A Short Manifesto on Life Issues

In June, I will be attending the Vita Institute at the University of Notre Dame, “an intensive intellectual formation program for leaders in the national and international pro-life movement.”  I had to apply for this opportunity, and I thought my readers might be interested in how I answered the questions on my application.

I believe in the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death. I believe that procured abortion is always wrong and that unborn lives should be protected by law. I also believe that our responsibility to unborn children and their mothers extends beyond making abortion illegal. I adhere to the Church’s teaching on contraceptives and believe that their use has led to a contraceptive mentality that is linked to the acceptance of abortion. I believe that the rise of various forms of fertility assistance, in separating conception from the marital embrace, is also related to abortion. I believe that if we pro-life Catholics want to be taken seriously by the wider culture, we need to center our efforts to end abortion firmly within Catholic Social Teaching and a consistent life ethic. I further believe that we need to demonstrate our care for all lives in both charitable and systemic ways.

I take to heart Saint John Paul the Great’s words from his Gospel of Life:  “Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator” (Evangelium Vitae 3).

My convictions often place me in uncomfortable situations and leave me without a political home. My critics struggle to fit me into our society’s convenient and restrictive liberal/conservative paradigm. But my convictions come straight from the teachings of the Church and that gives me strength to continue to proclaim them even when it is hard. And I believe the Church’s consistent ethic of life gives us a strong foundation from which to argue for all lives, whether they are the innocent unborn, the condemned murderer, the frozen embryo, or the terminally ill.

I was introduced to the topic of abortion accidentally as a young child when I stumbled across some pamphlets with pictures of aborted babies in a drawer in our home. I have been passionately pro-life ever since, with my activism taking different forms. I began by writing many letters to newspapers and government officials. I became a charter member and later chair of the Knoxville Diocese Respect Life Committee. I participated in Life Chains and Marches for Life for many years. I wrote a column on life issues for the East Tennessee Catholic, and later took the name of that column for my blog, where I have been writing on life issues since 2010. I have been active in the parish to which I have belonged since I was baptized as an infant, serving on the Pastoral Council as member and chair as well as on many other committees over the years. I have also served in various capacities as a volunteer at my children’s elementary school including serving as 8th grade Room Mother which involved fundraising for and planning graduation events. My husband has served as KOC Grand Knight, District Deputy, and 4th Degree Color Corps Commander, and I supported him in these endeavors as well.

Writing on my blog and elsewhere is my greatest passion and personal interest and I want to make more time for it going forward. I love to read and try to read at least six books a month, some for entertainment, but many to further educate myself. I enjoy hiking and usually walk at least three miles each day. I am a gardener and am in the process of replacing all the grass in my front yard with flowering plants.

As my nest empties, I find myself looking forward to the next stage of my life and wanting to work toward my professional goals. I want to spend more time on my writing and blogging, focusing on the intersection of faith and politics, particularly the Church’s Social Teachings. I want to create conversations among people of good will, educating Catholics and others and working to change hearts and minds on life issues.

In order to do this I want to be thoroughly grounded in these teachings, because it is very important to me to always be absolutely orthodox in anything I write. I want to learn from the kind of faculty the Vita Institute provides. My son is a Notre Dame graduate, so I am familiar with the ethos of the school and know I can expect excellence from any program it sponsors.  I have been very intentional over the last year about educating myself on issues of importance. I read books and articles every day from reputable sources, including both secular and spiritual books. Attending the Vita Institute is a natural next step in my self-education.

I believe I should be selected because I am a natural student and someone with her own reputation for excellence. My readers have told me they come to my page when they are looking for accurate information about Church teachings on the issues of the day, and I am very proud of that and take the responsibility seriously. The education I would receive via the Vita Institute would be shared with my audience, which includes both faithful Catholics and those of other or no faith traditions. And I look forward to the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with other like-minded attendees.

In 2012, the USCCB put out a statement on religious liberty which included the following statement: “Catechesis on religious liberty is not the work of priests alone. The Catholic Church in America is blessed with an immense number of writers, producers, artists, publishers, filmmakers, and bloggers employing all the means of communications—both old and new media—to expound and teach the faith. They too have a critical role in this great struggle for religious liberty. We call upon them to use their skills and talents in defense of our first freedom.” I was thrilled to see the importance of the work of Catholic bloggers lifted up by our bishops, and I want to live up to that trust by doing everything I can to make sure I represent Church teachings on life issues faithfully.

And there you have it! I look forward to sharing what I learn at the Vita Institute with you all.

Pro-life, or Anti-Abortion?

This is a reprint of the very first column I had published in The East Tennessee Catholic.  Although it appeared in late 2001, I had actually written it over two years before, as one of three sample columns which were rejected by the then-editor. 

What does it mean to have a “consistent life ethic?” You may remember that as Jesus hung on the cross, the soldiers cast lots to decide who should have the robe he was wearing.  They couldn’t split it among them because it had no seams.  Some have referred to the concept of a consistent life ethic as the “Seamless Garment.”  Life is a continuum, and we cannot pick and choose whose lives we are going to care about and protect.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God”(2319).

If we are to be consistent–constant, dependable, invariable, steady, unfailing–in what we believe and do regarding life issues, we must protect and care for all life, not just the lives of the innocent unborn.  Many people have bumper stickers on their cars proclaiming, “We vote pro-life!”  Well, I would love to vote pro-life but I can’t find a pro-life candidate.

Under the topic of “You shall not kill” in the catechism, we read the obvious: abortion, homicide, suicide, and euthanasia are all prohibited.  But we also read that those who contribute to famines are liable for the deaths of the starving, that destroying whole cities in wartime is a crime, and that “the arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race” (2329). The death penalty is limited to cases in which it would be necessary to protect other victims from the aggressor–something solitary confinement in a maximum security prison can certainly do.

Photo credit: wht_wolf96653 via Flickr

It is relatively easy to be pro-life when it comes to the slaughtering of an innocent in the womb. It’s harder to care about a serial killer. It’s pretty easy to know it’s wrong to throw a newborn in a dumpster. It’s harder to say that no one, no matter how sick he is or how much he is suffering, has a right to take his own life. It’s easy to decide to support laws which ban abortions. It’s harder to support laws requiring that tax dollars be spent to keep poor children off the street, to provide aid to mothers on welfare, to create programs for job training for unskilled workers.

Being consistent isn’t easy. All human beings are a mass of inconsistencies. Being a truly pro-life Catholic isn’t easy either, but Jesus never claimed that His was an easy road to follow.

“I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to buy a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough to love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.”   –Wilbur Reese

God, the Giver of life, the Creator of life, calls us to believe in life 100%. If we’re only willing to give $3.00, then we aren’t pro-life. We’re just anti-abortion.

What Is a Baby?

Twenty-eight years ago today–and I remember well my horror at the time, the parents of a child known forever as Baby Doe apparently decided that he was not a human being deserving of love and care when they allowed him to starve rather than correct a minor defect.  Baby Doe was the victim of the abortion mentality even though his death occurred after he was born.  When it’s acceptable to kill unborn babies for not being perfect, we are only one step away from euthanizing imperfect newborns.  Reading this story reminded me of a column I wrote about five years ago, which I reprint today in his memory.


Teenagers aren’t the only ones who love to hang out and chat with online friends.  I’ve been a member of various virtual communities since I went online in 1995.  My family and many of my “real life” friends don’t get this.  “Why would you want to talk to people you’ve never even
met?” they ask.

For me there are two great aspects of virtual communities.  Online you can quickly find a lot of people who share your interest, no matter how obscure.  It might have been difficult for me to find hundreds of people who were obsessed with The X-Files and writing fanfiction about it here in Knoxville, for example. (For a long time my husband was sorry he had encouraged me to get online!)  On the other hand, these people who share one interest with you are probably more different from you in other ways than the people you hang out with at home, giving you a chance to incorporate a little diversity into your life.

Most people I know well in Knoxville are pro-life, and if they aren’t, they know me well enough to avoid unpleasant discussions about life issues.  My current online homes are newsgroups devoted to pregnancy and breast feeding.  United by a shared interest in these topics are women who are married, divorced, and never married; doctors, retail workers, and stay-at-home-moms; straight and lesbian; Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, pagan, and atheist; American, British, Danish, and more; pro-life and pro-choice.  Being among them gives me an opportunity to hear from people who make choices I would never make, could never imagine making.

I read discussions of whether to have prenatal tests, of what anomalous ultrasound results might mean, of what disorders are severe enough to warrant abortion.  I know people who have received ominous prenatal diagnoses and have followed them through their pregnancies to the births of children whose problems have rendered them no less precious; I know others who chose to abort and shared those experiences with us.

Modern society now almost universally accepts that there are some pre-natal diagnoses so severe that abortion is justified. Although statistics for “eugenic abortion” are hard to come by, medical researchers indicate that 80% of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted; in some areas of the country as many as 95% of all babies prenatally diagnosed with cystic fibrosis are never born.  According to the American Association of People with Disabilities, many disabilities–Tay-Sachs Disease, for example–have virtually disappeared from the United States, and many others–spina bifida, for one–are on the decline, not because of advances in treatment and prevention, but because of the acceptance of death as the ultimate solution.

And what happens when abortion for truly horrific conditions, those incompatible with life, becomes accepted?  It’s that good old slippery slope again.  A recent online report from the Daily Mail (a United Kingdom publication) asserted that people in Great Britain are now aborting for club foot and extra digits.  Far from being incompatible with life, these conditions can be corrected surgically.  Fertility specialists are taking this one step further: with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, they’ll test your embryo and once they’ve made sure it’s free of whatever disease you were worried about–including now in some instances only a chance of developing cancer or Alzheimer’s later in life–they’ll let you choose the sex for good measure.  Finally, and even more bizarrely, some disabled people are using PGD technology to ensure their babies are born with their parents’ disability (deafness, for example).  

Here’s what’s scary.  I can’t demonize the people who kill their babies for not being perfect as I’d like to do because I know these people.  I can’t say, “Oh, I can’t imagine what kind of people would do these things,” because I don’t have to imagine them. In the main they are good people, people who think the right things, do the right things, and love their other children. They are frighteningly normal.  And if aborting babies for not being perfect is normal, then what is the world coming to?   
 

What’s in a Name?

The following is a reprint of a column that ran in The East Tennessee Catholic newspaper on August 11, 2002.  It explains the name of my former column, which is now the name of this blog.

Names are important.

Think of the time we spend choosing the names we give our children, the hours poring over baby-name books, making lists, asking opinions, only to be told years later by an unappreciative adolescent, “I hate my name!”

Now, any writer or artist will tell you that his creative product is something like “offspring” to him.  So when it was time–past time–to name this column, I agonized over the choice for days.  Then, coming up blank, I followed my usual procedure for titling my work:  I stole.

Image result for bartlett's familiar quotations
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations with its handy index is an old friend that has proved its worth to me many times.  I looked up life in the back of the book, and voila, the works of far better writers than I were at my disposal.

The phrase “life in every limb” sounded perfect at first reading, and once I investigated the source became even more so.

First, the author:  William Wordsworth, famed English poet of the Romantic Period, and as it happens, an old favorite of mine.  My first college English professor, later my advisor, is a preeminent Wordsworth scholar who spends summers at Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District.  By virtue of his enthusiasm almost as much as Wordsworth’s talent, he taught us to love Wordsworth too.  This seemed like an omen.

Next the poem whence the line came: We Are Seven. The poem’s narrator encounters a “little maid,” who in answer to questions about her family asserts again and again that there are seven children, even though two have died.  This inclusion in the family’s number of two who are unable to speak for themselves resonated with me as I thought of the voiceless unborn and their need for similar champions.

Finally, the entire quotation:  “A simple child/That lightly draws its breath/And feels its life in every limb/What should it know of death?” I thought of the unborn child, alive in every way, in every part of its tiny body, heart beating, blood pumping, at the very beginning of its life doomed so often to a premature and violent death.

I wonder what Wordsworth might add to the abortion debate if he were with us today.  My first child’s godmother (a fellow student of the aforementioned professor) created a beautiful cross-stitch as a gift for Emily when she was born from a paraphrased Wordsworth quotation: “Children come trailing clouds of glory from God who is their home.”

This comes from his Ode on the Intimations of Mortality, in which he expounds upon his belief that children are closer to God because they remember glimpses of heaven that are more and more lost to us as we grow older.  His own heavenly visions, the “spots of time” he celebrates in his long autobiographical narrative poem The Prelude, were a continuing source of inspiration to Wordsworth.  I have a feeling that he would have viewed the killing of the innocent unborn, fresh from God’s hand, as the worst kind of sacrilege.

Moving to a different sort of literature, the phrase “life in every limb” calls to mind St. Paul‘s metaphor of 1 Corinthians 12: ” . . . [T]he body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body . . . .”  Each person, born or unborn, is a part of that body and has a unique role to fulfill.

In valuing all members of the body equally, our church espouses a consistent ethic of life.  Although abortion is the focus of this column, I plan to write about many other life issues, such as the death penalty and euthanasia.  We might think of the abortion issue as just one of the many limbs of the church’s pro-life teachings.  For we are a church that embraces and celebrates and protects all life, that of the innocent unborn equally with that of the convicted murderer, of the ill and disabled along with the healthy, of the non-Christian along with the Christian–life in every limb of the Body of Christ.