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Friday, January 18, 2013

Forty Years of Abortion on Demand: Let Your Voices be Heard

Next week will mark the fortieth anniversary of the legalization of abortion. For many, The National Catholic Bioethics Center included, this will be a time of prayer, reflection, and most of all: Action. The annual march in Washington D.C. provides a profound reminder that the voice of moral conscience and of religious freedom will not be trampled and lost amid the so-called 'greater conversation' of sexual and reproductive freedom and our government's utter misappropriation of what constitutes 'rights.' The voice of conscience and freedom is, nonetheless, skewed, if not trampled, by the chronic problem of 'spin' in our media (and social media) riddled society. The question, the view, and perhaps even the central idea of abortion itself has, today, been sanitized and normalized by the spirit of our age. The mainstream media's work to make the now forty year-old issue into a standard talking point has, at times, attempted to take the teeth out of the arguments of the Pro-Life movement. The media's 'fair and liberal' treatment of immorality has allowed mainstream outlets to create a cycle of control in the conversation about abortion; and the current generation is often inured to the reality of abortion and to the utter devastation that it causes. One begins to realize the drastic extent to which contemporary Americans have had their public conversation about abortion and morality commandeered, reshaped, and redirected. It is useful, therefore, to consider views held on abortion at the time it was legalized. The conversation about abortion was so new, so incipient in the public forum, that public opinion had not had the time to be warped by the normalization of the act. One such fresh opinion was that of our Director of Public Policy and Staff Ethicist: Dr. Marie Hilliard. She was a young nurse at the time the Roe v. Wade verdict was reached. She was on the front lines when abortion was legalized. Marie has, most graciously, taken some time to give her account of what it was like to be working in the medical field at the time abortion was made legal.

Marie's account is a powerful testament to the incredibly deleterious effect abortion had on our culture from the moment it was approved by the Judiciary. Moreover, Marie exhorts all of us to help fight to end abortion in any way we can, especially, in prayer. 

Marie has not forgotten what America lost on January 22nd, 1973 and she, like so many of us, will be marching proudly in Washington next week.

Please click Read More below to read Marie's story.

It was January 23, 1973, the day after the US Supreme Court legalized what has become the massive slaughter of the innocents (Roe v. Wade[i]).  I was sitting in a classroom as a young lay woman in a secular graduate program in maternal-child health nursing, with a grant fully funded by the US government.  That morning an administrative faculty member entered the room to speak to our class.  She told us of the events of the day before, and how abortion was now legal throughout the United States.  Then came the first of many challenges to my free exercise of religion over my years as a registered nurse, which I continue to be to this day. 

We were told that since legalized abortion was the law of the land, if anyone of us had a problem facilitating an abortion we were to “refer” our patients to another provider.  “Referring” a patient is a term used in health care when one asks another provider to do what the referring provider could not do for a number of reasons, from lack of expertise to insurance issues.  Morally, it is deemed to be formal cooperation in evil if the procedure for which one is referring a patient is morally illicit.  In other words, if the referring provider intends the receiving  provider to carry out the morally problematic procedure,  It does not morally get one 'off the hook.'  One could equate it to hiring a “hit man” to do what one finds abhorrent.  In fact, in criminal law there is a higher penalty for the use of a “hit man.”   Referring a patient for a procedure is not the same as the morally licit (okay) transferring of a patient and her record safely and permanently to another provider, who assumes responsibility for the patient in entirety.

There I was, a young nurse, with no intention of facilitating an abortion, faced with the challenge of refusal.  Ethically, refusal to assume patient responsibility always should be done, if possible, before care of a patient is assumed by the nurse.  So, in front of my fifty-some classmates I raised my trembling hand and said: 

“Yesterday abortion was mostly illegal in this country, and today it is legal.  That provides me with no moral or ethical direction.  Therefore, I will not refer for abortions; it is not something one can make a nurse do.”
From that time to this, I have never, in any way, facilitated an abortion or an abortifacient.

Forty years later I ponder all that has happened since:  Over 54 million babies have never seen their own birthday;[ii] 40 percent of all pregnancies in New York City end in abortion,[iii] and New York Governor Cuomo is advancing the Reproductive Health Act to make abortion on demand a right, with no provision for Catholic hospitals to refuse to perform them;[iv] a nurse in New York City was forced to assist at an abortion, and was denied judicial recourse in the courts;[v] and the US Department of Health and Human Services is forcing all employers to be complicit in the chemical destruction of the unborn through the provision of abortifacients.[vi] 

Yet, on January 16, 2013, President Obama declared the day to be Religious Freedom Day.  But a close reading of the President’s proclamation gives pause: “Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose.”[vii]  This declaration reflects the direction in which this country is proceeding in violating the constitutionally protected right to the free exercise of religion.  Our constitution does not limit our religious liberty to Sunday worship, but to its entire free exercise. 

So I ask, today, in 2013, would that young nurse from forty years ago even be allowed to make her public statement of refusal to cooperate in evil?

On January 24th-25th, 2013 we all are called to do our small part in not only protecting these most innocent of unborn babies, but to protect our freedom not to be complicit in their slaughter.  The March for Life in our nations’ capitol, and all the events, novenas, and prayers leading up to it, can be participated in by all in some way or other through the Nine Days of Prayer, Penance, and Pilgrimage[viii] sponsored by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, from January 19 to 27, 2013.  There are many options for participation, from actually attending the March or one of the numerous Masses in Washington, DC, or if one is at home, to watching it on television, to praying the novena recommended by the US  Bishops, and to having our voices heard, either by being present in Washington, or by calling your government representatives to express your support for all of human life.

Do not let the statement of a very scared young nurse, made to her nursing faculty forty years ago, be made in vain. 

I plan to be in Washington, and to March for Life on January 25, 2013; but there are many ways to join me, even from your home.

Together, in time, our voices will be heard.

Marie T. Hilliard, JCL, PhD, RN
Director of Bioethics and Public Policy


i Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). 
vi Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Issuers Relating to Coverage of Preventive Services Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” 77 Fed. Reg. 8725, 8728 (February 15, 2012). The Final Rule left unchanged the requirements of the Interim Final Rule of August 1, 2011, 76 Fed. Reg. 46621 (August 3, 2011).

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