People often ask me, “What is wrong with our priests?” or “Why don’t our bishops say more about abortion?  They seem to have no trouble whatsoever speaking out quite freely when it comes to war or capital punishment.”

On the surface, this is disturbing.  I find it even more disturbing, however, that I, a layman, have countless people ask me to raise awareness among Catholics concerning the true teachings of the Church.  Since our country decriminalized the act of abortion nearly 30 years ago, we have little if any progress to show, despite the alleged strength of the pro-life movement.  This movement is clearly in critical condition.  The information I am about to share with you may be unpleasant medicine.  But without it, it may be too late to save the patient.

Abortion is a crime against human beings and a violation of human rights; at its core, however, the act is a direct attack on God, the Author of life.  Abortion denies the creative hand of God and treats a human being as if he were but an object whose existence depends upon the will of another person.  Abortion eliminates the “unplanned” result of sexual activity—a result that is neither desired nor accepted by the participants.

The unavoidable truth, however, is that the precursor to abortion is contraception, which encourages people to behave in a manner contrary to God’s will.  Contraception presented man with the empty promise of sexual fulfillment with no strings attached—instant gratification without long-term responsibility.

Contraception, however, often failed to meet its promised goal of preventing the creation of new life.  These failures were defined as “unplanned pregnancies,” and it became desirable to seek the “termination” of those human beings.  Eventually, that termination was granted the protection of law.

In the intervening years, Pope John Paul II brilliantly made the case against contraception and abortion in many of his writings.  However, the bishops of the United States seemed hesitant to teach these truths consistently, despite the fact that they are basic to the Church’s consistent position for nearly 2,000 years and clearly fundamental to any meaningful understanding of what it will take to end abortion.

The last time the U.S. bishops made a clear statement exposing the evils of contraception was on November 14, 1966.  Their “Statement on the Government and Birth Control,” read in part:

In connection with present and proposed governmental family limitation programs, there is frequently the implication that freedom is assured so long as spouses are left at liberty to choose among different methods of birth control.  This we reject as a narrow concept of freedom.  Birth control is not a universal obligation, as is often implied; moreover, true freedom of choice must provide even for those who wish to raise a larger family without being subject to criticism and without forfeiting for themselves the benefits or for their children the educational opportunities which have become part of the value system of a truly free society.


The bishops continued,

We call upon all—especially Catholics—to oppose, vigorously and by every democratic means, those campaigns already underway in some states and at the national level toward the active promotion, by tax-supported agencies, of birth prevention as a public policy, above all in connection with welfare benefit programs.  History has shown that as a people lose respect for any life and a positive and generous attitude toward new life, they move fatally to inhuman infanticide, abortion, sterilization, and euthanasia; we fear that history is, in fact, repeating itself on this point within our own land at the moment.

Sadly, that closing prophecy is being fulfilled.  In fact, there are Catholic hospitals across our nation where abortionists serve on staff, where birth control is readily promoted without apology, and where various “protocols” permit the administration of chemical abortion for sexual-assault victims.  While the statement of 1966 sounded a rallying cry for all Catholics, the deafening silence and, in many cases, dissent that soon followed drowned out the prophecy of those earlier, courageous bishops.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae vitae, which states with clarity and insight not only why the Church teaches that contraception is evil but what the outcome will be if all men of good will do not avoid the practice.  No sooner had the Holy Father signed that letter than Catholic priests and theologians across the United States registered their displeasure.  Full-page ads denounced the encyclical.  Meetings and press conferences focused on various “opinions” from noted theologians, disagreeing with the authoritative document.  There was discord from coast to coast, but the bishops did not silence that dissent, and the crack in the dam became a cavern.  

There are bishops, archbishops, and cardinals in the Catholic Church who do preach on the teachings of Humanae vitae, but there is no universal education program in place for Catholics dedicated to teaching that the practice of birth control is a sin and that the souls of those who remain in the state of such sin are at eternal risk.  In fact, not a month goes by in which someone does not ask me, “What do you mean?  The Church teaches that contraception is sinful?  Nobody ever told me!  My priest encouraged my husband and me to use it.”

After Humanae vitae, the U.S. Supreme Court decriminalized abortion, the bishops testified in Congress that they were opposed to it, and the intervening years saw less and less being done to teach the basic truths that must be understood if we are to engage the culture of death effectively and convert it.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II issued Evangelium vitae, pointing out that all of those prophesies Pope Paul VI had uttered 27 years earlier had come to pass.  He called upon Catholics at every level of life, as well as all men and women of good will, to serve Christ, to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable, and to oppose the unjust laws that protect abortion and other crimes.

The waters, however, remained stagnant.  Between tolerance and cowardice, even meager attempts to regulate some acts of infanticide (so-called partial-birth abortion) continue to fail.

A single example from the 2003 March for Life is instructive of the problem at hand.  The most popular sign at the march was not “Abortion Is Murder” or “Abortion Is Homicide” but “Women Deserve Better.”  But a woman who is with child is a mother, not simply a woman.  If we would only affirm that fact to these mothers, we would go a long way toward offsetting the pro-abortion propaganda that insists that abortion is “a choice between a woman and her doctor.”  While it is certainly true that the expectant mother deserves better than to be pressed into killing her own baby, isn’t it primarily the innocent children, slaughtered by the millions, who “deserve better”?

For the right-to-life movement in 2003, and especially for Catholics, the stark reality is disturbing.  The movement’s political leadership has, for the most part, limited its battle to surgical abortion—divorced from its precursors.  This obfuscation of the root causes of the evil around us has worsened an already serious problem.  By seeking legislative solutions to a problem that is spiritual in nature, far too many of these bishops have left millions of Catholics uneducated, uncatechized, and unprepared to fight the real enemy in all of this—the Devil himself.

The Catholic bishops started with a focused attempt to expose the evils of contraception.  In the early days following Roe v. Wade, they did not hesitate to focus on the child in the womb as a person of equal worth.  Over time, however, they have lost their clear focus on the unchanging truth that every human being is a person—from conception—because God is the Author of every human being’s very existence.

Several politicians today claim to be Catholic without fear of reprimand as they blithely lead the battle to “protect a woman’s right to choose.”  Many of them claim that they are “personally opposed” to abortion.  As we plead with our bishops to expose these men and women who are constantly scandalizing the souls of others, however, our cries fall on deaf ears.  When we do receive an answer, it is all too often a timid response that I fail to understand.  As a result, the public ministers of falsehood, masquerading as “pro-choice Catholics,” have won the day.

Who is accountable to God for all the souls misled by this public deception?  How will God view the crime if a Catholic mother aborts her child because she honestly believes that the act is nothing more than a “choice”?  More intriguingly, how will He view the lack of pastoral teaching, which brought that mother to her desperate decision?

Has the Truth, Jesus Christ Himself, become a mere abstraction to be discussed only in reference to a hunger strike?  Or a war?  Or a prisoner on death row?  Did the seamless garment of 20 years ago become a shroud for the millions of silent murders that take place under the guise of choice?  Has the gospel of tolerance prohibited the fullness of the Truth from being preached when the subject is abortion or contraception and the listeners may feel discomfort?  Will homilies in this new millennium be based on opinion polls rather than the Word of God?

The right-to-life movement cannot exist without public and private devotion to God and His Church.  There is a place for God in the halls of Congress, in the White House, in the Supreme Court; in fact, there is no place where God should be unwelcome.  Without God, none of these governmental bodies would exist; none of these bodies’ members would exist, either.

The only way to respond to an expectant mother and her child is with charity.  The only principled response to contraception is to expose it as a refusal to accept God’s will.  The only realistic response to abortion is to describe it as an act that murders a child created in God’s image.  The only viable and realistic approach is to seek God’s grace, God’s will, and God’s Son.  Christ is Truth, and through Him all evil will be eliminated.

Bishops and priests must begin to educate at every level regarding the reasons why contraception is not only unhealthy but immoral.  The facts do not change with society’s moral climate.  To adhere to the Word requires that we be faithful to God, in season and out, popular or unpopular, welcome or unwelcome.  We faithful cannot accomplish this alone; we need our shepherds to guide their flocks toward the Lord, without Whom we will never win this struggle.

I remain optimistic, however, because, within the Church, from hierarchy to laity, there exists the greatest of all vocations ordained by God—the call to be faithful unto death by imitating Christ and never counting the cost.  Where there is life, there is hope.  The hope of bringing even one person to Christ and, in the process, saving his or her child is a magnificent possibility.  That should inspire each of us to strive harder than ever before to be witnesses to that truth.