Bishop's Column

God Upholds the Rights of Unborn Victims. Will we do the Same?

In September, Christopher and Diana Schmidt decided to take their family home. The couple had been living in Washington, D.C., with their two small children. When Christopher landed a job in their native Sacramento, close to their family and friends, they began a cross-country drive.

The family traveled in two cars. On the morning of Sept. 9, five of them sat in traffic in western Nebraska: Christopher, Diana, their two sons – and their unborn child living in Diana’s womb. When a careening truck slammed into their cars, all five were instantly killed.

The truck’s driver, Josef Slezak, faces charges of manslaughter and vehicular homicide. But he also faces a lawsuit invoking a 2003 Nebraska statute, allowing an individual to be sued for the wrongful death of a pre-born child. This is the first time in Nebraska that the statute has been invoked in a civil case.

I do not presume to judge Mr. Slezak, or the merits of this case. I pray for Mr. Slezak. But justice demands accountability in cases where negligence results in the unjust loss of life. It should not matter whether the person killed was alive in the womb, or outside of it.

Nebraska’s wrongful death laws allow justice to serve the unborn. This case could set a precedent for the protection of unborn lives. It raises issues that deserve prayerful consideration – particularly as we begin this Advent season, when we anticipate Christ’s coming into the world through the womb of his Blessed Mother.

No state doubts that Christopher and Diana Schmidt had certain unalienable rights, which may have been violated in this fatal accident. No one doubts this regarding the two older children, either.

But the rights of their third child are not universally recognized – because that child, living in Diana Schmidt’s womb, was not yet born.

The unborn child’s life and death is not a matter of faith. It is a fact of science. Nebraska law recognizes basic biology when it acknowledges that the Schmidts’ third child died alongside the rest of his family in September.

It is tragic that many states refuse to recognize the basic biological reality of the unborn child. But the Schmidt case raises questions that our nation must face, sooner or later.

Do all human lives have meaning and worth, or only some? Should the law protect the dignity and rights of all human beings, or may the state classify some lives as disposable and worthless?

More fundamentally, where is the consistency in a legal system that penalizes the accidental killing of an unborn child through negligence, but permits the abortion industry to cause these deaths deliberately?

Our nation dreads such moral questions. But we must continue to raise them.

These issues are not simply matters of faith. Our reason compels us to establish the rights of the unborn, rooted in the same human dignity we share. Each of us was once alive in our mother’s womb.

Common sense makes these rights clear, but faith makes them all the more urgent. God has established the rights of the weak and defenseless, which we must uphold.

In the parable of the Last Judgment, Christ identifies himself with the helpless and marginalized, calling them "these least brothers of mine." Whatever we have done to them, we have done to Christ the King.

There is no doubt that God considers the unborn as the "least" of his brothers. When our Creator entered his creation to redeem it, he began his human life as an unborn child. In Advent we remember that God became tiny and defenseless, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Nebraskans have a long history of defending the unborn. The Schmidt case may set a precedent for the rights of the unborn across the country. Our task is to pray and to fast – to offer sacrifices for the protection of the unborn. And to proclaim at all times the great dignity God has given us - the human dignity he shares with us.

In his final judgment, at history’s end, God will uphold the rights of unborn children along with those of all his "least brothers." During Advent, as we contemplate God’s choice to become an unborn child, we face the question: Are we willing to uphold these rights, too?

Welcome Bishop James D. Conley by leaving a message in the guestbook. The link is on the home page.

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