Pilgrimage with our Blessed Mother for Life
Abortion, Human Rights, Animal Rights, and Human Dignity
I watched the April 12th Vision TV Current Affairs show “Test of Faith” attempt to open up the debate on abortion. I was somewhat surprised at first that none of the guests were very willing to take the animator up on the question. Is it that the pro-choice lobby has become so successful that there is now a generalized public impression that to even raise the question about the morality of abortion is automatically branded as a stance against women?
In that regard, I believe the same to be true about the debate around same-sex marriage. The gay lobby has also been quite successful in reshaping public opinion, so that any attempt at legitimate debate on the nature and value of marriage in human society as an institution always understood to be for a man and a woman is immediately branded as an attack against gay rights. In other words, I believe that what we are witnessing in our time and culture is the advent of inverse tolerance: we pride ourselves at being tolerant and go so far as to defend our tolerance by attacking and condemning anyone who disagrees with us, and we do it in not so subtle fashion by branding them as intolerant by simple virtue of the fact that they wish to disagree with the formerly and perhaps still minority view that is entrenching itself in the public forum as the self-appointed correct view.
To get back to the animator’s attempt to stir up some debate on abortion, there really wasn't much debate on abortion itself. What I remember hearing was mostly an affirmation of women's rights to make their own moral choices. That's a fairly safe position to adopt. Even those that are considered "conservative" Roman Catholic Christians hold to the primacy of the individual conscience. When people like Pope John Paul II make public declarations about abortion and other moral issues, they are simply trying to carry out their mandated responsibility to express the positions that emerge from what is called the natural law - the common denominator of truth that the average human being can perceive within them - whether or not they follow it. For example, the majority of German citizens from 1932 on knew in their conscience that what was happening to their Jewish neighbors was wrong, but for various reasons, they chose to ignore their conscience. The debate on abortion would have been more complete and there would have been more of a chance to reach for the whole truth if more had been said about the nature of abortion and how that relates to our nature as human beings.
The animator attempted to bring into the debate recent scientific research, but I sensed she was too polite - actually a scientist would have been in a better position to make those points. There is an inner logic that what is conceived by a man and woman in her is human from the very first instant of fertilization. No scientific research has been able to establish that there is any intervention whatever that takes place after fertilization that could demonstrate or prove a change in the nature of the living organism that just goes on multiplying and growing. All the visible changes that occur are all contained in the genetic coding of the very first fertilized cell, much as the roots, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers, seeds, and fruit are all contained in the seed of a fruit tree. An apple seed never produces anything other than an apple tree, and apples of the very same kind as the fruit from which the seed came.
If then, what is conceived is indeed fully human, but just so little that it cannot yet be conscious as we understand consciousness or speak for itself, then this raises two questions. First, at what point of development does that consciousness become human? Second, if what we are aborting is little human persons, what are the problems that emerge from this action?
The Nazis were not the first and they won't be the last to set limits on what can be granted the status of human being. The long-standing Christian view - though there are some who claim to be Christian but deny the basic tenets of their faith - is that the essence of human dignity is that we have this dignity by the very fact of our nature. As Genesis puts it, we have been created in the image and likeness of God. No one can have the temerity to claim for themselves the right to grant or deny that dignity. It is there from the first moment of independent and spontaneous self-sustaining growth, regardless of the flaws that may occur in that growth - in other words - from the first moment of fertilization.
This implies then that whenever we abort a human life - from as early as the contraceptive pill that disallows the fertilized cell cluster from adhering to the uterine wall to as late as final term abortions or even infant killings as was practiced by the Greeks of antiquity - we are murdering a human life. Of course, this is the very discourse that all who advocate pro-choice and the rights of women to do what they want or need to do with whatever is contained within the confines of their body at times stridently refuse to hear or allow to be spoken.
I really do sympathize with women - especially young women - who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy, and deeply pity the men - especially the young men - who avoid their opportunity to become men and shirk their responsibilities to the woman they have ravished and the life she has conceived. What we have is a mess, which in many ways is of our own making. I remember not so long ago as a child watching movies where the young adult children rebelled against their parents' restrictive moral directions and engaged in uncommitted sexual intercourse, sometimes getting away with it, and sometimes not. What became evil was no longer the irresponsible sex, but the parental attempts to impose limits on their children's behavior. Granted, the parenting may have often been faulty. You can forbid and punish a young child, but an adolescent and young adult needs to be trained and prepared to make personal and responsible decisions. If they are never allowed to decide and make mistakes, then they will deliberately go against their parents' directions simply to affirm their independence and strive to search for their innate human dignity, which they sense within them.
On the other hand, our culture has become so allergic to authority as to become blind to anything but our own desires, views, opinions, feelings, and inclinations. As a society, we have come to take a very adolescent stance in the face of life: we want to do what we want to do, but are in total denial of the facts of life - the laws of nature and the natural law of conscience - we want reality to be the way we want it, and when it isn't we resort to bending it out of shape so it can fit our distorted desires. It is a massive attempt to exert mind over matter. Because the life in the womb is defenseless, there is no longer anyone to oppose our distorted self-will. There used to be laws that were an attempt to enshrine in human law the dictates of the natural law and human conscience, but since so many are now in denial of both, it no longer made sense to keep the law on the books. In a way, human justice is a reflection of the common conscience of the people. As it was in Nazi Germany, so it can be again anywhere, anytime.
As a practitioner in the development of human consciences - through my ministry of guidance and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where the faithful of all ages come to confess the sins of which they have become aware - it has been my experience that there truly is a natural law that is discernible by the individual human heart and conscience. It is there even in the absence of parental restraints. It is there even in the almost complete absence of restrains in our open, western culture. Anytime people go against their conscience, they begin to live a life of inner torment, without inner peace. Whenever they go along with their conscience, such as it is and often in error or not fully informed, but against the natural law, it's only a question of time before the consequences of their choices cause sufficient upheaval within them to bring to awareness at least the basic notion that all is not well within them.
At times like that, without telling them what I think is wrong with them, a little guided tour through the landscape of their living situation and conditions, of their choices and preferences, of their opinions and views, and of how all of that compares with what is to be found in the Christian and Jewish Scriptures, usually begins to bring sufficient light within their conscience that the penny begins to drop and they can draw their own conclusions about where they have gone wrong. No one needs to tell them.
The problem, I think, with the sterility of the current debate is that there is a whole view - the one anyone disagrees with - that is being demonized (on both sides) with the result that there really isn't a true debate. Only partial truths are being admitted to the debate. Only partial conclusions can be reached. When all is said and done, there may be the temporary comfort of having our own way, but this is not what acknowledges our human dignity in all of its stature, nor is it what respects the individual person in all their potential for living a fully human existence. We are settling for something less that fully human, and we are condemning whole generations by attempting to lock them into partial truths. At some point, it can only blow up in our faces, and when the younger generations some day awaken to all of the truth involved here, we can expect them to have considerable contempt for how we will have disrespected their freedom of conscience.
I found it most interesting that the topic lined up for the following week - this past Monday - was the debate on animal rights. Isn't it ironic that on the same planet at the same time we can find views that will on the one hand deny the humanity, dignity, and rights of the unborn human lives unwanted for whatever reasons, and on the other hand come to the defense of the rights of animals to be treated humanely? I must admit that the contrast leaves me almost speechless. Silence in the face of such a contradiction is in some ways the better response. As they say in poker, "Read 'em and weep!"
Still, I would like to make one point here. Through all of human history, it has been generally considered part of a woman and all women's dignity that they have the capacity and determination to generously conceive, nurture, deliver, and rear human beings, with the support of their man. No matter the circumstances, it saddens me to observe the harm that a woman does to her own nature when the confines of her body - designed to be a place of nurture, safety, and tender care - becomes a place of deliberately dealt out death. We all know how tragic and painful miscarriages are, and how devastated many women feel afterwards - even though it was not at all their fault - we can only begin to imagine the dire consequences for the female psyche when the life they carry is deliberately terminated.
the case of rape, though that act was so terribly wrong and such a violation,
an additional wrong and violence can't make it right, but only further violates
the dignity of her womb, her body, her sense of herself, her conscience.
I can only weep. And I am outraged at attempts - without anger at those
who do so with the best of intentions - to declare abortion OK, or without
serious consequences, or less wrong, or whatever. Killing is
killing. It just isn't self-defense as in
war, when the one to be killed is an aggressor who fully and deliberately
intends to take lives.
In addition, it has also been generally considered part of a man and all men’s dignity that they have the capacity and determination to care for their woman or wife and for the human life she conceives, nurtures, delivers, and rears, and to defend them from all external dangers. It saddens me to observe the disintegration of the male psyche into something base and less than human that seeks only its own comfort and ease. I am equally outraged at attempts by men but also by parents to leave the burden of unwanted pregnancies on the shoulders and consciences of the women – it is unfair that the man be allowed to escape what the unfortunate woman cannot – since she cannot escape her own body or feminine nature. Our notion of the male nature is so damaged that there is little or no sense of failure when the man just abandons the woman and goes back to his own narcissistic agenda and his parents are content to let the woman’s family bear the whole burden.
In conclusion, I must thank the animator for at least attempting to spark the debates. If I may make a suggestion, it would be that animators research and find other speakers who can better represent the other facets of any given issue, so that there may be more likelihood of at least touching on the full spectrum of facets to the usually multifaceted truths of our human existence.
Fr. Gilles A. Surprenant, pastor – St. Thomas à Becket Parish – Montreal QC – April 2004
© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC
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