Caritas Corner | Justice for Children

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Few issues have unified the Catholic and Christian faithful like the fight against abortion.  The 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling galvanized churches around action and ideology, prompting generations to protest, invest money, and vote in support of unborn children.  Where do we go next with that passion and energy now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade?

Clearly, there is work to do at the state level.  In Colorado, the Reproductive Health Equity Act keeps abortions available and legal.  Still, this moment provides a unique opportunity to reemphasize what the abortion issue has always been about for Catholics: the value and dignity of every human life.  On that broader front, there is an opportunity to advance the true intent of the pro-life movement.

Many advocates have characterized the Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling as one of justice.  That word gets used with varying degrees of understanding and intent.  Its meaning and implications are deeply tied to classical philosophy as well as theology.  Aristotle, in his writings on ethics, went into great detail on the virtue of justice, characterizing it in mathematical terms: “What is just must be a mean, and equal and relative.”  Catholic teaching reflects this notion of justice as equal, perhaps nowhere more clearly than in Matthew 22 where Jesus commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Pope John Paul II wrote about the Church’s evangelizing mission as having “as an essential part, action for justice and the tasks of advancement of man.”

Justice can be applied to an event or decision in which right relationship is restored, but it is also, perhaps, more importantly, a state of balance to be achieved through human action.  At its core, the work to end abortion is rightly characterized as justice because it is fundamentally about preserving life.  As Pope Francis writes in his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, “This defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.  It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.”  Yet, as Francis and his predecessors have pointed out, throughout history human rights have been degraded by the effects of poverty and human vulnerability.

There is a tendency in the discourse around abortion to speak of unborn children as the most vulnerable; however, that relativistic application takes our eyes off the greater pursuit of life and justice.  It is hard to argue that unborn children are any more vulnerable than the fourth graders in Uvalde, Texas, Ukrainian children in warzones, or children living in cars or homeless shelters.  The vulnerability of children is injustice in all cases where it occurs.  In the wake of this historic Supreme Court decision, we have the opportunity to emphasize the belief that seeking justice for children is a fundament for affirming the value and dignity of human life.

Working to bring children out of poverty must be the continuation of the advocacy and energy that the church has supplied to the pro-life movement.  The lack of stable housing, poor education, and limited access to health care are injustices that our children should not have to endure.  The government should not and cannot be left to support children without parents:  child protective services and the foster care system are overwhelmed and dysfunctional.  The pro-life movement has the influence and fortitude to help make right these many injustices.

Our nation and our communities are sadly polarized and the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade will add to that division.  The sides have not changed but the emotions have intensified.  As Pope Francis writes, again in Evangelii Gaudium, “Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their (unborn) lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative.”  Any time people are divided, it undermines key components of Catholic Social Teaching.  At this critical time, in the wake of this historic decision, people of faith have the opportunity to remind ourselves and others that the pro-life movement is and has always been about the value of life and justice for children.  There is much left to do.  Our children still need our help.

Andy Barton is the President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.  This article first appeared in the Colorado Catholic Herald.

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