Bishops as Defenders of Life
by Christopher Dodson,
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
January 2003

This month the Church and our nation witnesses the thirtieth anniversary of
Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court opinion that constructed a legal right to abortion. We have many reasons to grieve. We especially grieve for the millions of unborn children whose lives were destroyed by abortion during the last three decades. We should also grieve for the women harmed by abortion and the culture of lies that led them to believe that destroying their own child was necessary for personal fulfillment. We should grieve for our society, which has seen the culture of death spread and gain acceptance beyond the issue of abortion.

We should grieve for those political leaders and political parties that have either abandoned the pro-life movement or taken it for granted. We should grieve that too many of our public officials have not done what truly needs to be done to ensure that no woman ever feels compelled to have an abortion. We should grieve for those Catholic politicians who, in a use of tortured logic, claim “personal” but not “public” opposition to abortion. We should grieve that some people have abandoned the pro-life movement for extreme and hateful actions that seek to end abortion in ways contrary to Gospel of Life. We should grieve for our own complacency.

Nevertheless, part of the Christian message is that there is hope behind every tragedy. After all, our God is the One who brought the greatest good -- the salvation of the world -- from the greatest evil -- the killing of God. Keeping our eyes focused on the good that is and the good to come keeps us rooted in our faith -- a faith in the Resurrection. If we lose sight of the Resurrection, we lose hope. When we lose hope, our actions turn negative, hostile, shortsighted, and harmful. We should look at every pro-life initiative, private or public, and ask whether it appears rooted in hope and a belief in the resurrection or whether it flows from anger and despair.

What are some of the reasons for celebration? Compared to all the killing during the last three decades, the good seems insufficient. We must remember, however, that we are on a journey, the outcome of which has already been determined. Certainly, the development hundreds of centers that provide pro-life alternatives is one cause for celebration. Every child saved is another reason for celebration.

There is one cause for celebration that I think deserves attention. It is truly a great testament to God’s work through the pro-life movement that, thirty years after
Roe v. Wade, in the face of a pro-abortion media, hostile laws, and a pervasive culture of death, the pro-life movement is still alive and strong. By most accounts, the pro-abortion forces should have won the battle for public opinion and the laws long ago. The pro-life movement owes its continued strength to many, but no one should discount the importance of the Catholic bishops.

There are some today who claim the bishops are not pro-life. Some go so far as to say that the only reason abortion is not illegal today is because the bishops have not truly been pro-life. This is hog-wash. If it were not for the leadership of the bishops and the Holy Father, the pro-life movement might have been hijacked long ago by extremists, a political party, or idealogues.

The leadership of the Catholic Church has ensured that the pro-life movement has a human face, that words are backed by actions that truly help women in need, and that the movement is not, no matter how hard the opposition tries, pigeon-holed into one particular economic or political philosophy or movement. Moreover, the leadership of the U.S. bishops pro-life office has contributed to the development and passage of significant legislative victories that not only restrict abortion but further legal and cultural acceptance of the fact that abortion is not a necessary evil.

Could the bishops have done more? Perhaps. Could they do more? Maybe. However, on this thirtieth year since
Roe v. Wade, we should be thankful for what they have done and support them as they move ahead as shepherds and preachers of the Gospel of Life.