From the Bishops Mr. Obama: Remember the lessons of history

My dear friends,

The coming week will be a historic one for our nation.

On the positive side, on Jan. 20, we will inaugurate our first African-American president, less than 50 years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream speech" from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

On the negative side, on Jan. 22, we will be marking the 36th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion on demand throughout all nine months of a woman’s pregnancy.

The irony, of course, is that our new president is a supporter of "free choice" on abortion – which means he does not see the connection between a system of slavery that denied the humanity of people of his own race, and the argument for choice, which similarly denies the humanity of unborn children.

Slaves were considered property, listed on household inventories with a price next to their name so their commercial value could be assessed. Unborn children today are considered the property of their mothers, who are free to decide whether the child in their womb lives or dies.

(In fact, our legal view of the unborn relies so much on the concept of property rights that judges have been asked to decide which parent "owns" the frozen embryos left over from in vitro fertilization after a couple’s divorce.)

As Catholics, we rejoice in the historic election of Barack Obama. It is a sign that as a nation we have begun to overcome the tragic legacy of slavery.

We also look forward to working with Mr. Obama on the pressing social justice issues of our time, such as access to health care for all, the just treatment of immigrants and efforts to free those who are caught in the cycle of poverty.

But as the U.S. bishops stated in November through our conference president, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, we will remain "single-minded" on the issue of abortion, "a medical procedure that kills, and (whose) psychological and spiritual consequences are written in the sorrow and depression of many women and men."

We will oppose any attempt to pass the Freedom of Choice Act or in any other way roll back the few abortion restrictions currently in place, such as parental notification, informed consent, the ban on partial-birth abortion and the ban on federal funding of abortions, as well as the reversing of rules allowing health care professionals to opt out of doing procedures they consider morally objectionable.

I would remind Mr. Obama that laws were necessary to end the practice of slavery and its evil offshoots, such as "separate but equal." Without those changes in the law, it would have been impossible for our nation to elect its first African-American president.

Mr. Obama’s election, however, does not mean that discrimination based on race has ended completely. That is a product of original sin, our human imperfection. Laws can only go so far in taming those impulses. True conversion takes place in people’s hearts, with the help of God’s grace.

Similarly, a change in the law is necessary to end abortion on demand. Roe v. Wade must be overturned. That does not mean that some women will not continue to seek abortions, as they did before the procedure was legalized – any more than people stop killing or stealing from others just because it’s illegal.

But as the civil rights movement demonstrated, laws are a starting point for changing people’s attitudes.

Certainly, there were not 1.2 million abortions a year in this country before the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision. A change in the law would lead many women who currently view abortion as their only "choice" to seek help elsewhere, and to opt for solutions that are life-affirming rather than life-ending. And the ministries of the Catholic Church will continue to be there to help them.

We pray, then, for our new president. May God grant him the wisdom to govern well during these most difficult times in our nation’s history, and may God grant him the grace of conversion on the issue of abortion.

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Printed with permission from Florida Catholic, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Miami.

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