March 14, 1998
Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo
President of the Pontifical Council for the Family
I am very grateful for the invitation from Human Life International to this important meeting here in Cologne where the imposing cathedral is like a prayer in stone that rises up to heaven. Here human genius, in a captivating artistic sensitivity, comes together with the expressive energy of the faith that has marked the souls of its people throughout the ages.
At the Second World Meeting of the Holy Father with Families, before the fascinating nature of Rio de Janeiro and the architectonic development of that city, the Pope spoke in spontaneous and penetrating reflection about the harmony between the divine architecture and the human architecture and applied this comparison to the family. It is striking to see how in many places in today’s world what was once an exalting harmony has been transformed into a rupture and opposition between God’s plan and human plans, between the divine will and human will with regard to what concerns the family and life. This meeting in Cologne represents a call to save and strengthen that harmony which makes the building up of man and society possible, in respect for the human person, according to God's plan which lovingly seeks the good of man who was created in his image and likeliness.
It is not important to fall into the risk of repeating a series of concerns and principles which continue to be urgent and current and should be a permanent call to the conscience. I have to refer to some of these questions, each of which would require ample development. Today the prophetic mission of the Church is like a repeated and anguished outcry in the face of so many distressing phenomena. Nonetheless, it is also a proclamation of hope, for the Church is convinced of all the persuasive force of the truth in the certainties that come from God.
The outcry and hopeful denunciation which are nourished by the Gospel of the Lord of the Family and Life take on a special urgency on the threshold of the Third Millennium which speaks to us about the building up of a world worthy of man, the image of God, in this year in which the United Nations are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How can we keep from dreaming that those rights will be understood fully, with a serious anthropology, all the rights and not only some, without any curtailments or discriminations: all the rights, beginning with the right to life without which the rest are undermined; all the rights, especially of the poorest persons and peoples in respect for the neediest and weakest; all the rights, including due respect and recognition of the rights of the family formulated in the Charter of the Rights of the Family, prepared by the Holy See.
The year 1998 has been designated by the Church as a year of special devotion to the Holy Spirit in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the year 2000. We who believe in the Holy Spirit profess that he is the "Lord and Giver of Life." It is He who breathed on the waters and brought forth life at the dawn of history; it is He who descended on the apostles that they might bring the gift of new life to the nations.
To deepen our devotion to the Holy Spirit, then, is to deepen our commitment to life and to the defense of life. For the Pro-Life Movements, this year will have to be a time of affirmation and consolidation in the dialogue in society, with institutions, in the Areopagus of the world. Affirmation of Human Rights requires in-depth reflection on its truth, on all its captivating and luminous truth, which is only understood before the Lord, "Veritatis Splendor".
This meeting in Cologne is taking place just a few days after the Holy Father, Teacher of Truth and defender of human dignity, has written a historic Letter to the Bishops of Germany in order to resolve the sensitive question of the issuing of "certificates" in counseling centers and to defend, without any danger of confusion or ambiguity, [the Church’s position] against the abominable crime of abortion. The Holy Father writes, "After careful consideration of all the arguments, I cannot avoid the conclusion that there is an ambiguity here which obscures the clear and uncompromising witness of the Church and her counseling centers. I would therefore urgently ask you, dear Brothers, to find a way so that a certificate of this kind will no longer be issued at Church counseling centers or those connected with the Church. I urge you, however, to ensure that in any event the Church maintains an effective presence in the counseling of women seeking help" (n.7). We take special note of his insistence on preserving the clarity and vigor of the Church's witness to the Gospel of Life. This purpose and motivation are what stand behind both the decision not to allow the "certificates" to be issued, and the vigorous call to both continue and increase the Church's assistance to women tempted to abort. What unites these two aspects of the Holy Father's position is precisely the fact that love is indivisible. The Gospel of Life calls for equal and uncompromising love for the woman and the child. We cannot love one without loving the other. Therefore, the witness of an absolute refusal to do anything to permit an abortion to happen is, at the same time, exactly what the mother of that child needs to help her to do what is right, and to avoid the destructive impact of abortion not only on her child, but on her.
This Letter by the Successor of Peter, which is backed up by the Pastors' efforts to defend life, will undoubtedly have its repercussions in other nations where the problems are similar and where there could be the risk of blinding public opinion in the sense that the Church might give the appearance of not opposing iniquitous laws, or that one could proceed to abort after fulfilling some requirements that are not very clear. The Letter states, "The task of defending life in all its phases allows no half measures. Consequently, the Church’s teaching and way of acting in the question of abortion must, in their essential content, be the same in all countries" (n.5). Of course there is the possibility and obligation to advise and persuade, as far as possible, those who are about to perpetrate a similar crime which, instead of decreasing, is growing. This is the express invitation of John Paul II, the Pope of Evangelium Vitae, who tirelessly invites the world, as he did once again in Rio de Janeiro, to defend human life. His words in the Maracana Stadium resound: "Around the family and life the fundamental struggle for human dignity is waged today...[welcome your children with responsible love; protect them as a gift of God...] so that the abominable crime of abortion, the shame of humanity does not condemn the unborn to the most unjust of executions: that of the most innocent human beings!".
The denunciation of this inhuman crime, which is even sought to be defended as a right, must be accompanied by the Pro-Life Movements’ action to spread the culture of life against the culture of death and by prayer so that a great process of conversion will be brought about of many, especially of politicians and lawmakers who have made this shame possible. We must repeat as forcefully as we can that it is better to obey God than men! (1) It is both alarming and disconcerting that in the most economically developed countries the killing of the innocent continues through such blatant crimes as those perpetrated in the United States in Partial Birth Abortion; these are not partial abortions but total crimes in which children are sacrificed who are in a stage so close to their birth!
Some Cardinals in the United States had no doubts about marching in front of the White House to protest the veto which President Clinton imposed on a parliamentary law that abolished such a macabre procedure.
We are in the presence of a tragic darkening of the conscience which curiously occurs at a time which human rights are spoken about most. Unbelievable extremes have been reached and there are Parliaments in Europe where, despite the reactions of so many persons, attempts are being made to make abortion laws still more flexible and liberal. We are reaching the limits to think that one day those who defend life against abortion could be taken to court and sentenced! This would be the empire of crime that would have all the prerogatives to the point of arriving at unusual forms of totalitarianism.
It is important to come to understand that the soul of the movement to defend life is love. The Spirit of Life is the Spirit of Love. Love is one of the most misused words in our vocabulary. St. John tells us that the true meaning of love is revealed in the fact that God "sent His Son as an expiation for our sins" (1Jn.4:10). Here, then, is true love: I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person. Abortion is precisely the opposite of love: I sacrifice the other person for the good of myself. The struggle against abortion is no longer simply a matter of convincing people that the child in the womb is human. Scientific advances have put that question beyond doubt. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, in fact, recently stated that in Japan, a child has been brought from conception to full term entirely outside the mother's womb.
More and more of those who support abortion admit readily that it is killing, but that this killing of the innocent is nevertheless a right. In fact, pro-abortion forces are currently seeking to define abortion as an "international right" and a "human right" through various mechanisms of the United Nations. In this way of thinking, therefore, it does not matter that the child is human.
Our efforts to defend life, therefore, have a broader basis. We are called to testify to the meaning of love, to the fact that we are never free to exclude another human being from our love. The rebirth of a Culture of Life can come only when we help people rediscover that human happiness and fulfillment are never found by pushing someone else out of the way, but rather, by pushing ourselves out of the way for the good of others. Freedom is not found in saying, "This is my body, so I can kill the child," but rather is found in the Lord's words, "This is my body, given up for you." (2) In Evangelium Vitae, the Holy Father teaches, "In this way, Jesus proclaims that life finds its center, its meaning, and its fulfillment when it is given up"(n.51). As the Lord sacrificed himself for us, so we are called to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the others, that they may have life.
This logic undoes the evil of abortion, despite the methods that may be used. A new book on various chemical methods of abortion was recently announced by a study group of the World Health Organization. Yet our mission on behalf of life is not confused or shaken simply because more methods of killing are devised. The mission is always the same: to lead people to give themselves away in love.
This dynamic not only overturns abortion, but forms the core of our opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide, because it embodies a response of giving ourselves to the person who is ill and suffering, rather than casting that person out of our way. Studies consistently reveal that most of the terminally ill do not ask that their lives be taken, and that most of those who do ask are really seeking to cope with life rather than to end it.
This dynamic of the true meaning of love, in fact, is what demonstrates that the promotion of life, chastity, marriage, and family are essentially interconnected. Authentic self-giving for the good of the other person is the common foundation of these realities.
Today, in a series of policies, in the International Organizations, it can be observed how in a concerted way the activities are advancing which weaken the family in God’s original model and the actions characteristic of the culture of death. The Family and Life are inseparable poles. This unity Family-Life is not only seen in the fundamental conception of the irreplaceable mission of the family -- cradle and sanctuary of life, where life is truly welcomed, protected and respected-- but also in the strategy of the concerted attacks. Some good lessons were taken from the Conferences of Cairo and Beijing and from the meticulous, programmed political follow-up, with its impoverished and mutilated anthropology. With an ambiguous, manipulated and manipulating language that is reinforced emotionally, launched to the four winds by many communications media, and with some characteristic terms which, by dint of repeating them acritically, a kind of new morality is being forged that is individualistic and opposed to the family, like the fruit of a disintegrating anthropological choice in which the truth itself is imprisoned and drowned by a network of political and ideological interests. This is a rampant form of utilitarianism in which everything is decided by the play of majorities refractory to a sound, ontological vision. Weber said, "What is rational, in relation to the objective (i.e., with what one intends to obtain), prevails over what is rational in relation to values". In this way, truth itself takes on a dimension which is neither governing nor normative but rather functional, adaptable and capable of being manipulated. The ethical principles that ensure human dignity and coexistence are treated like an unnecessary luxury, like a remembrance or residue from a past that would be of no use in the new type of socio-political rationality.
The types of institutions which share this new morality are well known. We are in the presence of an international action with worldwide coverage. As one attentive observer points out, this is developing in all milieus, in all countries and in all generations ("mainstreaming" is spoken about), and the various themes are inter-related. This is produced from research centers linked with decision-making centers which are connected and coordinated like "synergies" among the interested bodies.
New categories are coined for a new conception of life, through policies of progressive permeability, systematic analyses, resources and statistical and social research. One of the aspects that serves as a premise is the myth of over-population on which the policies of "contraceptive colonialism" and abortion policies are based, such as those which were brought to Cairo.
In this new anthropological model, various institutions, international, intergovernmental (UNFPA) and non-governmental organizations (IPPF, Population Council, Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, etc.) all come together. There are different degrees of participation according to the organizations, such as the World Health Organization, the Word Bank; and very recently, the metastasis was most obvious which was brought about in UNICEF that had reaped so many merits when it carried out its own specific mission before undergoing any alterations. A common factor is the form of giving priority to the "individual" over the person. Terms like "sexual rights", "reproductive rights", "gender", "family planning", etc., are filled with ambiguities. The person is removed from the family, from the rights of parents, from the responsibility of a well understood love.
Yet another example of this type of human rights violation is the news reported in recent days of mass sterilizations in Peru. At lease five women were reported to have died following such sterilizations, and the conditions under which they were performed were not exactly those of the "informed consent" advocated by the World Health Organization. The Church in Peru is demanding a full investigation into these deaths. A large group of Congressmen in the Parliament are also calling for the truth to be told about human rights violations in that sad sterilization program.
With new aspects of the battle for life always emerging, we must still keep in mind that at the root of these problems lies the acceptance of contraception, even by many Catholics, following the so-called "sexual revolution" which started in the sixties. Even some good Catholics think in terms of contraception as a lesser evil that should be passed over in silence. A large part of the failure of Catholics to oppose abortion came in fact from their loose attitude toward contraception.
Pope John Paul II has written in Evangelium Vitae,
"Certainly, from the moral point of view, contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being...But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree" (EV n.13).
Thus the Holy Father contests the argument that has been used to justify contraception, namely "Prevention is better than abortion." (3) The Church has been accused of being insensitive to the moral dilemmas of our times, and even of promoting abortion by its stern refusal to approve hormonal contraception. The Holy Father calls such arguments "clearly unfounded" (see EV n.13).
We will not dwell here on those methods of contraception which are known to be abortifacient (4) (so-called "post-coital contraception," "emergency contraception," or "morning after pill," Depo-Provera injections, Norplant, Intra-uterine devices). All these act to spontaneously eliminate embryos. You should certainly keep these methods in mind when speaking about abortion.
The contraceptives to which the Pope refers in Evangelium Vitae include the popular combined oral contraceptives commonly called "the pill." Recent reviews show that far from diminishing the number of abortions, the increased use of the pill leads to more abortions than before. One passes very easily from one to the other, as is shown by studies conducted in Sweden (5), Finland (6), Denmark (7), Great Britain (8), and the United States (9).
Despite the wide diffusion of contraceptives in the United States and Great Britain, for example, statistics show the numbers of abortion rising at the same time (10, 11). In France, the number of legal abortions is stable, not influenced by the fact that 70% of French women use a contraceptive method. Contraceptives carry with them and reinforce a contraceptive, anti-life mentality
This mentality leads to abortion. Abortion directly rejects the child and destroys him. Contraception also rejects the child, and uses all means at its disposal to prevent the child from ever coming to be. In both cases, the child is the enemy, seen as an accidental by-product of a genital activity which has been reduced to the level of amusement and futility. "Sex" becomes more important than the baby. When the child does come, despite the use of contraception, as sometimes happens, he is still rejected, just as before. After contraception was made widely available, therefore, it was a tragic logic to liberalize the abortion laws, in order to provide for contraceptive failures.
But contraception and abortion are also linked in their biological nature. It is in its mechanism of action that oral contraception becomes abortive. The first contraceptive pills, which contain a high level of estrogens, did inhibit ovulation and were therefore truly contraceptive. But they were quickly removed from use due to the complications they caused. Today, most of the pills in use have a low estrogen content, and therefore do not inhibit completely the follicle maturation in ovaries. Ovulations do happen in women taking contraceptive pills, at an estimated rate of one out of ten to twelve cycles (12). This, in turn, leads to fecundations. It is estimated that, at least in 5% of the cycles under combined oral contraception, such a fecundation does occur, leading to the development of an embryo (13). As this estimated rate of possible fecundation from "contraception" clearly outnumbers the number of known abortions procured by women who use such contraceptives, one therefore concludes that there is a high rate of spontaneous, unnoticed abortions due to contraceptives. These abortions are readily explained by the severe atrophy of the endometrium (14) (the inner mucous layer of the uterus) caused by the pill. This endometrium becomes unreceptive to the embryo, which is then unable to implant into the uterus and is therefore eliminated. It is estimated that a woman taking the pill for fifteen years would have at least two abortions in this manner (15). This number may not seem so high, but aside from the fact that even one death is a tragedy, one must consider the total number of embryos destroyed in this way each year in populations using the pill. In France alone, for example, it would represent 300,000 abortions a year.
This abortion rate of oral contraceptives becomes much higher when we consider the popular "mini-pill" (16) or "progestogen only" pill, with which there is almost no inhibition of ovulation at all. Its effects are the increased viscosity of the cervical mucus and the atrophy of the endometrium.
My dear friends, we stand at a crucial time in the history of the Church and the world. We are aware of the problems, and we know that their solution lies in the victory of our Lord over the powers of sin and death. I urge you, therefore, not only to be well informed of these issues and active in addressing them, but to carry out this mission with a deep sense of peace, confidence, and joy. Life is a joyful reality, and we who defend it must be marked with that sense of spiritual joy. As we prepare by means of Lent to celebrate the Paschal Mystery with our minds and hearts renewed, let us take hold again of the Lord’s victory over death, and commit ourselves to be His instruments to transform our world from a culture of death to a glorious Culture and Kingdom of Life.
(1) cf. Acts 5:29, Evangelium Vitae, n.73.
(2) For a fuller treatment of this comparison, see This is My Body, Priests for Life, vol. 6 N.3, May-June 1996, p.1 (website www.priestsforlife.org).
(3) R. Ehmann, Problems in family planning, Anthropotes, vol. 7, n.1, May 1991, pp.95-126.
(4) M.L.Di Pietro, E. Sgreccia, La contragestazione ovvero l’aborto nascosto, Medicina e Morale, vol.38, n.1, January-February 1987, pp.5-34.
(5) B. Andersch, I. Milsom, Contraception and pregnancy among young women in an urban Swedish population, Contraception, vol.26, n.3, September 1982, pp.211-219. I. Milsom, G. Sundell, B. Andersch, A longitudinal study of contraception and pregnancy outcome in a representative sample of young Swedish women, Contraception, vol.43, n.2, February 1991, pp.111-119.
(6) E.A-L. Kosunien, M.K. Rimpela, Towards regional equality in family planning: teenage pregnancies and abortions in Finland from 1976 to 1993, Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, vol.75, n.6, July 1996, pp.540-547.
(7) K. Sidenius, N.K. Rasmussen, Contraceptive Practice Among Abortion-seeking Adolescents, Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, supplement 116, 1983, n.11, p.14.
(8) V.A.H. Pearson, M.R. Owen, D.R. Phillips, D.J. Pereira Gray, M.N. Marshall, Pregnant teenagers’ knowledge and use of emergency contraception, British Medical Journal, vol.310, n.6995, 24 June 1995, p.1644; Williams, Pregnant teenagers and contraception. Contraceptive failure may be a major factor in teenage pregnancy (letter), British Medical journal, vol.311, n.7008, 23 September 1995, pp.806-807.
(9) Etats-Unis: la contraception favorise l’avortement, TransVIE-mag, n.99, 30 November 1996, p.3 Lancet 17/8/1996.
(10) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol.45 n.11, March 22, 1996, pp.235-238; 1997, 45, pp.1123-1127.
(11) M. Clarke, Fertility and legal abortion in England and Wales: performance indicators for family planning services, British Medical Journal, vol.297, n.6652, 1 October 1988, pp.832-833.
(12) V. Chowdury, U.M. Joshi, K. Gopalkrishna, S. Betrabet, S. Mehta, B.N. Saxena, "Escape" ovulation in women due to the missing of low dose combination oral contraceptive pills, Contraception, vol.22, n.3, September 1980, pp.241-247. I.D. Nuttall, M. Elstein, The effect of norethisterone (500 mcg) and ethinyl estradiol (35 mcg) capsules on the pituitary-ovarian axis, Contraception, vol.25, n.5, May 1982, pp.463-469. C.Jung-Hoffmann, F. Heidt, H. Kuhl, Effect of two oral contraceptives containing 30mg ethinylestradiol and 75mg gestodene or 150mg desogestrel upon various hormonal parameters, Contraception, vol.38, n.6, December 1988, pp.593-603.
(13) R.A. Edgren, F.M. Sturtevant, Potencies of oral contraceptives, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol.125, n.8, August 15, 1976, pp.1029-1038.
(14) E.R. Friedrich, Effects of Contraceptive Hormone Preparations on the Fine Structure of the Endometrium, Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 30, n.2, August 1967, pp. 201-219. L.L. Hester Jr., W.W. Kellett III, S.S. Spicer, H.O. Williamson, H.R. Pratt-Thomas, Effects of a sequential oral contraceptive on endometrial enzyme and carbohydrate histochemistry, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 102, n.6, November 15, 1968, pp. 771-780. O. Widholm, U. Alapiessa, The biological effects of a new modified sequential oral contraceptive, Contraception, vol. 15, n.1, January 1977, pp.1-13. W.G. Rossmanith, D. Steffens, G. Schramm, A comparative Randomized Trial on the Impact of Two Low-Dose Oral Contraceptives on Ovarian Activity, Cervical Permeability, and Endometrial Receptivity, 1997, op.cit.
(15) M.L. Di Pietro, R. Minacori, op.cit. p.879.
(16) S. Graham, I.S. Fraser, The progesterone-only mini-pill, Contraception, vol.26, n.4, October 1982, pp.373-388.
Printed with permission from Priests for Life.