Dear brothers and sisters,
The unprecedented leak of a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding abortion policy in the United States last week has unleashed ferocious, and at times violent, reactions of people who support legalized abortion across the nation. As the current hysteria is largely driven by political ideologies and fueled by anger and rage, it seems that there is not enough willingness to address this important issue rationally. It is disheartening that people who are vocal on either side of the debate, including the most rational, often miss the point that abortion hurts both the mother and the child.
No matter what views you hold, the glaring fact remains that, in the nearly half-century since abortion was legalized throughout the United States, some 65 million preborn children have been killed by legal abortion. Beyond a doubt, there are millions of women who have regretted making that choice, women whose mental and physical health, jobs and careers, education and relationships – even with future children – were harmed by that decision. The fact that several generations have grown up with legal abortion, and the majority of our people may think of it as a non-issue, does not change the reality that it remains a tragedy and a violence against life.
We have seen and heard many slogans that belie the truth about abortion these days. The term “pro-choice,” for example, fails to point to what is really chosen, and would never be applied to child abuse or violent crime. Some choices have victims, including the choice of abortion. “Keeping abortion safe and legal” is another slogan which misleads people into thinking that if it is legal, it must be safe, and to keep it safe, we need to keep it legal. Yet the abortion industry is the most unregulated surgical industry in the nation, and regularly destroys the health and lives of the women who procure it in legal facilities. Most people do not know that there is an abortion every 20 seconds in America; it is legal and happens throughout all nine months of pregnancy; and less than 1% occur because of rape or incest. In 2019 alone, the ratio was 195 abortions per 1,000 live births (CDC Abortion Surveillance, Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
For many women, it’s not a choice at all. Many women are coerced by parents, boyfriends or even employers to “terminate their pregnancies.” But these women are the ones alone on the table, watching their own flesh and blood being destroyed. Contrary to the celebratory tone of some current protesters who tout abortion as something all women should be proud of, it is an ugly, brutal procedure that hurts a person, not just physically. As a priest, I can attest to the pain and devastation it brings to the women who experienced it. I have met countless women who came to talk to me about their pain and regrets. Many have developed mental, emotional, psychological and physical scars that torment them for the rest of their lives. For many of them, it seems that even the forgiveness of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation cannot remove the hurt and heal the wound from this tragedy.
Many protesters these days accuse religious, pro-life people of focusing exclusively on the rights of the unborn, while failing to pay due attention to the needs of the mother. While that may be true among some quarters, an authentically Catholic and pro-life position, however, takes both mother and child into consideration. Indeed, for Catholics, to be pro-life is to be pro-woman. One cannot love the child without loving the mother. The opposite is also true, namely, one cannot love the woman without loving the child, nor can one harm the child without harming the mother. The challenge the Church must pose to society is, “Why can’t we love them both?” One reason why many of us are reluctant to talk about abortion is because we do not want to make a choice between defending the rights of the baby or those of the mother, or that we have to consider the baby as more important than the mother. But the authentic pro-life message is a message of equality. It is an invitation to expand the circle of our love, welcome, and protection to include both mother and child. All who work to defend and protect life in the womb must work as diligently to defend and protect all life outside the womb, especially the vulnerable life of women in crisis pregnancies.
I must admit that it was not easy to write this letter. People may have strong feelings about abortion. A few will react angrily no matter how the subject is spoken about. Nevertheless, I want to address it upfront and personal as a pastor, given what is going on in our country and city. I don’t want to bury this important issue in the sand. The lives of so many people are at stake, and the tragedy of abortion is not helped by silence. A woman grieving over abortion might infer from their priests’ silence that they do not know her pain, or that they don’t care, or that there is no hope for her in the Church. I want to say to all such women that none of this is true.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you!” Let us show our love for both mother and child. There are many choices for women that are better than abortion. I think of the thousands of helping centers that provide women with financial assistance, medical services, legal advice, counseling, a place to live, jobs, education, and help to keep their child or to place their child for adoption. While it is important to communicate the Church’s position on abortion, it is no less important to communicate our willingness to provide alternatives. In this month of motherhood, let us pray that no mother in crisis would ever have to resort to such a tragedy.
With prayers and love,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham