My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Earlier this year the Illinois General Assembly passed House Bill 40, an abortion bill that expands taxpayer funding of abortion to Medicaid recipients and to those receiving state health care. It also aims to preserve the legality of abortion in Illinois if the U.S. Supreme Court should strike down Roe v. Wade. Last April, Gov. Bruce Rauner promised to veto HB 40 if it reached his desk, saying, “What we should not do is take on controversial divisive issues right now when we don’t have a balanced budget, when we do not have proper school funding, when we do not have economic growth and job creation. We should not take on divisive, controversial issues, and expanding taxpayer funding [for abortion] is a controversial divisive issue.” In recent days, the governor’s spokesperson indicated that he is now undecided about whether to keep his promise to veto House Bill 40.
As Gov. Rauner considers whether to veto HB 40, I would like to reflect with you briefly on what is at stake in this debate. I write, not as a lobbyist or politician, but as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as a pastor in his church.
After leading the people of Israel through the great adventure of the Exodus, Moses, nearing the end of his life, challenged his people in these powerful words: “I call heaven and earth to witness … that I have set before you life and death … therefore, choose life, that you and your descendants may live … .” [Deuteronomy 30:19] In the long drama of western political history that eventually led to the founding of the United States, the Exodus played a large, imaginative role as the great metaphor for the human quest for freedom; Benjamin Franklin even proposed making an image of the Exodus part of the Great Seal of the United States. That the Exodus story — the great image of freedom in western civilization — ends with Moses’ plea to “choose life …” should tell us something important about the debate in which we are now engaged.
Jesus, a son of Israel, took Moses’ injunction so much to heart that he identified his own person and mission with it: “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” [John 10:10]. Here in Illinois, some of our fellow-citizens share our conviction that, in Jesus, God entered history in the person of his Son, in order to show us the path to true freedom. Other Illinoisans may regard Jesus simply as a noble teacher. Christian or not, I would hope that we all feel moved by that promise of life in abundance, which reminds us that life is the greatest good, because it is the foundation on which all other goods rest.
Thomas Jefferson was not a man deeply committed to Christian orthodoxy. Yet, by the light of reason, he came to the conclusion that the right to life, along with the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness — was built into us by “Nature, and Nature’s God.” And Jefferson inscribed that conviction in the noble Declaration by which the United States staked its claim to independence. Two hundred forty-one years later, Jefferson’s conviction about the “inalienable” right to life ought to make us ponder our national heritage, and our commitments today to the principles on which our country was founded.
For more than a half-century now, the United States has been deeply divided over the morality and legality of abortion, and there is no reason to believe that national debate will be resolved anytime soon. That is one of many reasons why there are provisions in federal and state law to respect the freedom of conscience of those who object to abortion as a violation of the moral law that was, as St. John Paul II said at Mt. Sinai in 2000, “written on the human heart before it was inscribed on tablets of stone.” House Bill 40 strips away that respect and those conscience protections by compelling all citizens of this state to pay for abortions, even as it repeals the language of the Illinois Abortion Act of 1975 that does in fact recognize the humanity of unborn children. The governor’s veto of House Bill 40 would aim to preserve those protections of conscience, even as the abortion debate continues.
May I urge you, as your brother in Christ and father in God, to reflect on the words of Moses and the Lord Jesus; to pray over this great question of choosing life; to consider how you can be of service to women experiencing crisis pregnancies; and to make clear to Gov. Rauner that you expect him to keep his promise to veto House Bill 40.
May God give us this grace. Amen.