As the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches, I’m pondering how far we’ve tumbled since that shameful decision. It’s clear to me that respect for life has eroded for humans across the board, no matter their size, location, age, color, religion or other defining characteristic.
I do think the legalization of abortion is much to blame. A society that allows innocent infants to be arbitrarily destroyed under the mantle of law will inevitably undermine respect for lives in other contexts.
When public policies, like those in New York, encourage and subsidize abortion for any reason throughout pregnancy, it threatens human lives on a much wider scale. It hardens people, coarsens them to the inherent sacredness of every individual human life. They no longer see it. They become so numb to it that they are willing to tolerate and accept other acts that demean, damage and destroy human lives.
Allow me just a few examples:
An NPR news story last month detailed cases in Oregon where people were being denied basic medical care because of their disabilities. It was horrifying. Human beings were being deprived of Covid tests, treatments and ventilators because someone assessed their “quality of life” too low or judged their worth to be beneath that of other persons. People with developmental disabilities who lived in group homes were being discouraged from going to emergency rooms, and being encouraged to complete DNRs and other forms to limit their medical care.
One man, a quadriplegic who can’t speak and who is fed through a tube, was running a high fever so the staff at his home took him to a local hospital. Once there, medical staff reportedly refused him a coronavirus test, with one health provider suggesting it would be “a waste of valuable PPE.”
Another recent news story detailed the last days of a black woman who died of coronavirus and its complications in an Indiana hospital. Susan Moore, a medical doctor herself, said she was denied pain medications and made to feel like a drug addict. She maintained to the end that she received inferior treatment because of the color of her skin.
Then there was the Associated Press report that described how, during the height of the pandemic, thousands of elderly patients in nursing facilities had died from despair and isolation, or because overburdened staff hadn’t been able to give them the care they needed. Nursing home watchdogs said they were flooded with reports of “residents kept in soiled diapers so long their skin peeled off, left with bedsores that cut to the bone, and allowed to wither away in starvation or thirst.
What kind of society have we become? Who gave anyone the authority to decide that one life doesn’t have the same intrinsic value as another and can be cast aside because of disability, skin color or old age? And how different is this, really, from judging that an unborn baby’s life doesn’t matter because she is unwanted or inconvenient?
We need to take a step back and look at the big picture here. We’re not just talking about abortion anymore, but about the aftershocks it has wrought and the society it has helped to fashion. It’s not a pretty picture.
Pope Francis gets it right when he speaks of the need to heal the “throwaway culture,” with its tendency to dispose of those deemed useless or unproductive. He says we need to develop habits that resist the temptation to judge, exclude, mock and mistreat those who are different from us.
Amen to that. We need to take a page from the book of Jesus, who welcomed all and loved all. More than that, He gave priority to those people forgotten or kicked to the curb because of their supposed insignificance; he knew they deserved special consideration and extra protections.
In this New Year, Lord, help us to resolve to defend the defenseless, speak for the voiceless, and love one another as you have loved us.
Kathleen M. Gallagher is a director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference.