True Compassion: Whose Life Matters?
I try very hard not to let my emotions get the best of me, but there are those rare occasions when my ire is raised, and I cannot contain my outrage. Such a moment occurred a few days ago when a colleague in Oceania shared a story that involved a young pregnant woman who is aggressively pressured by medical staff to abort her innocent baby.
Health care officials diagnosed the pre-born baby with Down syndrome and life-threatening heart and kidney problems. They did not present the mother, whose life some would define as tragic, with life-supporting options or alternatives for her baby. Instead they told her that the best recommendation – actually the only one – is to abort, to kill her baby. And based on experience, I can assume she is hearing that familiar chant repeated to vulnerable mothers around the world, “You would not want your baby to suffer, would you? If you love your baby, this is the best option.”
Abortion supporters want us to accept that abortion is an act of compassion that saves women from the burdens and the cost of raising children, especially in “hard cases.” As in the above case, if a child, before birth, is declared as suffering from a serious illness or malformation, abortion supporters will assert that, if the pregnancy is allowed to continue, the child – arbitrarily determined to have a “poor quality of life” – will have a life which will not be worth living. They focus on the child’s condition, saying the best and most effective way to help the child is to terminate the child’s life. Society, they say, should not impose the burden of a living being whose maintenance is excessive, costly, and futile. Abortion, thus, is recommended out of “compassion.”
Of course, this is bogus.
Every Life Matters
It is important to reiterate, without measure or limitation, that all human life, from the moment of conception, is sacred and of incomparable value. To declare that certain human lives are not sacred is to declare that no human life is sacred, that no one is to be unconditionally cherished and protected. Abortion and its mentality normalize the killing of a human being for convenience, treating the innocent child in the womb as an aggressor. Abortion kills one human being so the other human being might be free, “relieved” from some hardship or inconvenience.
Abortion does not solve problems. Instead, it profits off the destruction of one life and the grave wounding of another. It depersonalizes women and exploits them and their situation. It dehumanizes and devalues the life of a baby, pitting a mother against her child. It also fragments the image of mother and child and in doing so, motherhood itself is devalued. This has disastrous consequences for society and culture. And finally, it portrays motherhood as a threat to a woman’s independence, success, and value as a person.
In most cases when abortion is being considered, women feel pressured; they are anxious and in distress. They may believe the birth of this child would threaten the relationship with the baby’s father or the ability to complete their education or their career goals. They may also feel intense pressure from the baby’s father, from their own parents, from an employer, or from friends. They often are afraid, feeling isolated, abandoned, and overwhelmed at the thought of facing an unplanned or difficult pregnancy. To say that abortion is the “only” choice is a false portrayal of options, and it keeps women from pursuing, and society from providing morally licit, life-saving alternatives.
Legalized abortion and an abortion-minded society have made it easy to pressure women. Rather than rallying to care for a woman’s authentic needs, those around her often resort to pressuring her to resort to the apparent “quick fix” of abortion. The mentality of abortion also removes “us” and “me” from the equation and conveniently places everything upon the shoulders of the woman saying, “you must fix the problem.” Advocating for women and their children, without exception, means refusing to accept the violence of abortion and its mentality as a solution. We all have a part to play in this story, which begins by adding “I” to the equation – “How can I serve you? What can I do to help you? What do you need that I can help provide?
True Compassion Means Embracing the Inconvenient
I remember the first time I visited Saint Michael the Archangel Church in Houston, Texas. I was impacted by a sign on its lawn, which today still stands proudly in front of the Church, visible to all who pass by. The message states that if a pregnant woman is in crisis and needs assistance, St. Michael Parish will help. The faith community is giving tangible witness to the Gospel of Life and putting its resources at its service, and in serving both the mother and her baby, they are making it clear to everyone that life is precious and to be loved and defended at all costs. Countless lives have been impacted by the witness of this Church community, and numerous consciences have been pricked by the sign’s unwavering statement.
“True compassion,” says St. John Paul II, “leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.” Even though the saintly pope was referencing the violence of euthanasia, another heinous act against the intrinsic value of human life, the same mentality he addresses is applicable to abortion, which seeks to silence the “problem” and minimize all inconvenience.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, who spent her life loving and caring for others, fully understood the consequence of this deadly anti-life, anti-service mentality.
By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And, by abortion, that father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. The father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So, abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.
Healing the Wound in Society and Culture
It is not hard to discern which view of human life dominates Western culture.
The Culture of Life believes and affirms that all life from conception to natural death is a sacred gift from God, and is inviolable and worthy of protection and care. It joyfully proclaims the truth about God’s love, purpose, and plan for each person. It supports social structures that affirm life in all its stages and holds that authentic freedom is inseparable from responsibility. The culture of death, on the other hand, denies the inherent dignity of every human life, rejects the principles of solidarity and the common good, is utilitarian and concerned with efficiency, has preference for the powerful over the weak, has a distorted view of human freedom, highly values materialism, rejects personal conscience while accentuating individual rights, and “religiously” defends moral relativism.
A people of life believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution and society is whether they threaten or enhance the life and dignity of the human person. Every life matters: no one’s life matters more, and no one’s life matters less. A society that values life has a sincere interest in every individual – born or unborn – striving to serve each individual’s need. Instead of seeing the cost, we see the unique and singular beauty of the person before us and have the desire to seek his/her good and well-being. We are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes and do no harm to another.
When society accepts the murder of unborn children as a right, as something good, then society’s attitude towards life itself changes. Its moral conscience, having been weakened, gradually grows numb to murder itself and other inhumane acts of violence committed against human life. When an ethic of life is diminished, as in the case I shared above, it is not only the unborn who are threatened but all “weaker” members of society – indeed all of us are at risk.
Seeking to protect human life and promote human dignity from its inception to its final moment requires a radical transformation of how society views life. It is not impossible to achieve when society no longer accepts the murder of innocent life at any stage, choosing instead to love, respect, serve, promote, and defend life, without exception; and when we acknowledge there are certain ways of acting that are always and “radically incompatible with the love of God and the dignity of the human person created in His image.” (Evangelium Vitae, no. 75)
As president of Human Life International, Fr. Boquet is a leading expert on the international pro-life and family movement, having journeyed to nearly 90 countries on pro-life missions over the last decade. Father Boquet works with pro-life and family leaders in 116 counties that partner with HLI to proclaim and advance the Gospel of Life. Read his full bio here.