By Barb Arland-Fye
Some readers have questioned why The Catholic Messenger published an editorial criticizing the new Oklahoma law that requires women seeking abortions to first view ultrasound images of their unborn children.
Several letter writers have misinterpreted the editorial, opining that it supports the right of a woman to choose abortion which is in opposition to Catholic Church teaching. That line of thinking is incorrect and misses the point. Columnist Frank Wessling’s focus was on the use of coercion in dealing with women in the midst of a life-and-death crisis. In his opinion, coercion won’t save a baby’s life — compassion will.
Wessling questioned the fairness of the law because it doesn’t require the men who had a role in the women’s pregnancies to also view the ultrasounds. Readers took issue with that point, and rightfully so.
Jeanne Wonio, the respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Davenport, said: “If the burden is unequal, it was made so by God who chose the woman to carry the baby. And, our courts give complete power to the woman to terminate the pregnancy. The father has no legal rights regarding the preborn baby. That is also unequal — that the father has no rights about whether or not his baby can live. A woman chosen by God to be a mother of a baby is the greatest dignity of all.”
Some readers were less charitable, questioning the morals of a woman who becomes pregnant by a man to whom she is not married. The Catholic Church teaches that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is a sin, but the Church also conveys a strong message of forgiveness — whether for fornication or passing judgment. “The Church must be able to forgive all penitents their offenses, even if they should sin until the last moments of their lives.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 979.)
Letter writer Linda Heaton isn’t passing judgment in her letter, which appears in this week’s paper. She took exception to Wessling’s point that some women had tears in their eyes after having to watch ultrasound images of their unborn babies. “These women won’t shed any more tears than they will after the (abortion) is done and they realize there is no putting those pieces back together,” Heaton wrote. “The girl who decides to face the consequences of having the baby, no matter what problems she has to face, will find the Lord there to help her if she will call upon him.”
What some readers and letter writers overlooked in the editorial were important pro-life points that Wessling made. He acknowledged that we live in a culture which is so permissive about abortion and we need to continue to work toward changing that attitude. He referred to the “laudable intent” of the law “to raise consciousness about a life and death matter.”
His emphasis on the inequality of the law is worthy of debate, and that’s precisely what an Opinion Page in a Catholic diocesan newspaper is for: to express viewpoints on matters of faith within the parameters of Church teaching. Discernment ought to be a vital component of every Catholic’s life. Providing Catholics with a variety of articles, columns and letters with which to engage in that process is a responsibility that The Catholic Messenger takes seriously.