Blase J. Cupich

Voters will decide the fate of the nearly total ban on abortions that was recently passed overwhelmingly by the South Dakota Legislature and signed by that state’s governor, Mike Rounds. On June 19, 2006, South Dakota’s secretary of state, Chris Nelson, confirmed that the legislation, which was scheduled to take effect on July 1, will be suspended pending the results of the voting in November. The law allows exceptions to the ban only to save the pregnant woman’s life.

 

The coming referendum presents an opportunity for South Dakota to model for the nation the manner in which substantial public debate regarding this volatile moral issue can be carried on with respect, honesty and conviction. Conflicting positions on abortion and public policy are deeply held and passionately argued. But even when addressing issues of depth and passion—indeed, most importantly at such times—we should be committed, as U.S. citizens, to the proposition that our public dialogue must be marked by civility and clarity, and that it should generate light rather than heat.

I propose below three conditions for discussing the matter of banning abortion by law, not only in view of the coming debate in South Dakota, but more broadly as well.

1. It must be recognized that both the issue of abortion and legal restrictions on abortion are inevitably moral questions informed by moral values.

Science can and should inform debate about abortion and the law. But science does not resolve questions of moral value and moral choice. Some have argued that those who seek to prohibit abortion are imposing their own moral views on others, while suggesting that those who do not seek legal sanctions for abortion are not imposing theirs. But supporters of both positions inevitably bring their moral perspectives on the nature and dignity of human life to bear in deciding when life should be protected.

Society cannot escape what is essentially a moral question: When does human life deserve legal protection from the state? And society certainly cannot escape this dilemma by denying that it is fundamentally a moral issue, no matter what position one chooses. The coming debate on the South Dakota referendum will be immeasurably enriched by a clear and constant recognition that this is not a battle between science and morality or between those who wish to impose their moral views on society and those who do not. Rather, it is essentially a debate about when and how the moral claims of human life should be honored and protected in our society.

In a similar way, some opponents of the South Dakota bill hold that the abortion issue is about personal belief in the definition of life and that such personal beliefs do not form a legitimate basis for public law, in part because there is no public consensus on the definition of life. But if consensus were the ultimate criterion for public action, most of the great moral accomplishments of American law—the end of slavery, the granting of the vote to women, the establishment of legal rights for working men and women, and the civil rights legislation of the l960’s—would never have been passed. More important, abortion is not merely an issue of personal belief about the definition of life.

Again, it is more fundamentally a response to the question that every society must face: At what point does the state protect human life?

2. There should be agreement that any discussion of abortion and the law must recognize both the suffering of the unborn children in abortion and the suffering of pregnant women in dire circumstances.

Some pro-life advocates focus almost exclusively on the rights and suffering of the unborn baby, while some pro-choice advocates focus equally exclusively on the rights and suffering of pregnant women. This is a distortion of the moral choice that confronts us as a society. Abortion is a searing and divisive public policy issue precisely because two significant sets of rights are in conflict, and no matter which set of laws it enacts, society must choose between those rights.

The coming debate in South Dakota will be greatly enriched if public discussion is consistently marked by the admission that both the rights and suffering of the unborn child and the rights and suffering of pregnant women in grave circumstances are significant moral claims. I have learned over the years that the Catholic position favoring the protection of human life is greatly enhanced when it is constantly articulated with a full and compassionate recognition of the terrible dilemmas that pregnant women often face, realizing that even such dilemmas do not justify the taking of innocent human life.

3. There must be a commitment to dialogue that is civil, interactive and substantial.

Our national dialogue has been greatly impoverished in recent years by the bitterness, superficiality and attack-orientation of our political debates and campaigns. It is difficult to imagine today the depth of dialogue that characterized America’s discussion of the proposed Constitution in 1787 or the searing question of slavery in the election of l860. But the issue of abortion calls for just such depth and dialogue. The citizens of South Dakota must undertake a debate on abortion and the law in which both sides consistently commit themselves to honesty, compassion and insight and expect and acknowledge those same qualities in their opponents.

Three great benefits will come from such a dialogue. First, it will enlighten the citizens of our state about the profound issues involved in this vote. Second, it will strengthen, rather than weaken the bonds that tie us together as a civil society. And third, such a dialogue can provide a model for our nation for how to debate public policy on abortion in a civil and enlightened manner.

The legislature and governor of South Dakota have enacted legislation that vigorously defends human life and makes abortion illegal except to save the life of the mother. The Catholic community actively supports legislation that protects the dignity of human life and will contribute its voice to this debate because we consider abortion to be a pre-eminent moral issue facing our society. Let us hope that the dialogue will be characterized by civility and depth. And let us recognize that in public discourse moral passion must walk hand in hand with mutual respect.

The Most Rev. Blase J. Cupich is bishop of Rapid City, S.D.

Comments

Richard H. Escobales, Jr. | 9/19/2006 - 2:46pm
I read the article, “Abortion and Public Policy” ("America Magazine," September 11, 2006) by Bishop Cuprich and have this to add. While undoubtedly there is a moral dimension to the abortion question, in the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade (the decision effectively legalizing abortion on demand), the late Justice Blackmun endeavored to resolve the question of abortion "by constitutional measurement.” I think it important to examine this aspect of the Roe decision and whether Justice Blackmun succeeded. As I argued in a letter that appeared in the March 19, 2006 "New York Times," what the abortion decision in Roe amounts to this: "in cases of contrived questions of fact as to the presence of human life, constitutional protections for that life do not apply.” Thus, the Supreme Court, whose task it is to enforce constitutional protections for life, actually permits its liquidation, without regard to whether that life is human or not.

And what does this do to these basic constitutional protections? It destroys them of course - along with the mutilated fetuses- the other byproducts of this reckless abortion decision.

Before its abortion, the fetus is certainly both human and alive. In contrast, legal scholars, who argue that abortion has a constitutional basis, might arguably be described as brain-dead.

In his wonderful book, "The Party of Death," Ramesh Ponnuru estimates that there have been in excess of 45 million legal abortions performed in the United States, since the 1973 Roe decision ( Ponnuru, page 214). This amounts to well over 3,700 abortions daily. As a result of Roe, far more Americans have perished on a daily basis as a result of abortion, than the nearly 3,000 who died on 9/11. As a result of this intrauterine carnage, we are a much weaker and a much older nation. Thus, it is altogether appropriate that Bishop Cuprich’s article be published on the fifth anniversary of 9/11.

Leaders in the movement to legalize abortion made a great deal of the fact that some women did die from procured abortions when abortion was illegal. While such deaths did occur, the number of such deaths was inflated by pro-choice activists. In an article, entitled “Criminal abortion deaths, illegitimate pregnancy deaths, and suicides in pregnancy,” published in the June 1st 1967 issue of the “American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (pages 356-367),” Dr. Alex Barno writes that if the yearly figures between 5,000 and 10,000 maternal deaths from illegal abortions obtained nationally, one would expect between 100 or 200 such maternal deaths from illegal abortions in Minnesota, where detailed records were kept. Instead, of the 100 or 200 such deaths, the average number of maternal deaths in Minnesota from illegal abortion from 1950 to 1965 averaged 1.3 per year. Dr. Barno pointedly asks (page 357) “Where are the other 99 or 198?”

The effective ban of most (but not all) abortions by a courageous South Dakota legislature and governor may the best hope yet of addressing the absolute human carnage engineered by the United States Supreme Court in its incompetent decision in Roe. And as I pointed out in the same New York Times letter , the South Dakota law attempts to enforce Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment vacated by the Supreme Court.

Citizens who love this country and value its constitutional protections must use every venue to peaceably but relentlessly expose Roe as the constitutional fraud that it really is. And priests, who take seriously the legacy of Pope John Paul II, should mention this aspect of "faithful citizenship" in their homilies.

Marie Rehbein | 9/9/2006 - 10:45pm
It seems that Bishop Cupich either does not realize or has forgotten that abortion existed before it was legal. He seems unaware that abortion actually was legalized in many places because it was seen as the lesser of evils to prevent maternal deaths, which were not uncommon, even if fetal deaths continued to result.

At this point in time, his invitation to debate the topic of abortion while supporting uncompromising legislation is suspect; one might wonder whether in revealing one’s less than complete support for his position, one might become vulnerable to excommunication in his diocese. At best, he is saying that he wishes to be given the opportunity to tell people why they are wrong.

What seems not to be understood by this representative of the one religion that is otherwise so accepting of human imperfection that it has a sacrament devoted to it, is that people engage in behavior knowing the risks and then try to avoid the consequences because that is how people are. Trying to prevent them from being this way by making it illegal to avoid the consequences is not likely to prevent them from attempting to do so and from doing so successfully.

Should it by some miracle happen that South Dakotans accept this uncompromising abortion legislation, the dispute will turn to defining what abortion is. Is it abortion if an embryo exists but has been prevented from implanting itself? It is likely that most of those with whom Bishop Cupich currently allies himself will leave him standing alone in saying that it is.

Anthony F. Avallone, Esq. | 2/26/2007 - 10:14am
Bishop Blase J. Cupich suggested three conditions for any abortion debate in “Abortion and Public Policy” (9/11). I would add a fourth: Keep in mind that law should be fashioned to achieve just order in society.

My point is that in addition to a moral posture, there is a legal or jurisprudential approach. Simply put, the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution retains the rights of all the people. In the 18th century the common law recognized the crime of “great misprision,” the intentional miscarriage of a child during pregnancy. Thus, the unborn child had a protected legal right to live.

One more point. A woman really has no moral right to choose; she has a license to choose to abort. Her legal right to choose clashes with the child’s legal and moral right to live. In this situation what is needed is not a criminal law prosecution against the mother but a dispute resolution process to mediate the situation. Courts of law do this every day.

Richard H. Escobales, Jr. | 9/19/2006 - 2:46pm
I read the article, “Abortion and Public Policy” ("America Magazine," September 11, 2006) by Bishop Cuprich and have this to add. While undoubtedly there is a moral dimension to the abortion question, in the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade (the decision effectively legalizing abortion on demand), the late Justice Blackmun endeavored to resolve the question of abortion "by constitutional measurement.” I think it important to examine this aspect of the Roe decision and whether Justice Blackmun succeeded. As I argued in a letter that appeared in the March 19, 2006 "New York Times," what the abortion decision in Roe amounts to this: "in cases of contrived questions of fact as to the presence of human life, constitutional protections for that life do not apply.” Thus, the Supreme Court, whose task it is to enforce constitutional protections for life, actually permits its liquidation, without regard to whether that life is human or not.

And what does this do to these basic constitutional protections? It destroys them of course - along with the mutilated fetuses- the other byproducts of this reckless abortion decision.

Before its abortion, the fetus is certainly both human and alive. In contrast, legal scholars, who argue that abortion has a constitutional basis, might arguably be described as brain-dead.

In his wonderful book, "The Party of Death," Ramesh Ponnuru estimates that there have been in excess of 45 million legal abortions performed in the United States, since the 1973 Roe decision ( Ponnuru, page 214). This amounts to well over 3,700 abortions daily. As a result of Roe, far more Americans have perished on a daily basis as a result of abortion, than the nearly 3,000 who died on 9/11. As a result of this intrauterine carnage, we are a much weaker and a much older nation. Thus, it is altogether appropriate that Bishop Cuprich’s article be published on the fifth anniversary of 9/11.

Leaders in the movement to legalize abortion made a great deal of the fact that some women did die from procured abortions when abortion was illegal. While such deaths did occur, the number of such deaths was inflated by pro-choice activists. In an article, entitled “Criminal abortion deaths, illegitimate pregnancy deaths, and suicides in pregnancy,” published in the June 1st 1967 issue of the “American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (pages 356-367),” Dr. Alex Barno writes that if the yearly figures between 5,000 and 10,000 maternal deaths from illegal abortions obtained nationally, one would expect between 100 or 200 such maternal deaths from illegal abortions in Minnesota, where detailed records were kept. Instead, of the 100 or 200 such deaths, the average number of maternal deaths in Minnesota from illegal abortion from 1950 to 1965 averaged 1.3 per year. Dr. Barno pointedly asks (page 357) “Where are the other 99 or 198?”

The effective ban of most (but not all) abortions by a courageous South Dakota legislature and governor may the best hope yet of addressing the absolute human carnage engineered by the United States Supreme Court in its incompetent decision in Roe. And as I pointed out in the same New York Times letter , the South Dakota law attempts to enforce Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment vacated by the Supreme Court.

Citizens who love this country and value its constitutional protections must use every venue to peaceably but relentlessly expose Roe as the constitutional fraud that it really is. And priests, who take seriously the legacy of Pope John Paul II, should mention this aspect of "faithful citizenship" in their homilies.

Marie Rehbein | 9/9/2006 - 10:45pm
It seems that Bishop Cupich either does not realize or has forgotten that abortion existed before it was legal. He seems unaware that abortion actually was legalized in many places because it was seen as the lesser of evils to prevent maternal deaths, which were not uncommon, even if fetal deaths continued to result.

At this point in time, his invitation to debate the topic of abortion while supporting uncompromising legislation is suspect; one might wonder whether in revealing one’s less than complete support for his position, one might become vulnerable to excommunication in his diocese. At best, he is saying that he wishes to be given the opportunity to tell people why they are wrong.

What seems not to be understood by this representative of the one religion that is otherwise so accepting of human imperfection that it has a sacrament devoted to it, is that people engage in behavior knowing the risks and then try to avoid the consequences because that is how people are. Trying to prevent them from being this way by making it illegal to avoid the consequences is not likely to prevent them from attempting to do so and from doing so successfully.

Should it by some miracle happen that South Dakotans accept this uncompromising abortion legislation, the dispute will turn to defining what abortion is. Is it abortion if an embryo exists but has been prevented from implanting itself? It is likely that most of those with whom Bishop Cupich currently allies himself will leave him standing alone in saying that it is.