By BISHOP EDWARD J. BURNS
FOR THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
As we observe once again the tragic anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout our country, it is important to reaffirm our commitment to the sacredness of human life and to protect the lives of every person from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.
For all of us, the nine months we spent in our mother’s womb was an intimate and safe time as we developed and grew. Unfortunately, since 1973, the place once thought to be the safest for a baby has become in some cases a place of danger and death. The home of every child, whether they are born or unborn, should be a safe place.
From my perspective, abortion is a worse kind of domestic violence.
When the Roe v. Wade decision became the law of the land in January 1973, it swept away every legal protection for children before birth. The Supreme Court justices ruled, in the name of personal privacy and individual autonomy, that the decision to take the life of an unborn child before the time he/she could survive outside the womb was strictly a matter between a pregnant woman and her physician.
Personal autonomy and privacy are important rights to be respected in other matters, but the right to life is and must be paramount. In the long struggle over slavery, the right to liberty and freedom was ultimately determined to supersede the right to property. In the case of abortion, the right to life supersedes the right to liberty. This is not to say that the rights to liberty and property are wrong, but in the case of slavery and of abortion, human dignity and the sacredness of life must be the foundation of society and the basis of society’s laws.
If we look back to 1857 and the Dred Scott decision, it is difficult to imagine a Supreme Court that ruled that enslaved black men and women, while obviously human beings, were not considered persons, at least in the sense that they had any rights that white persons were obliged to respect.
Though society might frown on the brutality and violence inflicted on slaves by their masters, slave owners could dispose of their human property in any way they saw fit, up to and including killing their slaves.
To treat as a human being as the personal property of his or her “owner” and deny that he or she was a human person because of their skin color was deeply unjust and wrong, even if it was supported by the law. In a similar way, 158 years after Dred Scott, the decision to declare that unborn children have no rights (in this case, to life itself) is deeply unjust and wrong, regardless of its legality.
As a society, we recognize that children are not the property of their parents. Children have rights that must be respected. No one, including parents, has the right to harm them or to take their lives. We rightly have laws to protect children against child abuse, yet the legalization of abortion has stripped away the legal protection of unborn children.
It is difficult to face, but since 1973 the lives of millions of unborn children in our country have been taken through abortion, some even during the process of being born.
The effects of abortion are not limited to the lives of the unborn. Many mothers who have had abortions regret them and struggle to find peace and healing. Many fathers grieve that they were unable to protect the child that they helped conceive. Children wonder about their missing brothers and sisters. All expressions of charity and support are necessary for those who have been affected by abortion.
It seems that many in our society have become much more individualistic than they once were and discard anything that — and in the case of abortion, anyone who — may impede their personal convenience. Mother Teresa once said, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”
The Declaration of Independence, written more than 200 years ago, speaks for the laws “of nature and of nature’s God” before making the historic assertion, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Today we see tensions increasing between these founding principles and political reality. Nowhere is this as pronounced as in a continuing effort to ignore the right to life of unborn children as well as in efforts to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Nevertheless, there are those in the Juneau community and in the legislature who acknowledge and continue to uphold the right to life for the unborn. It is my hope that many of them will gather this Thursday, January 22 at 12:00 noon on the Capital steps to offer a voice for the voiceless and attend the Rally for Life.
• Bishop Edward J. Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.