As the nation marks almost 50 years of legalized abortion, pro-life advocates in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia say they’re committed to “all-encompassing” support for human dignity, from conception to natural death.

“What you say at the beginning of life, you say at the end of life,” said Steven Bozza, bioethicist and director of the archdiocesan Office for Life and Family. “The question is, ‘How are we being pro-life with all of the stages of life?’”

The answer involves a broad array of public witness, legislative change, social outreach, scientific advancement and education — all inspired by faith, love and courage, he said.

“Catholic social teaching reveals a beautifully consistent ethic of life,” said Bozza.

Upholding that ethic first requires a recognition that abortion ultimately devalues human life at every age, said Bozza.

“Think of the social problems we see in the news every day — violence, people killing each other,” he said. “It boils down to a disrespect for human life. You’re not respecting human life in the womb. What makes you think you’ll respect it on the street?”

Since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases, over 61 million abortions have taken place in the U.S., an average of 2,000 per day.

Globally, there are a total of some 73.3 million abortions each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute — a number at least five million greater than United Kingdom’s current population, and almost 15 million more than the United Nation’s 2019 crude death rate, or total number of deaths worldwide in a given year.

Abortion particularly impacts communities of color: Black, Hispanic and other non-White patients accounted for 62% of all U.S. abortions in 2014, according to Guttmacher.

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Marching for Life

On Jan. 21, Bozza will join thousands expected at the 49th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. After last year’s virtual observance due to COVID, the gathering — launched by Nellie Gray in 1974 to protest the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions — will resume its in-person format.

Trips to the march are being organized by some two dozen Philadelphia-area parishes, Catholic schools and Knights of Columbus chapters, with Bozza’s office coordinating bus parking permits for groups traveling to pre-march Masses at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

A number of local teens will stay in Washington to attend the Jan. 22 National Pro-Life Summit, hosted by Students for Life of America (SFLA). The all-day session, set to take place at the capital’s Omni Shoreham Hotel, will provide training for grassroots pro-life activists.

“We have students signed up from private, public and parochial schools,” said Maria Parker, theology department chair at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Pennsylvania.

SFLA has provided Parker with some 80 free tickets to the conference, while support from the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia (PLU) and Pennsylvanians for Human Life is covering the cost of transportation for her group.

Prayers for the unborn

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Along with public demonstrations, prayer remains vital to ending abortion, say pro-life advocates.

The PLU will hold a prayer vigil Jan. 22 at 10 am outside Planned Parenthood’s downtown location at 12th and Locust Streets. Both the vigil and the SFLA summit will take place on the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, observed in all the Catholic dioceses of the U.S.

Pro-life advocate Ashley Garecht (second left) joined some 30 others at a Dec. 1, 2021 prayer vigil outside a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood site, an event organized by the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia. Gina Christian/CatholicPhilly.com
Pro-life advocate Ashley Garecht (second left) joined some 30 others at a Dec. 1, 2021 prayer vigil outside a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood site, an event organized by the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia. Gina Christian/CatholicPhilly.com

As in recent years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is also inviting faithful across the nation to participate in the 9 Days for Life novena (Jan. 19-27) for the protection of human life.

With materials available in both English and Spanish, each day’s novena intention includes a short reflection, suggested acts of reparation and additional resources for understanding church teaching and pastoral outreach regarding abortion.

Throughout the month of January, a Zoom-based rosary campaign for the end of abortion is being recited each evening at 9 p.m., led by Mickey Kelly, a local pro-life advocate and board president of the St. Raymond Nonnatus Foundation. Those wishing to join the rosary can email Kelly for the Zoom link.

Headwinds and hope

Amid ongoing efforts to end abortion, several challenges remain, say area pro-life leaders.

The Supreme Court’s pending ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case — a decision expected by July — could overturn Roe v. Wade and redirect the abortion issue to the state level for legislation.

But that’s where the work begins anew, said Father Christopher Walsh, PLU chairman and pastor of St. Raymond of Peñafort Parish in Philadelphia.

States such as New Jersey have already moved “to enshrine a ‘right to abortion’ in their law,” said Walsh, noting “there are plans to do the same in Pennsylvania.”

For that reason, “it is essential for people who believe in the civil rights of the unborn child to be united,” he said.

In the process of “(fighting) this legal battle,” he said, “the more challenging battle for hearts and minds must continue.”

Walsh urged compassion in “listening to those who believe abortion is permissible,” and advised pro-life advocates to “share the truth with (abortion proponents) little by little, with patience but also with conviction.”

And men need to be part of that conversation on abortion, said Bozza.

“I put much of this issue squarely into the hands of the men involved,” he said, citing Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which warned that artificial contraception and abortion would result in a woman being reduced to “a mere instrument for the satisfaction of (a man’s) desires,” without regard for “the reverence due to (her)”

PLU president and CEO Tom Stevens agreed, describing abortion as “an easy way out for men.”

At the same time, many men are simply excluded “when there’s an unexpected pregnancy,” and a decision to seek an abortion “can cause great grief for a man,” said Stevens.

Both he and Bozza said chemical abortions, the pills for which are now widely available in several states through telemedicine and online delivery services, compound that marginalization – while endangering the health of women and teen girls.

“A doctor or a nurse practitioner could be talking to a 14-year-old girl in her bedroom, and there’s no ultrasound, so you don’t really know how far along she is, or if she has an ectopic pregnancy,” said Stevens. “It’s really dangerous.”

“What happens when things go wrong, and she ends up in the hospital?” asked Bozza, noting that advances in medical science are themselves paving the way to end abortion.

“When women look at ultrasound videos, there’s no mistaking those are children in the womb,” he said. “And modern genetics (shows) that what a person is genetically at the moment of conception, they’ll always be; there’s no changing that.”

Thanks to entities such as SFLA and Live Action, younger generations have “the scientific information” to “debunk the social myths” surrounding abortion, said Parker.

“I think most of our students are definitely pro-life, and they just need the knowledge and information so they can connect what they’re feeling in their hearts with their heads,” she said.

The wide range of pregnancy and parenting supports provided by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services and the PLU’s numerous member outreaches offer tangible help and hope to women in crisis pregnancies, offering them alternatives to abortion, said pro-life advocates.

“The pro-life community of Greater Philadelphia is doing amazing things,” said Walsh. “I hope others join these efforts for the good of the human family.”

Editor's note: This story was originally published by CatholicPhilly.com of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.