Why We March: For the Life and Dignity of the Human Person
By Bishop Robert W. Finn
Kansas City-St. Joseph
I am writing this January 20, 2009, as I prepare to leave for Washington DC and then Rome. I will be joining a group from the Diocese - and what is expected to be hundreds of thousands more in Washington D.C. - for the annual March for Life in observance of the January 22, 1973, Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. This decision, together with Doe v. Bolton, permits abortion on demand through nine months of pregnancy. There are, on average between 3500 and 4000 reported surgical abortions every day in the United States.
This year the March for Life comes on the heels of the Presidential Inauguration, and I recall clearly from past years that the January 22 anniversary sometimes becomes the moment for a new president - in accord with his ideological orientation - to sign executive orders, often pertaining to the promotion or restriction of abortion. At the time of this writing, I do not know whether or not President Obama will follow the direction he announced in his campaign to remove limits on abortions. I pray he will not.
As some of you may know I currently chair a Task Force of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called "Task Force for the Life and Dignity of the Human Person." It was established by the Bishops to concentrate on this topic, one of five priorities of the Conference. It has been a learning experience for me as I meet with representatives of many different bishops' committees. The crux of our discussions and plans is to establish a greater continuity within all aspects of the bishops' work so that we see the fundamental, innate, unchanging dignity of the human person as the unifying truth which underlies our efforts to protect and enhance the good of every human being at all moments of life.
As you may guess the Task Force has representatives from the bishops' Pro-life Secretariat, and also reps from the two Social Doctrine committees: International Justice and Peace and Domestic Justice and Human Development. The current crisis in Israel and the Gaza Strip is politically complex, but it must be seen ultimately from the perspective of the protection and the welfare of human persons, all of whom wish to have life and to maintain the integrity of their homes, secure the safety of their families, and meaningfully support themselves.
Our Task Force also has bishops representing the Committee on Migration. How important it is, when we are strategizing about national sovereignty and the movement of people globally, that we don't fail to profess the innate dignity of every person as an unchanging principle, no matter how different from ourselves we may be inclined to regard them.
The Bishops' Office of Child Protection has a voice on our Task Force because victims of abuse are persons whose integrity has been attacked and wounded. Unless we see and acknowledge their inviolable dignity and value as persons we cannot hope to comprehend the seriousness of the sin of abuse.
One of the errors that perpetuates the sin of abortion is that the personhood of the unborn child - from its earliest moment of human life - is not regarded as having the same value as your life or mine. People who have some inclination to protect unborn human life will often set an exception, for example, for the circumstance of rape. But isn't the child growing in his or her mother - even when the child has been conceived through rape - nonetheless fully human? Does she or he still have a right to live, to not be killed?
If you and I can begin to help others see, more and more, that our life is a gift of God, the author of life, then our determination to protect this life will be extended: to the womb, and in all the moments of his or her life. We will be more determined to rank this life above the geopolitics of war, to realize how it is threatened by poverty. We must learn to see peoples' beauty in the diversity of language and color, and make sure that they are never abandoned or abused.
The unchanging life and dignity of the human person is the core belief the Task Force is charged to make better known. It is for this principle - and all its repercussions - that I and many others will march peacefully and prayerfully this week.