In 2013, Pope Francis referred to the most vulnerable, including the sick, the elderly, the unborn and the poor “as masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image” (2013 Day of Life Greeting). Throughout October, the Church is celebrating all of life’s masterpieces for Respect Life Month, which began on October 5th. This celebration is an annual product of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who develops and highlights a Respect Life Program that is promoted through special events and materials in parishes and dioceses throughout the country.
The month, which highlights human dignity, delves specifically into topics such as end-of-life care, embryonic stem cell research, commercial surrogacy, and abortion, including its connection to poverty. The strong message that is emphasized during this awareness campaign is that we are best served by a society that values, protects, and recognizes human life and our inherent self-worth.
To be a society of life, it is important first to stand up against the destruction of human life at any stage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church outlines that a person has rights and must be respected “from the first moment of his existence” and continuing through his or her natural death (2270). Without the protection of life, all other basic human rights are threatened, such as food, shelter, health care, and education.
Put simply, the respect for life at every stage should be impacting the way we treat others, provide services as a community, and make laws regarding these topics. For example, a society that respects life must stand with women during unexpected and difficult pregnancies and offer positive alternatives to abortion. A society that respects life must reach out to those in society who feel most alone and on the outskirts, such as the homeless, the elderly, the immigrant, and those with disabilities. A society that respects life must work towards eradicating poverty and violence as well as providing quality educational options for children as they continue to grow.
Unfortunately, during this month committed to the protection of life, a disturbing report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that over a thousand health plans covering elective abortions are eligible to receive federal subsidies. Despite promises that the Affordable Care Act would not require federal tax dollars to contribute to abortions, this report shows that health plans are not always disclosing their coverages or creating separate funding streams. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has called for a continued push for legislation that will exclude federal funding of abortion and require health plans to disclose abortion coverages and premiums. These bills are crucial to moving society closer to the protection of the unborn and promotion of the value of human life.
The respect for life should consistently be a strong concern on our hearts and in our minds, whether that be in our parishes or in our political lives. As we head to the ballot box on November 4th, we should take care to examine candidate positions on a variety of human life issues through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching and Scripture. Although other issues and candidate positions important to the Church must be considered, the U.S. bishops tell us that the protection of human life has a special claim on our consciences.
Even after the campaigning is done and the ballots are cast, our protection of human life in the political realm must remain strong as we hold elected officials accountable for their decisions and actions. Learn more about bringing a strong voice for the dignity of all human life at www.micatholic.org/can/