Monday, October 20, 2014



A month ago I wrote a post called "The Law of the Land Versus the Law of Our Hearts":

Shortly afterwards, I received an email from a woman who, like me, advocates against abortion. As she pointed out “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no" [a reference to Matthew 5:37, to which I'd alluded in the piece] is difficult. Some of the questions she asked herself were whether the use of the “morning after pill” should be illegal; whether a woman who has an abortion in her 1st trimester should be tried for murder and executed for murder in a state that has the death penalty for murder; and if not, what civil penalty should she have to pay for her "crime against society." This woman herself couldn't bring herself to say abortion should be outlawed entirely. And she was troubled because she felt that most Catholics would say that her belief is not Catholic.

To craft an adequate reply would have taken days, which I didn't have. But I did feel called to respond, so I dashed off, and have now augmented a bit, the following:

"Thank you. Yes, let your yes mean yes and your no mean no can be difficult! Still, we can always say yes to mercy...

The thought of executing for murder a woman who's had an abortion horrifies me. As a human being and a Catholic, part of being FOR life in all its forms means being absolutely opposed to capital punishment for any reason. To be against abortion but for capital punishment, especially for a woman who's had an abortion, is such a bizarre cognitive-dissonance inconsistency that it borders on the insane......and would be based on a real hatred of women...if that were the case, we should track down the father who acquiesced in or urged the abortion and kill him, too.

I remember many years ago writing a long, impassioned letter in response to a piece I saw in a legal journal about the subject of criminalizing abortion. I don't have the letter, and I can't even remember which side the guy came down in. But I do remember pondering long and hard the issue of whether abortion should be criminalized and thinking No...The woman should be offered treatment and counseling if she wants it, not be put in prison, for the violence she's done is against herself. I know we could say that of all crimes but I do think abortion is in a class by itself. The malicious intent required for murder would be utterly missing. Only a psychopath would get pregnant on purpose so she could kill her baby, and the conditions under which a baby is conceived, unless rape or incest, are so far from malicious, no matter how hurried or casual. I think what partly appalls us about abortion is the terrible gulf between the way any child is conceived and the way it's destroyed: in a clinic, by a stranger...I think that's why if we're going to prosecute anyone, we rightly prosecute abortionists--what they do is done in the cool light of day, and for profit.

Women who've had abortions don't turn into murderers or go on killing sprees. In other words, the factors that figure into an abortion are entirely different than the factors that would generally motivate a murder: e.g., revenge, greed, profit--and that would be part of a criminal profile and a criminal pattern. The mind and heart of a woman who's had an abortion, in my case at least, and I suspect in many, many cases, are governed by shame, fear, and guilt, and of course there's absolutely nothing to be "gained" in the sense of profit or a wrong revenged...

I don't think of abortion as murder, from a legal standpoint, unless possibly done in the last trimester. It's the destruction of a human life but to say it's the same as killing a fully-formed live human being is another inconsistency. It's not the same to crush a robin's egg as to shoot a robin. It's not the same to destroy a flat of seedlings as to wantonly mow down and uproot a garden that someone has put work and labor and love into for thirty years. Crushing an egg and destroying a flat of seedlings are still failures of love because they're on the spectrum of interfering with the process of creation, of destroying what would otherwise come to be, of living by our will instead of God's will. And a human life is worth more than many sparrows so abortion, at any stage, is of course on an entirely different order than a flower seed or a robin's egg, no matter how precious those things are, too.

That's why artificial birth control and the morning-after pill are wrong and against love as well. From a theological/spiritual standpoint, in a way abortion is worse than murder, if such a thing is possible. The Church says If you're willing to enter through the narrow gate and truly follow Christ, this is what authentic love looks like. Just in case you were wondering,

To that end, our prison system is already so overloaded, and I have so little faith that punishment for punishment's sake changes anything, no, I can't in any way see the prosecution of a woman who's had an abortion. Let our yes mean yes and our no mean no apply not to punishment, but to mercy, to love. That's the distinction between Fascism and Catholicism.

Our whole culture of violence, including the maintenance of a military that is larger than all the other militaries of the world combined, helps create an atmosphere in which destroying another human life, especially one you can't "see," seems logical, supportable, and sane. Mother Teresa said something like Stop abortion and you'd stop war and I think the reverse is also true. But try to get the men to lay down THEIR weapons. In a way, abortion is the one "weapon" women have in a world that favors men, nowhere more than in the creation of a child that ALWAYS falls to the woman to deal with. In which a man can conveniently disappear with no responsibility, no accountability, no repercussions. I'm not interested in tracking down the man. I'm interested in supporting the woman in as you say an economic and social climate in which as always she is left holding the bag.

If we're so appalled at the loss of human life, why do we so seldom give a second thought's to, say, the Iraqi soldier? Why is it wrong to destroy a fetus and okay to murder "the enemy?" Especially when it's a clear, egregious violation of Christ's most basic teaching: LOVE thine enemies?  Why do we not prosecute and execute soldiers and generals who have been responsible for the wanton destruction of human life on a scale that's almost unimaginable? Do you see the utter insanity of trying to solve violence with more violence? Do you see the hideous scapegoating and hatred of women inherent in the notion of prosecuting them while so many other perpetrators of violence not only go free, but have our whole-hearted support and encouragement? If we actually truly supported life in all its forms, if we actually said it's wrong to kill in any instance, if we were as vocally opposed to the violence of war and the violence of an economic system which ever more crushes the poor as we are to the violence of abortion, if we actually followed the teachings of Christ--maybe that's when things would begin to change. The goal of the follower of Christ is not to force other people to change; the goal of the follower of Christ is to change himself. But the Cross has never had a lot of followers. The Cross is not susceptible to being spread by viral youtubes. The Cross takes place invisibly, silently, in the minute-by-minute workings of the human conscience. And in today's marketing atmosphere, in and out of the Church, the Cross is less "popular" than ever. Christ is ever more silent, ever more unseen, ever more off camera.

That's not a "feminist" stance--one place I part way with feminism, or one branch of it, is the totally erroneous insistence that abortion is empowering, that abortion has no more repercussions than brushing one's teeth. That's the stance of Christ. And I guess really your question is one about separation of church and state. I'm not enough of a philosopher to know the finer points there but I'm enough of a lover of Christ to focus on the conversion of my heart, not politics. To vote for a politician who's for the NRA and against abortion makes no sense to me. It makes the anti-abortion stance utterly suspect. When the field is full of folks exhibiting such inconsistencies, when it's impossible to let my yes mean yes and my no mean no, I would rather not vote at all. Politics shifts the balance of power, perhaps, ever so slightly, and ever so temporarily, but as Dorothy Day said, we live in a dirty, rotten system.

So how do I love the people around me, regardless of the political climate, is my question. How do I support the pregnant woman who's contemplating an abortion, the young man who's thinking of joining the Army, the President of the U.S.? How do I live a life of the fullest possible integrity? How can I make my yes mean yes and my no mean no in MY life? The Mystical Body tells me that is what will change the world, one atom at a time.I can't force that on a system that is itself a kind of cognitive dissonance, that purports to be for freedom but that spies on its citizens, whose army is increasingly made up of paid mercenaries, in which violence has become a commodity. In the midst of that (especially, though under any circumstances), to prosecute a woman for having an abortion? Can't quite see it. Rather, let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

If we're really pro-life, we will be speaking out loudly and clearly not only agasint abortion, but against war, against our prison system, against our economic system. Otherwise, we're like whited sepulchres. Otherwise, we're laying down heavy burdens and not lifting a finger to help.

How to punish the woman who's had an abortion is a question that would not take up one iota of my brain or heart, which brings me back to my piece. The questions we ask as followers of Christ are very different than the questions asked by 'citizens.' The citizen wants to preserve his life; the follower of Christ is prepared to lose it...

The other night I was driving home and just as I was about to turn the corner to go up my street, a city bus pulled up and I had to stop in back of it. As I turned the corner, I got a glimpse of a woman who had just gotten off.  She was short, she was carrying a heavy pack, she was walking very slowly, as if she were exhausted. She had a slight limp. I have no idea who that woman was but I couldn't help thinking, What if that were me, and I were making nine bucks an hour, and had kids at home, and a husband who beat me, and I just found I was pregnant again? Nine bucks an hour, or even twenty bucks an hour in a city where a studio costs $1300 a month. Food, clothes, school, health care, dental.

Suddenly I saw myself in my nice little green Fiat, going up to my beautiful room to sleep in a comfortable bed. And I saw very, very clearly that at the end of the age, Christ is not going to ask, "Did you vote for the 'pro-life' candidate (who was also a billionaire warmonger)?" "Did you see to it that women who've had abortions were arrested, put on trial, imprisoned, or God forbid, executed?"

He's going to appear in the form of the pregnant woman earning minimum wage begging for a glass of water. He's going to appear in the form of the "enemy" soldier begging for a blanket. To me, he's going to appear in the form of my three unborn children, and I can only pray to let the rest of my life be worthy of them.

Because those people are Christ and that is who we will be judged by. That is who is going to decide whether we''ve earned a place with the sheep or with the goats. That is how and where we demonstrate that our yes means yes and our no means no--by how we think about, treat, and order our lives to "the least of these."

A friend recently sent me this piece, which articulates what I'm trying to say way more eloquently than I have.:


Leonardo Boff

Earthcharter Commission

It is hard to believe that some people defend abortion for abortion's sake. Abortion involves eliminating life or interfering in a vital process that culminates in human life. Personally I am against abortion because I love life in each of its phases and in all its forms.

But this does not blind me to a macabre reality that must not be ignored and which defies good sense and public authority. Each year nearly 800,000 clandestine abortions are performed in Brazil. Every two days a woman dies, victim of an improperly performed clandestine abortion.

This reality must be confronted, not by the police but with a responsible public health policy and a realistic sensibility. I consider the attitude of those who intransigently defend life in the embryo and do not adopt the same attitude facing the thousands of children abandoned in misery, without food or love, wandering in the streets of our cities, to be hypocritical, (Pharisaic). Life must be loved in all its forms and ages, and not only in its first awakening in the mother's womb. It behooves the State and all of society to create the conditions so that women generally will not need abortions.

On the steps of the Cathedral of Fortaleza, I myself assisted a famished mother, begging and nursing her child with the blood of her breast. She had the figure of a pelican. Perplexed and filled with compassion, I took her to the house of Cardinal Dom Aloisio Lorscheider, where we gave her all the assistance possible. For such reasons abortions occur, always painful, that profoundly affect the psyche of the mother. I will narrate what Leon Bonaventure, the eminent psychoanalyst of the Jungian school wrote, and which was mentioned in his introduction to a book by another Jungian psychoanalyst, Italian Eva Pattis, titled, Abortion, lost and renewal: paradox in the search of feminine identity, (Aborto, pérdida y renovación: paradoja en la búsqueda de la identidad femenina, Paulus, 2001).

Leon Bonaventure relates, with the subtlety of a fine psychoanalyst for whom spirituality constitutes a source of integration and curing of the wounds of the soul:

A priest was confessing a woman who had aborted in the past. After listening to the confession, the priest asked her: “What name did you give to your child?” The woman, surprised, remained silent for a long time, because she had not given her child a name.
“So” –said the priest--, “we will give your child a name, and if you agree we will baptize him”. The woman nodded her head in agreement and they symbolically did it.

Afterwards, the priest made some reflections on the mystery of life: “life exists” –he said–, “that comes to the light of day to be lived in the Earth, for 10, 50, or 100 years. Other lives will never see the light of the Sun. In the Catholic Liturgical Calendar, December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents, the newly born who gratuitously died when the Divine Child was born in Bethlehem. May that day also be the feast day of your child".

And he continued, saying: “in the Christian tradition the birth of a child is always a gift from God, a blessing. It was a custom in the past to go to the temple to offer the child to God. It is never too late to offer your child to God”.

The priest ended by saying: “as a human being I cannot judge you. If you sinned against life, the very God of life can reconcile you with life. Go in peace. And live”» (p. 9).

Pope Francis always recommends mercy, understanding and tenderness in the relations between priests and the faithful. That priest lived avant la lettre those profoundly human values that also belong to the witness of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. May those values inspire other priests to have the same humanity.



  1. "If we're really pro-life, we will be speaking out loudly and clearly not only agasint abortion, but against war, against our prison system, against our economic system."

    More pro-life than the Church, which has never declared herself an absolute pacifist but has instead defended a just way doctrine since the time of St. Augustine.

    I'm skeptical of Catholics whose own ideologies and moralisms are the stones cast at Tradition.

  2. And I'm skeptical of Catholics who use Tradition as a brickbat to bludgeon their brother or sister whose sincere love of Christ prompts him or her to ask if modern warfare is in any way compatible with the Beatitudes.

    Heather, a brilliant and provocative piece, one with which I am largely in sympathy. You are right to point out that the Republicans in the last election nominated a gazillionaire warmonger. It must be further noted that the Democrats did not nominate a Franciscan mendicant or a Quaker pacifist. It seems that the lonely voices of integrity are found outside of the lumbering juggernauts of major political parties, and maybe even outside of politics altogether.

    Am I advocating a quietism in lieu of civic participation? Not exactly. But we should be (to steal an adjective) skeptical of those empty suits who appear every leap year to promise us electoral salvation.

    We can make the perfect the enemy of the good, however. Knowing how flawed both parties are doesn't, I feel, exempt me from the obligation of attempting to limit, through my vote, the number of ways in which the security of human life is menaced.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your own very personal experience, I thought it was a beautifully written post that gives a raw look at all the pieces that go into forming an opinion.

  4. The goal of the follower of Christ is not to force other people to change; the goal of the follower of Christ is to change himself.

  5. Brilliant, beautiful, heartbreaking...

  6. A decent spiritual penance or work would be to read nothing on the internet but this blog

  7. The priest ended by saying: “as a human being I cannot judge you. If you sinned against life, the very God of life can reconcile you with life. Go in peace. And live”

    My God. This is the most beautiful thing ever. How often do we all sin against life?

  8. Dear Heather,
    Perhaps it won't surprise you to learn that this reads, to me, like the work of someone who doesn't know any actual members of the pro-life movement, or gun owners, or soldiers, or republicans, or traditional Catholics. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find, in any of these groups and especially the last, any individuals who would advocate the death penalty for women who have had abortions. I'd bet you'd find quite few who would advocate prosecuting them in any way, in fact, though I suppose there are extremists at the vanguard of any activist group. The point is I wonder whether you would be more persuasive in your advocacy of pacifism if it didn't seem quite so hostile. Because that is how it feels to me.

  9. I don't think it is hostile but a strong and blunt exhortation to a more fully whole spirituality and politics for those on both sides of the political spectrum. We all fall short

    1. Yes, Robert! We all fall short. Thank you.

  10. Very good post with very valid arguments. As a Army vet and a woman I always cringed at the hero worshiping of war.

    Abortion is horrific but to go after the women and not the men or the doctors who profit mightily is a wrong line of thinking also. I always wished to see the same effort put into teaching the society lovingly but firmly a return to sexual morality. A teaching of the Theology of the body concepts and truths to society at large. A long, slow way to effect change but one that will work. Like after WW2 we made the effort knowing that it would build a better world for not only us but the "enemy".

    If we as a people cannot see the worth of the person in front of us and their dignity and woudedness then how can we teach the people the worth and dignity of something they have been taught is nothing more then "a bunch of cells'? The long haul change of society is hard because it takes time and willingness to see others as equal to. It is hard because we must be willing to talk with the other, to love the other as the person they are and to pray for them if not with them.

    It is easy for us to denigrate those with differing opinions, to name call and demean. That is human nature after all and we are in a climate built over the last 30 years in the US where too many forget that real discussions to effect change requires a discussion involving listening and thinking about the others opinions even if we vehemently disagree.


I WELCOME your comments!!!