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J.D. Long GarcíaMay 02, 2024
Republican Arizona state Sen. Anthony Kern speaks with pro-life supporters outside the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix April 24, 2024. (OSV News photo/Rebecca Noble, Reuters)

In Arizona, where I live, we briefly had on the books one of the most pro-life laws in the nation. In April, the state Supreme Court ruled that an 1864 law was still in effect and could still be enforced; it protected life in the womb with the sole exception of cases where the mother’s life was at risk. On May 1, before that law had a chance to take effect, the state legislature voted to repeal it. A 15-week ban takes its place.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93 percent of abortions happen during the first trimester. A 15-week ban does nothing to prevent those abortions.

Former President Donald J. Trump urged Republicans to replace the 1864 law with one that gave greater allowances for abortion. Very few—but enough—Republicans did so, joining with Democratic legislators in liberalizing abortion law in the state. For Mr. Trump and other Republicans, it is a political calculation that they hope will sway moderates to vote for the G.O.P. this November.

For Arizona Democrats, the 15-week ban is a temporary measure. A well-funded petition, condemned by the Arizona Catholic Conference, is currently circulating for a proposed amendment to the state constitution that could ensure unrestricted access to abortion. The measure’s vague language may lead to taxpayer-funded abortions. It also places no restrictions on partial-birth abortion and would grant girls under 18 access to abortion without parental consent.

If the measure gets on the ballot, it is expected to pass. Since the Dobbs decision, everystate that has faced a similar ballot measure has passed it.

I believe that human life begins at the moment of conception. But “believe” is the wrong word because it is a scientific fact. At the moment of conception, the zygote is alive and has its own unique genetic makeup. I was once a zygote myself. Later I became an embryo. Not too long after, I was a newborn, an infant, a toddler and a teenager. I aspire to be an octogenarian one day.

Human life, however small and out-of-sight or decrepit, reflects the image of God. Human life has a dignity that must be safeguarded against all its assailants. Throughout human history, some human beings have believed they were superior to others on the basis of age, race, culture, gender and sexual orientation. Those false beliefs led to oppression and genocide.

In terms of human dignity, no life is better than or less than another. We are created with equal dignity. As the Vatican's recent document on human dignity reminded us, quoting Pope Francis in his encyclical “Evangelii Gaudium”:

[The] defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems.

I am sad about what is happening here in Arizona. I don’t consider myself a partisan, but it is crushing to see one of our political parties double down on an issue I find so grotesque. So many who support aggressive access to abortion are Catholics, yet another revelation of the waning influence of the church over its members.

Pro-life Democrats are scarce. As has been said so many times before, and regrettably to little effect, Democrats used to support abortion that was “safe, legal and rare.” And it used to be that, thanks to increased access to social programs, abortions went down when the Democratic Party controlled the federal government.

Abortion rates have been on the rise since 2017, when Republicans held the White House. But, despite a Democrat heading the executive branch, they have not gone down. In fact, researchers estimate there were 1,026,700 abortions in the United States, the highest number in 10 years. (To put that in context, there were about 3.6 million live births last year.)

I do not consider an abortion as a loss of merely one person, for most children lost to abortion would have had children themselves, and their children would have had children. Abortion statistics cannot describe the value of each unique human being, but they also fail to calculate the loss of the infinite goodness and beauty they and their descendants might have brought into the world.

Directly ending human life—at any stage—tears the metaphysical tapestry of existence. We are images of God that form a transcendent spiritual community we cannot fully comprehend. It remains a mystery, but through grace, God divinizes us. We are God’s children. Who are we to take the life of a child of God?

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus demonstrate a preferential option for children as well as the poor and marginalized. Abortion is certainly not a preferential option for the poor. As is well documented, a disproportionate number of the poor and marginalized have abortions. That includes a disproportionate number of racial minorities. In our society, access to abortion finds its greatest support among the richest Americans, who are not forced into choosing it.

Looking at abortion as a “solution” digs us deeper into the rut of treating pregnancy and pregnant women as a problem to be solved by being erased. Consider, for example, the abortion-friendly states that rushed, after the Dobbs decision, to offer support to those who wanted to end their pregnancies by becoming “abortion sanctuaries.” Without any attempt being made to offer the resources that might allow a woman to continue her pregnancy, immense effort is devoted to making sure she can end it. 

Some mocked the U.S. bishops for declaring abortion a pre-eminent priority at their fall meeting. I didn’t understand such sneers given abortion access is clearly the priority for the Democratic party. What’s more, many Republicans—including Mr. Trump—fear the consequences of being pro-life. They no longer consider it politically expedient to defend the unborn.

After Roe, abortion was legal everywhere. For 50 years, an abortion-on-demand mentality infected our national conscience. It will take decades to truly heal from this illness, and both of our parties are guilty of desecrating human dignity.

We must work to abolish the death penalty. We must stop using migrants and asylum seekers as political pawns. We must find new and better ways to recognize and accompany the neurodiverse. We cannot tolerate discrimination against any gender or sexual orientation. And we must find a compassionate way to end abortion on demand.

Those who advocate for the voiceless unborn can never give up. Life is so precious, and it is worth defending against all threats. We must support and expand outreach to women in crisis pregnancies, offering assistance to mother and child before and in the years following birth. We must continue to stand in solidarity with all the poor and marginalized—including those most marginalized, the unborn. We must advocate until our last breath for those denied the right to take their first.

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