsibilities as citizens and as Catholics to shape the public debate in ways the enhance respect for human life and advance the common good.
But as Cardinal George of Chicago said in his address to the assembled bishops of the United States in Baltimore this past November 10th: “The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice.” 30+ years after Roe v Wade, and well in our third century as a nation, legalized abortion is at the fault line of our culture and our politics. Given the fact that abortion concerns the most basic of all human rights, the right to life, no one should be surprised at the passion that surrounds this issue; nor should anyone discount the urgency of working towards reversing Roe v. Wade.
In the last Congress, a Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) was introduced that would further enshrine the bad law of Roe v. Wade in bad legislation more radical than the 1973 Supreme Court decision itself. In the early days of his campaign, Mr. Obama pledged to sign into law such legislation if passed by Congress, legislation that he supported. If FOCA – or a version of it – were to pass in this new congress and be signed into law by President Obama, the modest restraints and regulations (such as parental notification) on the abortion industry would be abolished. Laws banning partial birth abortions or assistance to infants born alive after a failed abortion would be overturned. Tax payers would be forced to subsidize abortions as restrictions on federal funding of abortions would be abrogated. The freedom of conscience of health care workers not to participate in abortions would be compromised.
At the heart of the debate over FOCA and other similar legislation is how we understand the truth of the human person. More than terrorism, the tendency to moral relativism in our culture is the greatest threat to authentic democracy today. Pope John Paul II said: “Detached from the truth about the human person, freedom deteriorates into license in the lives of individuals, and in political life it becomes the caprice of the most powerful and the arrogance of power.” (UN 1995)
No Catholic can avoid giving the necessary witness of faith to the intrinsic value of every human life, from conception to natural death, in the midst of a culture confused by false anthropologies and moral relativism. And one way we can do this is to make sure that our representatives in the Congress hear from us – and hear of our opposition to any FOCA type legislation. Stopping FOCA in Congress will not end the struggle to protect human life but it will be a significant and necessary victory towards that end.