Bishop's Column

The spiritual chill and the culture of death

By Bishop James Conley 

This past week we experienced, along with millions throughout the country, the bitter cold as the polar vortex event swept across the United States. Wind chill temperatures as low as -64°F were recorded.

Over the past few weeks there has also been a spiritual chill sweeping across our country, which is much more enduring, evidence of an ever more encroaching culture of death.

On January 22, the 46th Anniversary of Roe. v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that declared a woman had a legal right to have an abortion in the United States, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York signed into law “The Reproductive Health Act.”

This new law permits all abortions through 24 weeks of pregnancy in the State of New York. However, after 24 weeks, abortion is legal given a “practitioner’s good-faith professional judgment,” “an absence of fetal viability,” or “to protect the patient’s life or health.” Nowhere does the legislation define what protecting the life of the mother entails, and so effectively it allows for abortion to be possible at any point in a pregnancy. Moreover, in video posted on the internet, proponents of the bill erupted in applause after the New York State passage of this bill. This is chilling.

Similarly, a bill was introduced in the Commonwealth of Virginia to loosen restrictions on abortions performed in the third trimester of pregnancy. At this time, three doctors must determine that a woman’s health would be “substantially and irremediably impaired” for her to have an abortion in the final three months of pregnancy.

The new legislation in Virginia drops the language of “substantially and irremediably impaired,” and allows for only the doctor performing the abortion to certify that the pregnancy would “impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” This bill would have allowed for a woman to have an abortion while in labor. Thanks be to God, the bill did not pass.

Our Catholic faith certainly and clearly teaches that the taking of innocent life, from conception until natural death is objectively and intrinsically evil, that is, it may never be done, no matter the motive or circumstances.

This past weekend, we heard the words spoken to the prophet Jeremiah by the Lord himself, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” (Jer 1:5). We are made in the image and likeness of God; God himself came to earth and became like us in all things but sin. We have been given such a high level of dignity—dignity that the culture of death is trying to tear away.

While our faith moves us to protect innocent human life, abortion is not merely a religious matter; it is a civil rights matter.

Oftentimes the subject of abortion is clouded by euphemisms. Abortion rights proponents call themselves “pro-choice” of say they support “reproductive rights,” or “a woman’s right to choose.” These terms are meant to distract and deflect from the heart of the matter: the fact that the child in the womb is a real human life, and, thus, a member of the human family.

In the past, claims were made that “we don’t know when life begins” or that the unborn child is really just “a blob of tissue.” But, scientific data tells us otherwise. At the moment of conception, the unborn have a determined sex and human DNA—a genetic makeup distinct from their mothers, and, in fact, different from anyone who has ever existed.

It is important that we can articulate the reasons that abortion is evil. The Lord gave us a mind where we can know the truth, and the ability to speak the truth boldly. But, he also gave us hearts to love, as he has loved us.

While these past two weeks have been very troubling for the promotion of the dignity of human life, there are also many signs of hope.

Five buses of high school students and chaperones from the Diocese of Lincoln traveled to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. College students from the Newman Center joined them. Thousands walked in support of life at the Nebraska Walk for Life in Lincoln Jan. 26.

Whenever I travel to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life, attend the Walk for Life in Lincoln, or pray outside the Planned Parenthood abortion facility, I marvel about how young the pro-life movement is. And the young people who are a part of it bring to it so much energy, joy and love.

In the State of Nebraska, we are blessed with many courageous pro-life politicians who have a heart for the unborn. We have a unique opportunity to build the culture of life through the law. This legislative session, Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston introduced a life-saving piece of legislation (LB209) which provides mothers a second chance at choosing life. It does so by ensuring that mothers receive information about the possibility of reversing their “medication” abortion.

“Medication” abortions—a two-pill abortion process—have increasingly become the most popular form of abortion in Nebraska, accounting for 55% of all abortions. But advances by pro-life doctors have helped to reverse the effects of this form of abortion through high-dose progesterone treatments. Nearly 600 babies’ lives have been saved since 2012.

As the legislative session advances, pro-lifers across Nebraska will have the opportunity to prove to the nation that we need not follow in the footsteps of the State of New York. Rather than ominously celebrating the culture of death, we can embrace a culture of life that affirms the beauty of motherhood and protects innocent human life.

We speak out for the unborn because they cannot defend themselves. They can’t march on Washington or visit a state legislature, demanding their rights. They can’t hire lobbyists to make their case. They need you and me.

We don’t speak out for the unborn because we want the pleasure of winning an argument. We pray for those who advocate for abortion or perform them. We pray for those who have had abortions in the past or who have been affected by abortion.

Abortion leaves a child dead, and a mother wounded. Many have been affected by abortion in a variety of different ways. And they must always know that there is mercy, peace and love in Our Lord.

All of us are recipients of the undeserved mercy of God. We are saved by his mercy. And while we are unwavering in our protection of human life from conception until natural death, we are also unwavering in our promotion of God’s mercy.

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