Monday, June 27, 2022

The Inviolable Dignity of Every Human Being

The recent decision of the United States Supreme Court (Dobbs v Jackson) should bring a sense of relief and hope to anyone who understands that the dignity of every human person is not self-created, but radically given by the Mystery that is the source and sustenance of all things.

In this epoch characterized by the seemingly unfettered and enormous expansion of human power in every direction, the most vulnerable human beings and human relationships are often cast aside. We remain afflicted by the endemic problems of a society that values having over being; a society that draws us to assess the worth of human persons by their external achievements, economic status, and influence in shaping the dominant mentality, rather than by their inherent personal dignity and their perseverance in the fundamental human vocation to love and to be loved in interpersonal communion.

By overturning the legal implications and partially correcting the reasoning of its prior decisions (Roe v Wade, 1973, and Casey v Planned Parenthood, 1992), the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a step in the direction of opening up greater space in our society for protecting, affirming, and supporting the inviolable human dignity of the person of a pregnant mother and the person of her pre-born child. Moreover, the basic relationship that constitutes an irrevocable bond between mother and child - a bond that begins with the mysterious entrustment of the unique, new human individuality of the child to his or her mother’s womb - has a chance to receive more of the attention and commitment it deserves from others: from families and communities, from the mother’s place of work, and from the larger society.

The Court has not made abortion illegal in the USA. It merely permits individual States in the Union to make their own laws regarding abortion. This certainly challenges citizens of each State and their representatives to work for changes in their laws, to bring them as much as possible into accord with justice, equity, and compassion toward all human life. It also calls for new and creative forms of collaboration between civil authorities and local communities to support mothers and children (before and after birth), to support families, and to dismantle the social injustices and fragmentation that put seemingly unbearable pressures on many pregnant mothers, and too often leave them feeling isolated and desperate.

What we know for certain is that abortion is never “the solution” to the difficulties faced by pregnant mothers and the children whom they nurture in their wombs. Every abortion kills an innocent human being who possesses an inviolable human dignity, and does violence to a given and irreplaceable interpersonal relationship between mother and child. 

A pregnant woman is a mother, who carries in her womb a pre-born child who is in the process of “growing up” through this relationship (just as all of us once did). These pre-born children are unique, individual human beings who have been given and entrusted to their mothers’ special care, to be immersed in their first “home” - the first environment of their fragile lives. They depend totally and concretely on their mother’s welcoming love, which might not be “sentimental” - often it can be very difficult and cause her much suffering - but which must at least be a “yes” to this new human being and a willingness to accompany him or her in this time of the beginning of human existence, the most radically needy and vulnerable moments of the human journey.

We all owe compassion and dedicated support to pregnant mothers in our families and communities; they too need an environment of love and “belonging-to” those who are near to them. Even as the pre-born child has been entrusted to his or her mother, so also the mother has been entrusted to our unconditional love and companionship. Too often we neglect our responsibility to mothers, but here we must change our hearts. We must remember them. They need us! 

The gift of new life is a mysterious event, and it is hard for a mother to say “yes” - it calls for many sacrifices, and we must do whatever we can to help her bear them - to stand with her in love and compassion. It is especially burdensome, and even terrifying, when the pregnancy occurs in the context of violence and abuse, or when it seems to disrupt the genuine human aspirations and personal development of a woman. This can be a tremendous source of suffering, and no one should presume to measure the depths of another’s suffering. Every human journey is mysterious and often painful (incomprehensibly painful), though the journey never ceases to hold forth an inexhaustible promise, for which we all search with the very core of our hearts. We must not deny or ignore this suffering. We are called to help one another to bear it, with love, on a journey of hope that continues to seek ultimate fulfillment and peace.

Realism requires us to affirm the fact that pregnancy is a relationship between two persons. Whatever circumstances may have preceded and occasioned his or her conception, the pre-born human individual has been called into existence by the Mystery who sustains all beings, who fashions every human person with ineffably tender care and calls them to the fullness of life and a communion of love. Pregnant mothers are specially called to love their pre-born children, who are destined to become fully mature, but at present are completely and immediately dependent on the unique and essential “hospitality” that only the pregnant mother can give. We who are their families and communities are called to love them both in whatever ways we can. Society should prioritize shaping the larger environment and its resources to foster this love. Abortion is the very antithesis of what is crucially needed here.

We must acknowledge the wide range of difficulties, anxiety, disorientation, and suffering that can accompany a pregnancy, and recognize with sorrow the many ways we have failed to stand with and support persons in need: women who are persons entrusted with the responsibility of motherhood, and their children, who are persons - distinct, unique living human beings - from the moment of conception, and who remain persons throughout pregnancy and after birth, through childhood and growing up. Children depend on their mother’s love for the formation of their personalities - for learning the truth about their own personal dignity and how to give themselves in love. The mother-child relationship is always a fundamental human interpersonal relationship; once it comes into existence, it is intrinsically oriented to the real growth of both persons. This relationship is essential and necessary, but not sufficient. Therefore, mothers and children are entitled to love, respect, and support from those around them. Moreover, the structures of society ought to prioritize their needs, and even reorient social life in ways that will be more congenial to the integration of motherhood with the general scope of women’s personal and professional talents. Such a reorientation, however, requires a renewal of the desperately endangered ecosystem of family life. This renewal calls for courage and creativity in the wise use of new and emerging resources, as well as much healing of minds and hearts.

Families are deeply afflicted by a terrible combination of rampant ideology and insatiable cupidity. It should go without saying that every child also has a father. But in our society fathers are too often drawn away by a false sense of autonomy, the delusion of self-sufficient power, the pursuit of their impulses, ambitions, and the idolatry of money. Fathers who neglect their responsibilities toward their children are only dehumanized and lacerated by their alleged (false) “independence,” and impoverished as persons even if they cover themselves in the illusions of shallow materialistic “success.” 

Part of the wreckage of “human ecology” in our society today comes from the paralysis-of-the-heart that masquerades as the “ideal realization of freedom”: the pseudo-ideal of radically making one’s self, attaining self-affirmation without belonging to others in relationship, without permanent commitments, without responsibilities, without depending on others, without acknowledging the real, structural needs of the heart for the gift of an “other” - ultimately the “Other” on whom everyone depends, who alone can fulfill the human heart. Instead, this pseudo-ideal tries to absolutize the “self,” as if one could achieve one’s own being through what is in fact a loveless, impenetrable solitude. Since the beginning of the epoch of power, men especially have been tempted by this radical ideological vanity. It is a more recent tragedy that women - having rightly discovered their freedom and equality as persons - are being sucked into the pursuit of this same eviscerating false ideal of freedom.

Once again we must insist: this is not reality! This is not true freedom! This is inhuman! As long as our society continues to run after this charade (like the pigs running over the cliff), it will generate violence and destruction, and leave helpless victims in its wake. There are many who are vulnerable in this society, and among them are certainly pregnant mothers and their pre-born children - especially those who are in crisis and don’t know where to turn. The legal system should not hold out abortion as an option, when it is in fact a further plunge into inhumanity and destruction. The reality is that abortion kills an innocent human being who possesses an inviolable human dignity, and does sundering violence to an irreplaceable interpersonal relationship between mother and child. 

And no one attains genuine human personal freedom by evading reality, covering up facets one doesn’t wish to see, blinding one’s self.

The individual living human being must always be regarded as a person, from conception to natural death and at every moment in between, a person who is worthy of love, who makes a claim on our love because he or she is our brother or sister. Persons are not meant to be alone, but to exist in communion with other persons, in a communion of love. We do not have the right to give or take away any person’s human dignity, or to absolve ourselves of the responsibility to love those who have been given to us.

We must love one another because we belong to one another; we are not biological accidents, nor autonomous self-engendering aliens merely coexisting in a common space, nor obstacles to one another’s assertions of a will to power. We are entrusted to one another by the One who is the Source and Fulfillment of us all, and the reason for all our hope.