Prop 115: Like David fighting Goliath

Well, it’s that time again. A national election is weeks away. So I guess it’s time for my quadrennial election column. Which, as it turns out, is pretty much always about the abortion issue.  

This time, I want to focus on one part of that issue specifically — the issue of late-term abortion. I do this because Colorado will be voting on ballot measures to limit these late-term abortions. Currently, we are one of seven states with no limit on what gestational age an abortion can be performed. Proposition 115 bans abortions in Colorado after 22 weeks, unless the life of the mother is in immediate danger. The measure provides penalties for doctors who perform such abortions, but specifies that no charges may be brought against the women who undergo them. 

I thought perhaps it was time to take just a brief look at the issue. 

First of all, let’s understand what we’re talking about. An abortion after 22 weeks is performed using a method called dilation and extraction. Which basically means that the cervix is dilated, and the baby, who weighs anywhere from one pound to full birth weight, is “extracted” from the uterus and destroyed. The way it is performed is disturbing, to say the least. (Consider this my “trigger warning” for the squeamish.) The doctor begins by injecting the baby’s heart, to kill him or her.  This, according to Wikipedia, is done in order to “soften the bones.” In a “non-intact extraction” the doctor then uses forceps to grab, twist, crush and separate the various baby parts, until the uterus is empty. The baby is then re-assembled on a table, to make sure no parts were left behind. In an “intact extraction” the baby is delivered, feet first, until only the head remains inside his or her mother’s body. And then the doctor either crushes the baby’s head, or jams scissors in the back of the skull and suctions the brains out. 

It’s horrifying. And it makes me physically ill to think that we can’t find a more humane way to solve women’s problems, whatever they may be. 

So why does anybody think this gruesome procedure should be, or remain, legal? Let’s look at the arguments against Prop 115, as taken directly from BallotPedia: 

“The measure does not include any exceptions for risks to the woman’s health or for a woman who has been the victim of rape or incest.” 

The health of the mother is obviously the most powerful argument. But let’s think about this. This isn’t a tiny embryo. It is a fetus somewhere between 22 and 36 weeks of development. The earliest premature baby to survive was born at 21 weeks. Leaving aside for the moment the St. Gianna Molla option of a mother sacrificing her life for her child, wouldn’t it be more compassionate to deliver the child alive, and do everything possible to try to save both lives? As for rape or incest, I oppose those abortions at any stage. But would even an abortion supporter find a need to allow them after a woman has already been pregnant for five to nine months? 

“The choice to end a pregnancy is often a serious and difficult decision, and should be left solely up to the woman, in consultation with her doctor and in accordance with her beliefs.” 

In what other area of law or life do we allow one person to take the life of another “in accordance with her beliefs?” 

“In addition, it provides no exceptions for the detection of a serious fetal abnormality after 22 weeks, which may force women to carry a nonviable pregnancy to term.” 

This is a baby currently alive but expected to die later. So, no. We don’t slice babies up, or suck their brains out, because they have short life expectancy. I understand that it is a tremendous sacrifice for a woman to carry a baby not expected to survive long after birth. But those babies have been known to surprise even the professionals. And, whether they live hours or days or weeks or months, they are created in the image and likeness of God, loved by Him, and destined for eternal life on His timetable, not ours. When we prematurely end their lives, we make ourselves gods, and we override God’s plan for the unfolding of that child’s life, no matter how brief. 

“After 21 weeks only 1.2% of abortion procedures are initiated.” 

And that comes to over 8000 incidents per year in the U.S. Saying this brutality “only” happens 8000 times per year is hardly a ringing endorsement. 

Particularly sad to me is the obscene amount of money that has been thrown at keeping these obscene procedures legal. According to BallotPedia, “The campaign supporting [Prop 115] had raised $257,398 in contributions. Opponents of the initiative had raised $5.3 million.” A vast majority of that money has come from the various Planned Parenthood organizations. 

We are David, fighting Goliath. 

I want to make it clear that I join the Church in opposing abortion at any stage, in any way it’s performed. To quote Dr. Seuss, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Every abortion stops a human heartbeat. So many women I know and love have had abortions. Some I know about, some I only surmise. In the cases I know about, they have suffered greatly in the aftermath. I just don’t think we solve women’s problems by taking their money, invading their bodies, killing their babies and sending them home. 

We can do better for women, and for their children. 

I know this is a complicated, messy, difficult election on so many levels. But I’m asking you — imploring you — to keep the unborn in mind as you cast your votes.  

And vote yes on Prop 115. 

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.