Many people know that October means Breast Cancer Awareness Month (which I blogged about here and here) but fewer know this is also Respect Life Month. I doubt this was planned but the two topics go well together I think.
Cardinal DiNardo of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ”calls on Catholics to respect, promote and teach the ‘transcendent nature of the human person’…Catholics must not shrink from obligation to defend right to life, conscience right.”
The theme for the 40th annual Respect Life year of 2011-2012 is, “I came so all might have life and have it to the full” (cf. John 10:10)
What does that mean though, to Respect Life? I like to breakdown the word “respect”: RE + SPECT. RE= Do again and SPECT= To see. RESPECT= Look at again. So for Respect Life month, it is a dedicated time to remember to take the time to look at life, specifically the life of human beings, and see each life again, to look at each person and take the time to really see him or her and see who they are. How often to do we really do this with everyone we meet and interact with?
When I worked in retail, I worked with and helped many people throughout my day, most of them I did not know nor would I probably ever see again. I loved looking at each person that I helped at the check out or helped find clothes or other merchandise and observing them and trying to look deeper into who they were aside from a customer. It wasn’t always easy but it was a fun game for me. I also used to love sitting in the mall food court during my breaks, or in airports or other crowded places, and just watching the people go by. I still like to do this when I can. Everyone is so different, all so unique, each one a person…a living being created by God out of ‘nothing’ and now here they were…moving, breathing, living. Some people are sad, some happy, some who knows what sort of things they are going through but they, we, all have one thing in common—we are alive, we have LIFE!
LIFE really is a gift. ALL LIFE is precious, not one person’s life has more value than another’s.
Respect for Life begins with the understanding and belief that every life is equally and uniquely valuable. From the most innocent to even the guiltiest, life is life. From the speck-sized zygote, to the helpless infant, to the precocious young child, to the sassy teenager, to the arrogant young adult, to the disillusioned middle-aged adult, to the exhausted ‘pre-senior’, to the restful retiree, to the wise elderly; life is life. Though people might annoy us, even hurt us, we must remember to step back and see them again-and see each person for who they are—living creatures of God. This is something I am continually working on.
Aside from remembering to step back and see each person for who they are and seeing the value in every life, “Respect Life” also means “Defend Life”. Everyone who has life deserves the chance to live their life and the chance to choose to live it to the fullest; to choose to grow and develop, to wonder, discover and learn, to find fulfillment and purpose. All of this, our life, our freedom to choose, and the ability to find what we are looking for, must be defended and protected.
We have all been given life freely. The other greatest gift we’ve been given, aside from life itself, is choice. We are not robots, we can choose to either love or hate. We all make different choices which bring different results and effects. Some choices are done with respect to how it will or will not affect ourselves and other lives positively or negatively. Other choices are made more out of a lack of respect for others and even for our own selves. Decisions made without this due respect hurt those who make them and other lives around them. But we must always continue looking at everyone, even those who hurt us, and see their value and their ability to love and do good for themselves and those around them. This does not mean we can let people stomp all over us or continue to hurt us or others. We cannot force people to change but we should never give up hope that they can, even if we are doubtful that they will. In some cases, we will have direct involvement with this process of forgiveness and healing, in other cases our only job will be to pray that God will give them the grace to take that step back and see themselves and others with a new perspective and attitude.
There are many ‘issues’ that fall under the umbrella of “Respect Life”. Criminal punishment, starvation & food supply, health care, euthanasia, child abuse and neglect, domestic abuse, shelter & housing, and abortion, contraception, human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, sperm and egg donations, in vitro fertilization and of course and many other ‘life’ issue.
These are all important issues and all deserve a true respect for life in every single situation. For me, the issue of abortion is an easy one to dissect, however, I am still grappling with my feelings and understanding about how to have a just criminal justice system that both treats each suspect or criminal with humanely yet also offers them and those around them a just sentence or fine or consequence. But I’ll save my thoughts and questions I have about that for another day and instead focus on abortion now. Ideally I would have done this at the beginning of the month and then written about a few issues pertaining to “Respect Life” month but I’ve been too busy living life. Besides, there are still 11 other months of the year to dedicate to posts about respecting life and there could never be one blog post that could sum it all up.
As I said, I feel that the issue of abortion is the easiest to understand since it is clear what happens in an abortion every time: a new innocent human being is killed. Key word: innocent. The other life issues deserve the same amount and attention to respect for life but abortion is where it all starts—it deals with a human person who is at the beginning of life, at the most vulnerable and innocent time of any person’s life. When a child is intentionally aborted, the intent is clear every time—to kill his or her life, treating this life as if it does not matter or that it will not matter or that it is not worth saving or allowing to continue on the cycle and development of life. There is no Respect for Life going on here.
Those who take part in this procedure have failed to take that step back and look at the “fetus” and see “it” is a living human being. One person’s choice takes away another person’s (or persons’) opportunity to even use his or her free will to make any choices at all ever. When I say “abortion” I mean any procedure that purposefully and needlessly extracts or causes the removal of a living developing baby in utero. Aside from special circumstances laid out in the principal of double effect, there is no reason that can justify the clear intention of abortion or, more importantly, negate the fact that the abortion procedure terminates a pregnancy and life of another human being.
Yet, despite the clear disrespect for human life that occurs with abortion, it is not only socially accepted and legal but it is defended as a compassionate choice for women and, more recently, for the babies who are killed. For whatever reason, women went through the whole feminist ‘women can do anything’ era but yet have convinced themselves that if they become pregnant at the ‘wrong’ time they wouldn’t be able to handle a pregnancy, a birth, an adoption or becoming a mother. Before sonograms, it was easier to ignore the baby and just see the ‘suffering woman’. But now, post sonograms, it’s beyond denial to believe the object of the abortion is just as much of a person as a person out of the womb. A “fetus” does not magically become a human person as it goes through the birth canal. But even with sonogram technology there are still those who choose to abort their babies and those who fully support this decision and even encourage and advocate for women to do so. So now, the babies themselves are becoming the way to justify it. It is now not only “for the woman” but also “for the sake of the baby”. “After all, a baby whose mother does not want or isn’t ready for him or her would have a terrible life anyway, so it’s really best for the baby that he or she never be born.” And of course there are those who feel they are “saving” a baby with high ‘chances’ of having special needs by aborting them since they would probably be “outcast” or “never really have much of a life anyway” or “be a huge financial and emotional burden on the parents and society”. I saw some sign somewhere (sorry can’t remember where) that only 10% of children who are diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome in utero survive.
When I was in junior high and high school and I started learning about abortion I couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t be true—why would anyone willingly choose to kill their own baby, I couldn’t understand this or really believe it actually happened. One Saturday morning of my freshman or sophomore year a group from school and church went to the abortion clinic in our city to peacefully pray for the women going in. We got there early in the morning and walked on the sidewalk while praying. I was walking close to the entrance drive when suddenly a car came down the street slowly and started turning into the abortion clinic parking lot. I was stunned and frozen in my tracks. What was going on? Was someone really going in there? I remember locking eyes with someone in the car and just feeling very confused. “Why?” I wanted to ask, “Why are you going in there?” I wanted to run after them and save them from what was inside. I went home that day and sobbed. I wished I had never gone and seen all those cars going in…and out. At first I never wanted to go back, but then I realized I must. While I didn’t understand why these women were going in there, I knew they needed prayers and if my prayerful presence could help just one it would be worth the sorrow of watching them all going in and out of there.
I learned a lot while going there. I am ashamed now though to admit that I wasn’t always silent there. We, the group of high school youth who regularly went there together, had some interesting discussions with the security guard there. And of course, we were always right. We also ‘talked’ with the women going in sometimes. One conversation will always remain in my memory. My friend and I had gone over to the sidewalk closer to the side of the building which allowed us to view the people getting out and into their cars in the parking lot. A young woman who very obviously pregnant and her friend stepped out and my friend and I held up our signs (I can’t remember what they said now) and yelled out to them so they could hear us, “You don’t have to do this! Why are you doing this?” She stopped, looked at us without any sense of shame and called back, “Because I already have 2 other children and I don’t want another one.” My friend and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes and prayed. I still pray for her. I couldn’t understand then how her wants could make her forget about the needs of the growing baby inside of her.
Now, as a mother of three, I often think of her and I understand her better. I know now. Motherhood is beautiful but it is so. incredibly. hard. I know there are times when the job of being a mother can seem so incredibly overwhelming and impossible, the idea of having to do it all over again is just plain scary sometimes. I get that now. But, if we did find out we were having another one, and even if I was already too overwhelmed (which I am), it would never justify taking away the life of another innocent person, even if I wasn’t ready or didn’t want another one yet or ever. I feel I can sympathize with these women in a way. However, if I was pregnant, it wouldn’t matter if I was ready or if I wanted one, one already would be alive in me.
This is where someone might say, yeah well you have a husband who loves you and friends and family to support you and enough resources to afford another child—what about those who have no one and nothing? And I agree, I’m not sure I would be able to survive motherhood without all the support and resources we have and are so thankful for. And that’s why we do need more pregnancy crisis centers and more non-profit organizations that offer support for mothers and families in crisis, so that abortion is not viewed as their only choice. Abortion is a choice for these women, but it is never a good choice since it fails to respect the life of the innocent baby inside; taking away his or her life and choices and opportunity to live life. Abortion also fails to respect the life of the woman; taking away her chance and her opportunity to be who her body was preparing her to become—a mother. Abortion leaves at least one person dead and one person forever wounded.Thanks to programs like Rachel’s Vineyard, post-abortive women can start the path to healing. It’s time to take a step back, look at these women and the babies in their mother’s womb, and see them for who they are—human beings that deserve to “have life and have it to the fullest”.