The legalization of abortion in 1973 unleashed a significant threat against human dignity. By narrowing the definition of a human person, the United States Supreme Court eliminated legal protections for the most vulnerable. Since that fateful decision, over 55 million unborn children have lost their lives to abortion.
Today, we see a new threat to human dignity, as conscience protections for people with moral or religious objections to abortion are being taken away. Powerful individuals and institutions in our society seek to force people to be part of the abortion business.
In 2009, Cathy DeCarlo, a nurse and woman of faith, was forced to participate in a 22-week abortion against her will. Despite her protests, her supervisors required that she assist at an abortion involving the dismemberment of an unborn child, leading her to suffer long-term psychological trauma, including graphic nightmares and insomnia.
Cathy is not an isolated victim. Today, the State of California illegally requires almost all insurers, even those providing coverage to churches and faith-based organizations, to include abortion coverage in their health plans. Churches, pastors and charities that recognize abortion as a grave sin are being compelled by state regulations to participate in the funding of abortions. This is a severe threat to institutions that make important contributions to the common good. Unfortunately, other states are beginning to follow California’s lead.
The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act would have helped. ANDA would have given protection to medical professionals like Cathy DeCarlo, hospitals and clinics that do not want to perform abortions, and religious institutions like churches and church ministries whose teachings forbid them to facilitate abortion. ANDA simply allows people who believe all human life is sacred to serve others in freedom. Unfortunately, ANDA failed to be enacted into law late last year, so the threats to conscience remain.
Today, we recall that the right to life and to religious freedom are both rooted in the inherent dignity of the human person. Each and every individual is endowed with that dignity, which cannot be taken away. Religious and secular sources alike—both the teaching of our Church and the Declaration of Independence, for example—agree on this fundamental principle.
Forcing people to do what they believe is wrong—especially when it involves the killing of another innocent human being—degrades people. Laws and institutions that force people to participate in abortion attack the conscience. They attack human dignity.
Catholics are a people animated by hope in the power of God’s mercy. As Pope Francis stated during his visit to the United States, “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities.” And Cardinal Timothy Dolan reminds us, we must continue to share a vision of life and love that excludes no one.
The annual March for Life in Washington—and all the marches and prayer vigils marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade—remind us that we must persevere. We march for the children who have lost their lives to abortion since 1973, and we bear witness to true freedom, the freedom of a society that honors the life and dignity of all people.
Most Rev. William E. Lori is the archbishop of Baltimore.