Law in Service of Life

“When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.” —Pope John Paul II

The abortion issue is not simply a question of whether or not abortion should be legal. Abortion is not only legal, but funded in part by the government that receives our tax dollars. What is it that makes you an American taxpayer and consequently a contributor, willing or unwilling, to the abortion industry? Quite simply, your citizenship.

In his Fourth of July homily, Archbishop Chaput made himself very clear: “Caesar is a creature of this world, and Christ’s message is uncompromising: We should give Caesar nothing of ourselves.” (emphasis added)

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We ourselves in the pro-life movement are unwilling to tolerate our ongoing subjection to the will of Ceasar. The problem is not just that our money is being taken from us per se, but that our own will, our own selves insofar as we are anti-abortion, are being claimed by the authority of our government. As pro-life citizens of our country, we must be circumspect about what we do with ourselves.

Well, the latest and greatest blow against the common good is of course the decision to uphold the anti-conscience, anti-life HHS Mandate. We all must take an active part in the “promotion of the common good,” specifically in response to this mandate. Now that the Mandate is a matter of law, and as such must be addressed legally, we are fortunate there are lawyers who understand well their unique role in the defense of the common good and who are working hard right now to strike back for life.

Lawyers Nikolas Nikas and Dorinda Bordlee head a law firm called the Bioethics Defense Fund and their “mission is to advocate for the human right to life via litigation, legislation and public education.” Just after the decision was passed to uphold the Mandate, they commented that “the Obamacare lawsuits on religious-liberty grounds are just beginning,” and that “this is far from over.”

Since this battle is a legal one, Bioethics Defense Fund lawyers have been flung into the pro-life front line. Support them. But they are not the whole army. In fulfilling our civic duties we must be more than just voters, just as in fulfilling our duties as Catholics we ought to be more than mere churchgoers.

John Paul II was not only addressing himself to schoolteachers, social workers and politicians when he called us to contribute in the areas of education, society and politics. “True holiness,” he said, “does not mean a flight from the world; rather it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.” We ourselves are called to this holiness.

Archbishop Chaput’s statement warrants repeating: “Caesar is a creature of this world, and Christ’s message is uncompromising: We should give Caesar nothing of ourselves.”

Unfortunately, very few are willing to be fully themselves with regard to the abortion issue. Whether pro-life or not, many fail to see any connection between who they themselves are and what their country’s laws stand for.

Many pro-choicers say “I cannot stand in the way of the legal availability of abortion to those who want it, even if I myself would never have one.” Many pro-lifers similarly say “I vote pro-life and am open to life in my marriage. I myself do my part, privately. Do not hold me accountable for the general public, they are no business of mine.”

Why this failure to understand what Chaput insisted upon, that we are called to render our very selves to God and to give to Ceasar “nothing of ourselves?” Perhaps because many people have no direct experience of the horror of abortion and its devastating effect on mothers. Perhaps also they have never seen their own money go directly from their hands into a fund that is clearly marked “abortion fund.” Either way, there is something amiss in a people who do not take responsibility for their citizenship in a time when their country’s laws are becoming more and more oppressive.

Perhaps because of the hugeness of our government, few of us have any direct experience of what our citizenship entails. There is no experiential knowledge of the stakes of our own participation in government and law. Still, a people who do not know is one thing. A people who are willfully ignorant is another.

In The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom said that “the real community of man…is the community of those who seek the truth, of the potential knowers.” He warns us however that “in fact, this [community] includes only a few….” The many, on the other hand, are “ignorant and cynical about our political heritage, lacking the wherewithal to be either inspired by it or seriously critical of it.”

Now is the time to make Bloom’s words about the “many” become outdated. Now is the time to recall John Paul II’s words: “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity.”

The intrusiveness of the HHS Mandate and the starkness of what it directly entails has already begun to act as a wake-up call. Already our bishops are more united in their defense of life than they have been in decades. Already lawyers like Nikas and Bordlee have joined themselves with institutions in lawsuits against the Mandate. Because of the legal nature of the battle we face, it is true that lawyers such as those of the Bioethics Defense Fund must be called upon first and foremost to the “front line,” but the rest of us must not become slack. If we turn our back on the battle, we are guaranteed defeat.

This is in part a battle to keep our freedom. But as yet we still have a great deal of freedom. Archbishop Chaput did not fail to recognize the importance of freedom in his homily, and called freedom of religion “necessary for a good society.” But he also holds us accountable for our freedom. Freedom is not “an end in itself,” he said. We are free now but this freedom is greatly threatened. We can use our freedom to defend ourselves so that we can give ourselves into the service of God, or we can waste our freedom until it is taken from us once and for all.

Let us be careful not to ignore the great responsibility that comes to us as citizens of this country in a time of crisis. The Bioethics Defense fund has publicly stated that “now, more than ever, your continued support is critical as we continue the fight to put law in the service of life.”

“This is the beginning, not the end,” says Dorinda Bordlee, vice-president and senior counsel of BDF, “of the legal challenges to the pro-abortion Obamacare Act.”


  • Stephen Herreid

    Stephen Herreid is currently a Fellow at the John Jay Institute (Philadelphia) and the arts editor for Humane Pursuits. He has been a Contributing Editor to The Intercollegiate Review Online and has contributed several chapters to the latest edition of ISI’s Choosing the Right College.

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