Another Retro (and Prophetic) Pro-life Article

99% of the Congressional Record is crap, but if you sift through it patiently, you can find some true diamonds. I already post one haunting and prophetic pro-life article from 1970 that was buried in the Record. Here’s another one from the same year, which was inserted in the Record, as one might expect, by our old pal Representative Schmitz (R-CA).

America’s – any people’s – moral standards are intimately connected with its political standards. The moral ideas a people holds, its views of right and wrong, will be reflected in its laws, its politics. But the other side of the coin, though not so often noticed, is just as plain: what a people believes politically will help shape its morality.

                No one can be surprised that a pro-abortion politics has gained favor in a country in which a large majority of the population no longer takes seriously Christian teaching on life, sex, the family; in which, indeed, anti-Christian views are actively promoted in nearly all of its communications media, nearly all of its schools. Still, abortion is far from universally approved; few Americans as of now would wish to destroy their own young, and most probably think it wrong, or at least unpleasant, for others to do so. How, then, to explain the precipitous crumbling of civil opposition to the liberty to kill?

“I have always abhorred the idea of abortion,” said John A. Burns, Governor of Hawaii, a Catholic who attends 6:30 Mass every morning before work. “I believe it a gravely sinful act. I have considered abortion carried out any time after conception to be the taking of human life.” What is more, the Governor wished his people to know, the Burnses had been faithful to their convictions in their private lives. Thirty-three years ago Mrs. Burns, a polio victim, was urged by every doctor in sight to abort a child; she steadfastly refused; she lives today, as does her child, himself a father of two children.

So what would Governor Burns do with the “abortion on demand” bill which the Hawaii legislature had placed on his desk? He would not sign it; but neither would he veto it as he had been urged to do “by a number of my fellow Roman Catholics who do not appear to understand precisely the separate roles of state authority and Church authority.” A governor, Burns explained as he permitted the bill to become law, “must never let his private political and religious convictions unduly influence his judgment as governor of all the people.”

John Burns, American, was certainly right about that. It is a central precept of American politics that religious is a private affair, and that to extend its influence to the public realm is a violation of religious liberty. John Kennedy, American, took the same position ten years before on birth control. John Courtney Murray, S.J., American, had even earlier contrived a theoretical justification of the position: by baptizing the American concept of “religious pluralism” Murray and his followers sought to make the Catholic Church into an American church. They do seem to have had a remarkable success. All of America’s household goddesses and gods – liberty, democracy, pluralism, separation of Church and state – remain firmly on their pedestals; and all the altars are now to be freshened with the sacrificial blood of children.

In the premises, what is the present duty of the Catholic bishops of America? That they have a responsibility – the chief responsibility – seems plain enough. After all, it is the famous profession, the astonishing boast, of the Catholic Church through all the centuries that to her uniquely has been confided the Patrimony of the Poor. Others may step forward to aid the poor, acting in her name as it were; but the burden is here before Heaven: if others claim impotence or weariness or distractions by other concerns, she never can. And of course there will never ever be any poor who are poorer than unborn children, who are not yet favored with even the power to cry, to as much as murmur a protest against an attack on the single possession they have: life. The poor we will always have with us, but now there is this poor who is to be denied even the opportunity to share the inheritance of the earth. If mother, father, doctor, nurse, the whole of society’s mores, the whole of its civil authority, if all conspire to destroy this child, who – what – is left to defend him except the Church of the Poor?

The Church acts formally in such matters through her shepherds: her bishops. How have the American bishops responded to the campaign to persuade the American civil authority to withdraw its protection from the unborn? The record shows that they have opposed the campaign. But the record also shows that they have done so less vigorously, less consistently, certainly less conspicuously than they have begged funds from that same civil authority for their failing school system.

To be sure, the record shows occasional bright spots. The lead story of the March 13 Catholic Virginian, the official organ of the Diocese of Richmond, relates that Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Harrington of Worcester made a spirited appearance before a committee of the Massachusetts legislature to protest the liberalization of murder. But the same story relates that the Virginia legislature was about to adopt a policy authorizing murder (it did later in the week), and that meanwhile a Senate hearing was to be held; there was no mention of the attendance of the Bishop of Richmond, John J. Russell. Bishop Russell, of course, is opposed to abortion; he has said so, and the parish bulletins in his diocese advised you “to contact your State Senator.” But this bishop was not raising hell, and his flock, and his fellow citizens knew that his Church was not raising hell. So why should they?

Maybe the torch lighted in Massachusetts would rally the faithful? A difficulty was that the Primate of Massachusetts, Richard Cardinal Cushing, had just been quoted in Life magazine (Feb. 27) to the effect that anti-abortion laws are not only unnecessary but undesirable: “Catholics do not need the support of civil law to be faithful to their convictions, and they do not seek to impose by law their moral views on other members of society.” Of course this good man is a hopeless eccentric; quoting him is as cruel as stealing candy from a child; but the fact is that not a single American prelate stepped forward to repudiate Cushing’s announcement.

As so it has gone. Where the bishops are not silent, they are discreet, polite, very proper participants in the American political order. At their last semi-annual meeting, in November, they issued a statement on abortion, advising the country that killing babies was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Which, since everything else seems to be, it probably is; but the point was not likely to interest the reigning breed of judges, let alone arouse the population. Let us agree that a ringing invocation by the Catholic bishops of the real authorities – the law of God, the natural rights of the innocent, the Christian and all civilized tradition – would cut no ice whatever with America’s anti-life regime (although it would add a nice adornment to the record). But if the bishops cannot appeal effectively to the finer instincts, there should be no problem at all in reaching the regime’s baser instincts. After all, they do have political clout, as does anyone who can speak plausibly  for a quarter of the population – yes, there are Catholics who are tolerant of baby killing, but they are offset by a still considerable number of non-Catholics who are not, who would be quite happy to have some spokesman for their sentiments. What if the American bishops were to rise to the defense of innocent children with something like the urgency, the militance, the determination – the seriousness – with which innocents are being attacked by CBS, the Cowles and Luce publications, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Women’s Lib, the ACLU, Judge Bazelon, Senator Packwood, Dr. DuBridge, Dr. Egeberg, whoever has spoken last for the Nixon court? What if our shepherds were to become fierce?

What if they do not? Well, there is likely to be a judgment. It is a safe estimate of the next few years that the American civil authority will have authorized the slaughter of more innocents, within a shorter period of time, than the German civil authority did under Hitler. This will not be our bishop’s fault. The extermination of several million Jews was not the German bishop’s fault. But some questions will be asked, which will be somewhat more difficult to answer in the American case than in Germany.

The failure of the German bishops to intervene vigorously against the Nazi genocide is explained on several grounds: a) they were not apprised, or at least not reliably, that the atrocities were taking place; b) to the extent they were, they were helpless to oppose them – what could be more futile than denouncing the Gestapo? – and besides c) they had the agonizing pastoral obligation to avoid inviting a comparable persecution of Catholics.

May we agree that none of these explanations will be available to the American bishops? Knowledge of the American abortion mania could not be more widespread, more detailed. Mobilizing voter blocs, vigorous use of the media protests, demonstrations – far from being ineffective in America – are the way of getting things done in our pluralistic democracy. And while persecutions of Catholics may come sooner than anyone thinks, America at the moment is a paper state compared to Hitler’s; at worst, a Church Militant on the abortion issue would run the risk of losing the government’s financial favors.

There is a further ground of comparison. The Jewish innocents were, for the most part, able-bodied men and women, who could at least put up a struggle in their own defense. The American innocents are too poor even to do that.

This is hard talk to the bishops, because we wish to hear hard talk from them at their April meeting in San Francisco; not the usual jeremiads, but a fighting declaration of war against the whole abortion establishment – most definitely including the American civil authorities, legislative, judicial, and executive, who are fast establishing the most sordid of crimes as high national policy.”

Hawai’i, 1970: Et tu, “devout” Catholics?

As the 1970s dawned across the United States, the unborn’s right to life remained relatively well protected. No state allowed abortion on demand, and about ten states had legalized it only for rare cases like rape, incest, and fetal deformity – understandable exceptions which even some pro-lifers support.  But before the first year of the decade ended, no less than four states opened the flood gates, and declared abortion every woman’s right.

Hawai’i led the way. The saga of legalization in the 50th state is especially poignant because of the conspicuous roles played by men and women who are described as “devout Catholics” by historians. These “devout Catholics” were responsible for the bill’s passage, and for making Hawai’i (at least for a few weeks) the most dangerous place in America for an unborn baby.

Robert Drinan, Jesuit Priest

Halfway across the world in Massachusetts, a Jesuit Priest named Robert Drinan launched a successful bid to become a US Representative. Few today in the pro-life movement know his name, but Drinan, more than anyone else, was the deadly fountainhead of ubiquitous pro-choice Catholic politicians that have plagued the world for the past half century. At first glance, he would seem to sound all the right notes, denouncing abortion as an unconscionable moral wrong, and demanding that the government not countenance such a brazen violation of human rights.  But the devil (perhaps literally) lurked in the details.

Even before Mississippi passed the first liberalization of abortion in 1966, every state allowed the practice in the tragic cases when the mother’s life was endangered by the pregnancy. Thus the law, in a tiny number of cases, did in fact allow for unborn babies to be killed. Drinan, with feigned outrage, denounced this exception as legally condoned murder, but conceded that states were unlikely to eliminate the exception.

His conclusion about this state of affairs tortured logic and reason. Because states were unlikely to eliminate the life-of-mother exception, argued Drinan, the best way to remain faithful to Catholic teaching was to completely repeal all laws affecting abortion. With no laws about abortion on the books, the state is therefore not in any way condoning the practice.

Of course, without any laws about abortion, it would for all intents and purposes become legal without restriction. And although Drinan was never so stupid as to openly admit it, that was exactly the point. It was a fiendishly brilliant line of argument – it used ostensibly pro-life reasoning to bring about an extremely pro-choice state of affairs. Catholic advocates of abortion on demand could now cloak their disobedience as faithful application of church doctrine.

One such covert pro-choicer was Hawai’i state Senator Vincent Yano, who headed the Senate’s Public Health, Welfare, and Housing committee. The father of ten children, he projected the image of a faithful Roman Catholic. After reading Drinan’s work, he introduced a repeal bill, and publicly justified it using Drinan’s argument. John Scanlan, the local Bishop, immediately denounced the proposed legislation, but he was too late – other Catholics were already lining up on the pro-choice side. Among them were two prominent local nuns, Maureen Keleher, and Mary Heenan.

As the legislature debated repeal, it became obvious that some guidelines regulating legal abortion would be necessary, like a requirement that it be performed in a hospital. For Senator Yano, these regulations were a huge conundrum, because if passed into law, they would completely negate Robert Drinan’s argument. In conference, Yano fought against anything other than a pure repeal bill, but eventually he caved, and accepted the additional regulations. Tacitly, Yano admitted what was already obvious: the Drinan argument was nothing but a pathetic smokescreen.

After the bill passed the legislature, it went to Governor John Burns for approval. Another “devout Catholic” who attended Mass each day, he agonized long and hard about what to do. Eventually, he settled on allowing the bill to become law without his signature. He released a lengthy note explaining his decision.

I have declined to sign this bill after much study and soul-searching; after receiving competent advice from island and national specialists in law, medicine, theology, human rights and public affairs, and after sincere prayer to the Creator named in our Nation’s Declaration of Independence as the Source of our unalienable rights

It was telling that he cited the god of the Declaration of Independence rather than the God of the Bible. Much like the Second Continental Congress, which couldn’t be bothered with a God who might disapprove of race-based chattel slavery, Burns likewise found refuge in a man-made god created purely for political convenience.

I have made my decision. I stand by it. It is the decision of the Governor of Hawaii, not the private and personal whim of John A. Burns. It reflects my best judgment as Governor, made after consultation with the best minds in the State, in regard to what is in the best interest of all the people of Hawaii

Had Burns truly been concerned about the best interests of “all the people of Hawaii,” he might have considered the interests of unborn babies.

I have felt that in the heated debates over the abortion question, my reputation has been unfairly and seriously attacked, and sadly enough, by a number of my fellow Roman Catholics who do not appear to understand precisely the separate roles of State authority and Church authority

In a breathtaking display of hubris, Burns accused Bishop Scanlan, and the entire Roman Catholic hierarchy of not understanding the dividing line between church and state. In decades to come, Catholic politicians claiming to know more about Catholicism than Popes and Bishops would become an enduring theme.

There is reported to be ample evidence that traffic in illegal abortions is considerable in Hawaii – as well as in other jurisdictions covered by restrictive abortion laws. It seems to me that to continue a breach of the law because of a change in the public’s attitude on a moral question is inconsistent with the democratic philosophy that the rule of law should prevail at all times. If community standards have changed, we should then change the law rather than continue violating an outmoded law

In the world of Governor Burns, the right to life was apparently dependent on community standards. One wonders what other classes of people could have their right to life taken away should the community change its mind.

in the future a growing awareness of the dignity and value of human life will develop steadily among our young people as they discuss wars, capital punishment… I have a tremendous faith that what the future holds in store for Hawaii and the rest of our Nation is good

More than forty years, and fifty million legal abortions later, the Governor’s optimism has become laughable. In fact, it was Governor Burns himself who contributed to the devaluation of human life. As well as Senator Yano, Maureen Keleher, and Mary Heenan.

Four decades later, innocent lives are still paying the price for the good intentions of “devout” Catholics.