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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Sep 10, 2009)
The following is part 13 of a 14-part series to help inspire parish cenacle and study groups who are looking for ways to make a difference in this troubled world. We invite you to view the entire series.

Anyone who has read the gospels in the New Testament will be well aware that Jesus of Nazareth had a special concern for the plight of the poor and the sick and for the most innocent and helpless human beings. It is the foundation of one of His teachings that we have quoted so often in this series: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40). It is the reason why He healed the leper by the roadside, and the man born blind, and the reason He raised up from death the daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Nain. It is the reason why He told his disciples to let the children come to Him for a blessing, "for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:14).

Above all, He pointed to His miracles of compassion for the innocent and helpless as the sign that the Kingdom of God was dawning on the world through His ministry:

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and He went to the synagogue, as His custom was, on the Sabbath day. And He stood up to read; and there was given to Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

And He closed the book and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Lk 4:16-21)

And when the [messengers from John the Baptist] had come to [Jesus], they said "John the Baptist sent us to You saying, 'are you He who is to come, or shall we look for another?'" In that hour He cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind He bestowed sight. And He answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at Me." (Lk 7:20-23)

There cannot be a more innocent and helpless form of human life then an unborn child in the first home of the human race: a mother's womb. That human life truly begins at conception is no longer a matter of opinion, but an incontrovertible scientific fact. From the moment of conception the fetus is clearly a unique, individual human life. He or she is "unique" because the unborn child is distinct from its mother, father, and all other living things; she has her own unique and complete genetic fingerprint. She is an "individual" because even from the moment of conception, she carries out spontaneous actions independent of her mother (e.g., the self-organization of her cells, and sending out chemical signals to her mother's body so that the latter will prepare the uterine wall for implantation; she can even have a different blood-type than her mother). She is "human" because she has a distinctly human genotype (meaning that she cannot naturally develop into a being of any other species). And she is clearly "alive." A unique, individual human life —that is surely what we mean by "a human being." If she is not a human being, what kind of "being" is she?

National Campus Life Network put it this way in one of its pamphlets:

In other words, from conception, she has everything necessary to proceed through the full series of human developmental stages, changing only in her appearance, not in her inherent human nature. Like you and I, all she needs is proper nutrition and a proper environment.

And that development proceeds rapidly. Evidence from pre-natal research now shows that from only seven weeks after conception the unborn child already has a heartbeat and brainwaves and can feel pleasure and pain. The child even looks like a human being. In this child, all the genetic potentials given to her right from the beginning are unfolding in their natural sequence.

Of course, Catholic and Protestant Christians did not have to wait for all the scientific evidence to come in before having good grounds for their traditional belief that an unborn child is a human being, an "I" and a "me." It is implicitly taught in the Bible. Psalm 139 shows that personal pronouns are appropriate to apply to us even from before we were born, when we were being fashioned in our mother's womb:

For Thou didst form my inward parts,
thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise thee for thou art fearful and wonderful.
wonderful are thy works!
Thou knowest me right well;
my frame was not hidden from thee,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance;
In thy book were written, every one of them,
The days were formed for me,
When as yet there was none of them. (Ps 139: 13-16, cf. Jer 1:5)

Indeed, the New Testament uses the word brephos (child) whenever it speaks of both Jesus and John the Baptist before their birth (Lk 1:41, 2:5). According to the Bible, therefore, the unborn is not just a lump of "fetal tissue," but a "child." That is why the deliberate killing of unborn children has been universally opposed from the earliest days of the Church, by unanimous consent of the Fathers and the saints. Even when the ancient Christian thinkers disagreed among themselves about the moment when the unborn child receives its spiritual soul from the Creator, they still held that abortion is a direct violation of the Creator's manifest intention to bring a new human being into the world.

The debate over abortion has taken an insidious turn recently. Some "pro-choice" advocates now admit that the fetus is fully "human," but, they claim, it is still not a "person." Again, National Campus Life network has addressed this fallacy quite well:

Why should anyone accept the idea that there is such a thing as a human being who is not a person? Throughout history, every time such a distinction has been made nothing but the most tragic crimes against humanity have resulted... against African Americans, Natives, women, and Jews, to name a few. Have we not learned our lesson?

There are only four differences between unborn human beings and born human beings, none of which are morally relevant reasons for denying them full personhood and protection:

Size — yes the unborn is smaller than the new born. But since when has size had any bearing on our right to life? [Do tall people have a greater right to life than shorter people?].

Level of Development — yes, and a newborn is less developed than a toddler too. But we don't consider the newborn less human as a result. These ideas come from defining people based on what they can do right now instead of what they are — human beings.

Environment — clearly, where one is has no bearing on what one is. How does a simple journey of seven inches down the birth canal change the essential nature of the unborn from a non-person into a person?

Degree of Dependency — if dependency defines personhood then everyone relying on kidney machines or insulin for their life would have to be declared a non-person or less of a person [no wonder many groups that lobby for the rights of the handicapped have joined the Pro-Life cause in recent decades, for they see "the handwriting on the wall" if the idea that relatively-dependent-people-have-fewer-rights-than-other-people ever takes hold in our society]. Our degree of dependence does not determine our personhood.

Given all the evidence from scientific and moral reason and divine revelation how do you think the merciful Heart of Jesus feels about countries where unborn children can legally be put to death in their mother's womb? He sees it for what it truly is: "forcible eviction" from the first home of the human race, the deliberate killing of "the least of these my brethren," an irrevocable act of violence against the most innocent and helpless human beings of all.

No authentic Christian, therefore, Catholic or Protestant, can support the idea that procuring an abortion is simply a matter of each woman's right to choose what she does with her own body, or that it's a private decision between a woman, her doctor, and her own conscience. For there is another human being whose fate is involved in such decisions: the unborn child. It is not "intolerant" of women's rights for Christians to seek to protect the inalienable rights, and to meet the legitimate needs, of both the mother and the child involved, rather than just the mother alone.

A truly "pro-life" Christian, in fact, is one who is concerned about both of the lives involved in situations of difficult or unwanted pregnancies. Both the unborn child and the mother are children of God. Both have rights to be protected and legitimate needs to be met. Society does women no favors, for example, by facilitating their choice to have an abortion, when medical associations have fully recognized that the emotional trauma of "post abortion syndrome" afflicts more than 80 percent of women who terminate their pregnancies. In many cases it can result in a lifelong struggle with depression.

At the same time, society does not "solve" the problem of abortion solely by passing legal restrictions on it. After all, some women seek to have abortions not because of a willful and self-centered assertion of their "right to choose," but simply because they feel they have almost no real choice at all. Statistics show that approximately 25 percent of women who have abortions do so for reasons of severe economic hardship, and many more do so because they feel they do not have support from the father involved, or from their family members, their friends, or even their doctor (indeed, many of these people may put pressure on the mother to kill her unborn child to "resolve" the situation!). To bring a child to term and raise a child under such adverse personal circumstances is a terrifying prospect. It may not be fully excusable, but it is also not at all surprising that some women in such difficult situations look to abortion as the only realistic "choice" they feel they have in the circumstances. If abortion is illegal in their area, some will even turn in desperation to back-street abortion providers.

For this reason, the Vatican has repeatedly called for the kind of pro-life society that seeks social support for the rights and needs of both the unborn child and of mothers in trouble. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated in its position paper on abortion back in 1974:

It is the task of law to pursue a reform of society and of conditions of life in all milieu, starting with the most deprived, so that always and everywhere it may be possible to give every child coming into this world a welcome worthy of a person. Help for families and for unmarried mothers, assured grants for children, a statute for illegitimate children and reasonable arrangements for adoption — a whole positive policy must be put into force so that there will always be a concrete, honorable, and possible alternative to abortion.

One of the best ways to help mothers in trouble — and their unborn children — is to get involved by supporting those groups that provide counseling, shelter, medical, and social support for mothers in difficult circumstances. These groups, and the centers they operate in your local area, usually can be located by contacting your local diocesan office. For example, in Oakland, Calif., The Divine Mercy Eucharistic Society operates a residential care facility for women in crisis pregnancy (especially for those who are single and homeless) who choose "life" for their unborn children. The center, Mary's House of Mercy, is dedicated to providing an alternative to abortion. It also provides long-term care and support for mothers in a family-living atmosphere. Mary's House seeks to assist with all their basic needs for food and shelter, emotional and educational growth, occupational development, and the spiritual support of the Catholic Faith and spiritual tradition. In other words, this pro-life apostolate brings benefits to every life involved in a crisis pregnancy situation: the new baby in the womb, the resident mother, and society as a whole.

Groups such as Mary's House always have need of practical and financial assistance to carry on their work. Here is a concrete way anyone of us can get involved and really make a difference to some of the most helpless members of society.

At the same time, as Catholics we must not shirk from our moral duty to support with our voice and our vote the end of the legal facilitation of the killing of unborn children. Changing the law really does make a difference. It makes abortion far less accessible, deters many from seeking abortions, and helps change hearts and minds since, up to a point, as the saying goes, "the law is a teacher of morality."

Indeed, it is a sad fact that American public opinion did not turn in favor of so-called "abortion rights" until after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized most abortions in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. It is therefore not surprising that countries that have restrictive abortion laws regularly report dramatically lower abortion rates than countries with few legal restrictions on abortion. Making most abortions illegal will not solve the entire problem, but it will certainly help.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has therefore strongly insisted that the pro-life issue must be at the very top of our priorities as Catholics when we enter the voting booth. In a recent document entitled "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" (2007), the bishops made it clear that not all issues facing Americans are of equal value: "In making decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that all issues do not carry the same weight" (section 37). They specifically emphasized "the special claim on our consciences and actions ... [of] the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts." These acts often involve life-destroying violations of the dignity of the human person. They wrote:

As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient grounds for a voter's support. Yet a candidate's position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil such as support for legal abortion or racism may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support (section 42).

Indeed, the Right-to-Life is not a single issue: it is the foundational issue of a just society, for unless that right for all people is respected, fostered, and enshrined into law, all our other human rights remain insecure. Simply put: Dead people cannot enjoy or exercise any other rights, and if our life is not treated as of value by our social institutions solely because of our inherent human dignity then "the door is wide open" to the use and abuse of human life for whatever purposes the socially powerful may decide to pursue next.

What Catholics must not do is try to avoid the legal and political issue by saying: "Of course, as a Catholic I am personally opposed to abortion, but I do not want to impose my own faith and my own personal morality on anyone else. Therefore, I must support a woman's right to choose an abortion." Let us be clear what this misguided logic implies. What such a person is really saying is this: "Even though I know very well that a fetus is an unborn child with inherent human dignity and worth, and an inalienable right to life, still, I am not going to permit the law to protect that innocent human life." In other words, you are not going to let your government fulfill the first and most basic purpose of any government (according to the Catholic Church, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and rational common sense): namely, to protect the right to life of innocent human beings.

Moreover, such a misguided individual forgets that every law on the books of every government involves the recognition and imposition of agreed moral standards: for example, laws against murder, child pornography, bigamy, and drug-pushing. In every case, a majority of the public has come to view such behavior as morally wrong and destructive of human rights and the common good. Such behavior has been outlawed, and sanctions against it have been enshrined into law. Just put the logic of this misguided individual to work in any other context and the absurdity of it will quickly become evident: "Of course, as a Catholic I am personally opposed to child abuse, but I do not want to impose my own faith and my own morality on anyone else."

The goal of the pro-life movement is not to throw abortion mothers into prison, many of whom are struggling with difficult circumstances or are under extraordinary social pressure to have an abortion. Rather, the goal is to criminalize the doctors who engage in, and often profit from, the child-death trade. The goal of the pro-life movement is also not (as some claim) "to punish mothers with an unwanted child," but to use our society's financial resources to support other options than taking the life of that child. It has been said that adoption is the choice that everyone can live with. At this time of writing more than a million abortions are being performed every year in the United States on children unwanted by their natural parents, while at the same time there are long waiting lists of parents hoping to adopt, wanting an adopted child to love as their own! And many more parents would be eager to adopt children in need of a home if there were adequate financial and social supports in place to help them do so. Clearly, we need not only pro-life laws in place, but a whole new life-supporting culture.

This is the most urgent human rights issue and the greatest social challenge facing the western world today. It is a silent and often hidden "slaughter of the innocents" going on right in the midst of the most free and prosperous societies the world has ever known. Our Merciful Savior, Jesus Christ, has called out to us again and again through His Body on earth, the Catholic Church, to come to the aid of unborn children and their mothers in crisis.

Will we heed His call?

An Exhortation of Pope John Paul II (from "Evangelium Vitae," IV. 99)
I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you His forgiveness and His peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost, and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.

A Divine Mercy Chaplet for Life
(From "Priests for Life, Canada")

Make the Sign of the Cross

Then on Ordinary Rosary beads:
The Our Father, The Hail Mary, and The Apostle's Creed

Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

Decade #1 Intercession:
For all unborn children:
That our love for them may keep them safe
Until the joyous day of their birth;
We pray to the Lord

On the 10 small beads of the first decade:
For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Eternal Father ... etc.

Decade # 2 Intercession:
For all mothers,
Particularly those who are with child,
That they may be supported by loved ones and warm friends,
And that they may be understood and blessed;
We pray to the Lord

For the sake of His sorrowful passion ... etc.

Eternal Father ... etc.

Decade # 3 Intercession:
For all unborn children,
And especially for the babies of unmarried mothers,
That God might send an angel to protect them;
We pray to the Lord

For the sake of His sorrowful passion ... etc.

Eternal Father ... etc.

Decade #4 Intercession:
For every little child
And especially for those who live in their mother's womb,
That they might grow in the image and likeness
Of the God who made them;
We pray to the Lord

For the sake of His sorrowful passion ... etc.

Eternal Father ... etc.

Decade #5 Intercession:
For those who long for the equality of all persons:
That their dedication to the unborn,
The old, the condemned and the forgotten
May grow every day;
We pray to the Lord

For the sake of His sorrowful passion ... etc.

Holy God, Holy Might One, Holy Immortal One,
Have mercy on us, and on the whole world. (three times).

Closing prayer (of St. Faustina):
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless, and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us, and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. Amen.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. He wishes to extend special thanks to Kathleen Ervin and the Divine Mercy Eucharistic Society of Oakland, Calif., for help in producing this series. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press).

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Jean Marshall - Feb 18, 2022

How are we helping the young woman and the child? I want to help with diapers and formula which I know are too much for a single mother. What are we doing about that? Will we do as St. James says and say: keep warm and be well and do nothing?

EFI, Vandergrift, PA - Sep 10, 2009

What more can anyone say? This article sums it all up beautifully and completely!

PRETEND for 1 minute that you and your friends are standing at the very edge of the Universe, looking back on tiny, tiny Earth and all of our joys and problems. Can you honestly not see that we and all of our brothers and sisters--including the unborn--are part of something much bigger, something w-a-a-a-a-y beyond our limited human comprehension?

The only logical utterance at this point is to pray, "Jesus, I TRUST in you." To think in any other way is to fall off the edge of the Universe like a lost astronaut. "Houston, we have a problem!"

we do indeed have a problem. Pray real hard for God to send a space shuttle to your rescue. Really, folks, this is not fantasy but simply looking at the "Big Picture."

Maria - Feb 25, 2009

Excellent article - would try to get printouts for distribution.

Wish there was more emphasis on the destructive and sometimes delayed and longterm effects of abortion on the parents too , since it is an act of total denial of trust in God as the author of life and blessings and thus cutting off their own lifeline too to the One source ; the guilt and shame , the sense of worthlessness of their own lives that lead to many physical illnesses - heart attacks, eating disorders, breast cancers etc : all now documented effects from this truama as well as difficulty in relationships !

Many thus end up themselves as the most in need - esp. as the victims of the powers of darkness that they had invited in !

The chaplet may be can have an extra decade for all the above too - for the triumph of mercy and the light of the Holy Spirit in these lives too.

May this lenten season , as we prepare to celebrate our victory in the battle against the evil one be a blessed one for all.