By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published January 29, 2004
On the 31st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, Archbishop John F. Donoghue described the moral and legislative battle to ban abortion as part of a larger pro-life struggle in this country to ensure protection of all “holy innocents,” even the weakest and most forgotten.
The annual Mass sponsored by the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office was held under blue skies on the morning of Jan. 22 at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Afterward Catholics joined others in the pro-life movement at the adjacent state Capitol for the Georgia Right to Life memorial service and silent march.
Archbishop Donoghue celebrated the Mass, with some 25 priests concelebrating; he also spoke at the memorial service.
At the Shrine, the crowd spilling into the aisles included elderly pro-life activists, mothers and fathers with their babies and children, teenagers from Our Lady of Mercy High School sporting their basketball sweatshirts and cheerleader jackets, and Marist students in school blazers.
Middle school religion teacher Michael Ragan from St. Joseph School, Marietta, and parish priest Father Ricardo Bailey brought the school’s eighth-grade class, who participated as lectors, altar servers and ushers.
Jim Hamilton, a family doctor in Habersham County, brought four of his 11 children and wore his white doctor’s coat.
“(Abortion) has always been a real special issue for me. It’s the greatest moral evil of our lifetime. As the pope says, we live in a culture of death. We’ve got to be a culture of life … Each child has an immortal soul created in the image and likeness of God,” he said. “It’s a fundamental wrong to kill a baby in the mother’s womb. At some point America will come around, or we’ll fall apart as a country.”
In his homily the archbishop spoke of how the evil one attacks goodness and victimizes the innocent. He cited the case of Terri Schiavo in Florida and also the hypothetical case of a woman who might find herself, after living a selfish life, alone in a hospital bed with no visitors, and at the mercy of those who say it’s better to let her die to end her suffering and her burden on others.
“But now, in these extreme moments, when alone in her struggle, she might be living the last chance to reconcile with God,” he said. “Does not this poor unknown woman’s cry for mercy join itself again, to the cry of the holy innocents, and remind us of what we should be doing for their sake?”
“It is indicative of the devil’s power, that his dark and corrupt shadow, embraces helpless and innocent victims—not just helpless and innocent in the womb, but also helpless and innocent by illness, by neglect, or by human indifference to human suffering. Will we change this power by our own wills—can we, by a word, transform evil into good? No. This is a question to be finally settled by God alone.”
“But we can live to beat back evil, to reduce evil’s influence, to push it into corners, and to shrink its terrible power that crouches behind corrupt law, and hides beneath the shattered ethics of our medical care institutions,” he concluded. “We can do this by doing exactly as our Lord did—by never letting go of an opportunity to help, to heal, to speak out, and even at the cost of our lives, to persist in upholding the word of God whose word is life. Though we hear the corrupt law-makers promulgate the phantom right to privacy, and though we hear the courts twist logic to make murder a viable option after conception, and though we hear the traitor physicians and their minions harp on the right to ‘reproductive freedom,’ —and though the babble of all the degraded may seem to lead the world on an ever-growing spiral into spiritual madness and moral disorder, let us remember the strength of the Shadow in whose shelter we stand—the shadow of the Most High, who conceived in Mary the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who won by His death, our redemption.”
During the Mass, leaders of parish pro-life ministries were called forward, where they were commissioned by Archbishop Donoghue for their ministry in the year ahead.
Those commissioned included Hamilton, who leads the pro-life group, along with his wife, at St. Mark’s Church, Clarkesville. He finds it ironic that a rich country like the United States makes abortion legal while an extremely poor country like Nicaragua, where he has participated in mission work, protects the unborn.
He said that he used to just give “lip service” to the issue until he began feeling like a hypocrite and called up a local pregnancy crisis center and asked to serve on its board of directors. “I realized I wasn’t doing anything and (that) people need to get involved and do something.”
He spoke of how the pro-choice argument evolved from calling a fetus a “blob of tissue” to speaking of the right of choice. Technology, however, is communicating the reality of life in the womb.
“Now with technology, the first picture for the baby book is from the ultrasound,” he said.
Ironically, he observed, while television is filled with violent images “they’d never want anything on TV to show a partial birth abortion because if they did people would be horrified.”
Ragan said participating in this event was part of an effort at St. Joseph’s School to build a strong pro-life program. Their first step was to set up a program for middle-schoolers to visit a local nursing home, where students signed up to visit particular residents during the year. This has been coupled with class activities to teach about the sanctity of life from “womb to tomb.”
Student Brandon Lane said, “It was awesome seeing all the different Catholic schools at Mass. It made me feel like there is hope for the future.”
Mary Ashenfelter, who brought her 9-year-old daughter, said being a mother has made her particularly committed to the movement. Young people who’ve never known life without Roe v. Wade must recognize its evil so that they don’t see it as the norm and go with the flow of the pro-choice mindset, she said. As her children grow she plans to continue teaching them about pro-life issues, the value of sexual abstinence and the sanctity of marriage, so that if they are ever confronted with the abortion issue they will be grounded in Catholic values.
“I think this next generation is more aware and looking for a moral center, that there is truth and a moral center. I think we need to teach them to live by what is right, not what is convenient,” said Ashenfelter, a member of the pro-life group at St. Stephen the Martyr Church, Lilburn. “If there’s not a firm foundation it’s easy to be swept up in whatever is good for you—‘in my crisis maybe it’s OK.’”
If a woman is that strongly opposed to getting pregnant, she should be responsible and make the decision before having sex “for abstinence and the sanctity of marriage,” she said, adding that with sexually active teenagers “it’s a sense of wanting to belong and wanting to be loved. There are a lot of ways to love. We all have feelings. It’s handling them responsibly.”
Ashenfelter hopes the events are a strong witness to state legislators, who in the 2004 legislative session may vote on a Women’s Right to Know bill, which would provide women 24 hours before the abortion procedure with information on the type of abortion to be performed, the development of the fetus, and what help is available to bring the child to term.
“Very few women who see a picture of an unborn child question whether that’s a child,” she said.
Mary Boyert, director of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office, said that the Right to Know bill is currently in the Georgia House Judiciary Committee awaiting action, and she encouraged Catholics to contact their state representatives to urge the bill to be passed by the Georgia House. It has already been passed by the Senate. “Unfortunately it’s stuck in the House. It won’t be voted on unless it gets out of committee.”
She said that her office will lobby for that bill as well as other legislation strengthening feticide and parental notification laws and proposing a pro-life license plate.
The Jan. 22 event “really was a terrific day,” Boyert said.
“I see a renewed determination and excitement in people. I think there may have been a certain amount of weariness in past years, but I think people have renewed their determination and finally see some light at the end of the tunnel with the passage of the partial birth abortion ban by the U.S. Congress.”