My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In the last issue of the Catholic Times, I wrote about a very significant book, We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, by Father John Courtney Murray, SJ, which was published 50 years ago. In 1960, Father Murray saw the rise of American secularism and cited a 1952 opinion of the United States Supreme Court that asserted, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”
I noted that today this presupposition is not so clear, especially in light of the reality of abortion on demand, legalized by judicial fiat since 1972, prior to which abortion was commonly held as contrary to God’s law and consequently was outlawed in every state in the union.
This month of October is dedicated to promoting respect for all human life from the moment of conception until natural death. To begin this observance, I participated in several pro-life activities here in Springfield on Sept. 24 with Dr. Alveda King, niece of the slain civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I hosted a luncheon for her and clergy of various denominations in our Cathedral atrium, during which Dr. King made a very compelling presentation about the pro-life movement as a continuation of the civil rights struggle. This was followed by an ecumenical prayer service in our Cathedral in which Dr. King spoke again on this theme to a congregation that included many young people from our local schools.
From the Cathedral we marched peacefully to pray in front of Planned Parenthood of Springfield. There I thanked the president of Planned Parenthood who had written an opinion piece that was published in that morning’s edition of The State Journal-Register, which of course contained much misleading information concealing what Planned Parenthood actually does in terms of killing babies. I thanked Planned Parenthood for the opinion piece, though, because its publication brought attention to our peaceful prayer march and inspired greater participation than we would have otherwise had without this publicity.
I also called on Planned Parenthood to let women who are considering having an abortion to see an ultrasound image of the baby in their wombs.
On Sept. 25, The State Journal-Register printed a nice story about our march, but also quoted Pam Sutherland, vice president for public policy for Planned Parenthood, as saying, “Any patient who is considering abortion gets an ultrasound, and we ask if they would like to see it.” If so, I welcome this change in Planned Parenthood’s policy, since this has not always been their practice. In light of this change, they should also have no problem supporting the Ultrasound Opportunity Act (H.B. 5743), introduced by 18 co-sponsors in the Illinois House. The Ultrasound Opportunity Act would require abortion facilities to offer a woman seeking an abortion the opportunity to view her baby in an ultrasound and would set standards for the quality of the ultrasound image. The facility would also be required to document the woman’s response to the offer. I await Planned Parenthood’s endorsement and support for this bill.
Ms. Sutherland also invited me to work with them “to help reduce the need for abortion by making sure women have access to comprehensive birth control.” I declined the invitation since I don’t buy into the myth that contraception will reduce abortion. In fact, the contraceptive mentality does just the opposite. Instead, I invite Planned Parenthood to join the majority of Americans who oppose abortion on demand.
The month of October is also dedicated to promoting the church’s missionary activity throughout the world. We here in the United States enjoy a privileged position regarding the freedom to practice our faith and to proclaim it publicly. Writing about the First Amendment to our Federal Constitution, Father Murray noted in his book mentioned above that the “American people exempted from the grant of power to government any power to establish religion or to prohibit the free exercise thereof.” In his view, Catholics agree that the First Amendment “involves profound and extensive wisdom,” because it recognizes legally that the divine mission of the church lies outside the competence of government, and therefore “the church is fully independent, immune from interference from political authority.”
This is not true in many other countries around the world, and so we should not take our religious liberty for granted, but give thanks to God for the freedom to carry out the church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel and pray for the freedom to engage this task throughout the world.
May God give us this grace. Amen.