Of Many Things

Pro-life advocates walk past the Supreme Court building during the March for Life in Washington Jan. 22, 2016. This year's march is set for Jan. 27, starting near the Washington Monument. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The March for Life, the annual gathering of pro-life activists, clergy and civic leaders, will take place in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. In our pro-life commitment, America is allied with the sentiments expressed in the statement by the Society of Jesus of the United States, “Standing for the Unborn,” which was published in America on May 26, 2003. As is our annual custom, we republish excerpts from this text as an expression of our solidarity with the women and men who will march this month in the nation’s capital.

Some influential voices posit a zero-sum conflict between “women’s reproductive rights” and the right to life of unborn children. Jesuits ought to find their place among those who demonstrate the obvious confluence of women’s rights and respect for life in all its forms. Pope John Paul II summed this partnership up when he wrote: “Therefore, in firmly rejecting ‘pro-choice’ it is necessary to become courageously ‘pro-woman,’ promoting a choice that is truly in favor of women.”...

As Catholics and Jesuits, we would naturally prefer to live in a country where every citizen, voter and court consistently favor legal recognition of and protection for the unborn.... We must acknowledge, however, that phrases such as “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”...are phrases with contested meanings that others understand differently than we do.... The more attractive option seeks neither to flee nor to dominate situations of pluralism. It commits us rather to a process of engaging those who initially disagree with us on some issues, seeking to create an acceptable consensus wherever possible by building upon those truths on which we can reach agreement....
This path of “proposing, rather than imposing,” was described by the great American Jesuit theologian of the past century, John Courtney Murray. While emphasizing the value of tolerance and mutual dialogue, he also advised against any sort of moral relativism....
Another way of describing this stance is to say that Jesuits are committed to narrowing the gap between the current civil law of our nation and the demands of the moral law as we understand it. Our long-term goal remains full legal recognition of and protection for the unborn child—from the moment of conception.
In the near future, we cannot realistically expect complete agreement among all participants in the abortion debate. We must listen respectfully to others’ opinions, just as we expect a fair hearing of our own arguments against abortion. Our confidence in the persuasive power of well articulated defenses of pro-life positions sustains us, even as we acknowledge the long struggle ahead.... In the meantime, our common calling is to stand in solidarity with the unborn, the “least of our brothers and sisters” (Mt 25:40), through prayer and political activism.
Lisa Weber
1 month 4 weeks ago
This is a nice commentary, as far as it goes. It leaves out two important points. The first is - any decision that can be made and acted upon by one or two people, and the consequences fall on the decision-maker(s) is a private decision and action. It is very difficult for laws to affect inherently private decisions and actions. The second point is that Jesuits are all men - good men generally, but all men. The only people who get pregnant or have abortions are women. I see no indication of the idea that perhaps women have a greater stake in reproductive decisions or know more about the consequences of reproductive decisions. It would be nice if Jesuits acknowledged the greater stake and knowledge of women in this area because there is an age-old history of men trying to control women primarily for the benefit of men. Glossing over the issue of power in doctrine or laws related to reproduction is simply dishonest. With regard to the Catholic Church and issues related to reproduction, the Church will not be able to speak with any authority until women have a voice in determining the doctrine of the Church and women speak about the issues. By and large, women control reproduction and bear the consequences of reproductive decision-making. A blunt summary of the situation is that men can hold opinions about reproductive issues, but they do not hold much power. Men cannot speak with authority about issues in which their only power is that of an opinion uninformed by experience. The Church needs women to speak with authority about issues related to women, but only men can grant them the authority because only men currently have authority in the Church. Essentially, men in the Church hierarchy can either grant women authority so that the Church has authority, or they can keep all authority for themselves and allow the Church to have no authority in significant parts of human life and society. Worthy of mention is that Jesus granted women the authority to teach and preach.
Henry George
1 month 3 weeks ago
Ms. Weber, While it may be significant that only women can become pregnant, that significance pales in comparison to the simple fact that every fetus is a human and has just as much right to live as any other human. So if the Society of Jesus seeks to make abortions the last horribly regrettable step, why hold that against them because they are men ? It was mostly non-Jews who liberated the Concentration Camps - do you think the inmates held that against them ? And where did Jesus give women the authority to teach and preach ?
Lisa Weber
1 month 2 weeks ago
Jesus gave women authority to teach and preach when he appeared to them first after the Resurrection. He instructed them to go tell the disciples. Women still need to teach the disciples because women see some aspects of reality more clearly than men do. The church has a very one-sided view of the world because it excludes women from the dialogue. I am not saying that I think abortion is okay, I am only trying to point out that women see and understand reproductive issues differently than men do, and perhaps men should acknowledge that. Women have more wisdom about how a woman makes the decision to have an abortion. If you do not understand how the decision gets made, it is very hard for you to convince a woman to make a different decision. Issuing edicts is mostly ineffective because the decision is inherently private. If you want fewer abortions, you have to do something other than issue edicts. Overall, we need a more fruitful way to think and talk about the issue of abortion because it tears the church apart. It skews our political views because we have one-issue voters. I think a more fruitful and honest way to look at abortion would be to say that it is wrong and inherently evil, but it is linked to another inherent evil, which is the tendency of men to control and exercise power over women. If only one of those evils is discussed, the discussion is dishonest. In an ideal world, neither evil would exist, but in this world, they both exist. If you try to suppress the evil of abortion entirely, you allow the evil of men controlling women to flourish. Consider the fact that women die at the hands of men on a regular basis. Rape is not even uncommon. Murder and rape are two parts of the evil of men assuming they have the right to control and use women. Abortion can be a way to severe a connection to a rapist, or to a man who might eventually kill the woman who bears his child because bearing his child gives him the idea that he owns her. In the latter case, you might make the argument that an abortion would save the life of the mother. These are the kinds of realities that usually get left out of the discussion about abortion and the factors that go into the decision to have one. Until we can have a more complete dialogue about abortion, the issue will continue to tear the church apart. It is up to the men in the church hierarchy to invite women to a dialogue because women have no authority to act or speak in the current version of the church. I am trying to invite a more thoughtful dialogue than I usually see or hear.

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