From the Womb to the Tomb: A Consistent Ethic of Life Can Mean Getting Grief from Both Sides
O'Neill, Patrick, National Catholic Reporter
In the predawn hours of Jan. 23, my wife, Mary Rider, and I roused our four youngest children out of bed to meet a bus that would take us to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, the annual event that calls for an end to abortion. Two of our other daughters made the same trip with Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, N.C.
The trip marked our third family trip to the nation's capital in less than a month. During a Holy Innocents retreat in the days after Christmas, two of my daughters, Veronica, 15, and Annie, 11, joined a die-in in front of the White House to protest U.S. drone attacks on civilians. After a cardboard drone facsimile touched them on the head, my daughters fell to the ground on Pennsylvania Avenue to play dead with others.
On Jan. 11, following another trip (this time on a biodiesel bus with a composting toilet), my family marched from the White House to the U.S. Supreme Court to protest the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison on Guantanamo Bay, where scores of detainees have been tortured, held indefinitely and denied due process.
It was a busy few weeks of protesting for the things we believe in. We bring our children to protests because we are obligated as Catholics to raise our little ones with an understanding of justice and to instill in them a sense of personal responsibility to be part of the effort to create a more peaceful and just world. The rub for us comes from the fact that we embrace a. consistent ethic of life, a belief in the sanctity of life from the womb to the tomb. Like the national group Consistent Life, we stand opposed to abortion, war, capital punishment, euthanasia, poverty and racism.
From the perspective of many of our anti-abortion friends, we are flawed in our views because we muddy the waters with so many issues, detracting from the single-issue political effort to overturn Roe v. Wade. Among our progressive friends, there's a lot of headshaking about how such nice people could be so misguided in wanting to deny women the right to choose what to do with their own bodies. It's not a fun place to be because folks on both sides of the aisle give us grief, and neither side gives much credence to the deeply rooted sincerity of our "seamless garment" position.
At a special March for Life Mass in the basilica, Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Raleigh diocese said he hopes abortion "will be inaccessible, illegal and impossible." While I want to see abortions decline, I do not share my bishop's view regarding the possible criminalization of abortion. If abortion were outlawed, what would happen in the case of a woman who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest? My pro-life views are strong, but in those cases, I support a women's right to choose. I can't tell an abused or raped woman to follow my moral dictates. She can take the matter up with God.
True change on any moral issue must come from the heart before it can ever be enforced by the legislatures and the courts. Outlawing abortion would result in the same madness that came to our nation in the wake of Prohibition. Access to would still be available, but less safe, and a criminal ban on abortion would open up countless questions about enforcement: How would such a law be prosecuted? Would we jail women who seek abortion? Jail those who provide abortions? Would a woman seeking information on abortion be subject to conspiracy charges? What would be a reasonable criminal penalty? These are just a few of the knotty questions that would have no simple answers. Reducing abortion should start by enacting programs that provide support for mothers overwhelmed in problem pregnancies. To be pro-life means to support mothers and children throughout the life process.
Recently, I was talking to a Catholic anti-abortion mother whose kids attend school with my children about our trip to the March for Life. Immediately, she started to harangue me because I don't vote pro-life (i. …