By THE MOST REVEREND KEVIN W. VANN, J.C.D., D.D.
What are the riches of the Golden State? California’s beauty, landscapes, diversity, industry and influence are unparalleled. It is the fifth largest economy in the world. And paramount among all this beauty is the inestimable value of each and every human life.
Our state is amid a record two-year budget surplus. Proposals are coming out of the woodwork for how to spend the money. Unfortunately, alongside some laudable proposals CA legislature leadership and the governor have decided to prioritize expansion of already liberal abortion laws and policy.
I will address the specific challenges we face in an unprecedented onslaught of bills threatening the sanctity of life below – and invite you to prayer and action – but first a few words of encouragement.
As partisan polarization has reached record levels common ground for the common good on issues including abortion has become harder and harder to come by. In fact, it is unclear whether either end of the political spectrum is even interested in de-polarizing since their own vested interests are served by the status quo, all the more so in states where one party has a supermajority.
I have served as priest and then bishop in three distinct political environments in Illinois, Texas and California. I’ve not seen before the rancor, entrenchment and extremism as strong as it appears today.
Nonetheless, we must resist the temptation to despair but rather trust in Christ Jesus who promises to be with us until the end of the age. A promise recalled anew during this Easter season.
“We should take as a maxim,” wrote Saint Vincent de Paul, “never to be surprised at current difficulties, no more than at a passing breeze, because with a little patience we shall see them disappear. Time changes everything.”
On the other hand, we must resist the temptation to indifference. Pope Francis has warned us, consistently and forcefully, against that option. “We cannot remain indifferent when human dignity is trampled and exploited, when human life is attacked, whether that of the unborn or of any other person in need of care” (Dec. 20, 2019).
Between despair and indifference lies the path of patient and persistent prayer and action, the path of faithfulness.
Saint Augustine, addressing our tendency to romanticize previous times, wrote: “You may think past ages were good, but it is only because you are not living in them.” A good word for any tempted toward nostalgia for a past that never really existed, or existed for some at the expense of others.
Saint Augustine’s is a counsel neither of despair nor indifference. Elsewhere he challenged us: “Bad times, hard times — this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: such as we are, such are the times.”
With this ancient counsel to faithful living and witness in mind, we can face soberly the specific challenge in front of us. A challenge of abortion expansion and threats to religious liberty confronts us in the following bills in the California legislature:
AB 2223, while addressing a shared concern that women not be prosecuted for pregnancy outcomes (for the church opposes punitive approaches in favor of healing and restorative ones), has vague language of “perinatal death” which we must oppose unless it is amended to definitively exclude infant death due to abuse or neglect.
AB 2134 would force religious employers to advertise and pay for abortions.
AB 2586 expands taxpayer-funded abortions in California.
AB 1918 provides scholarships for abortion doctors.
SB 1375 would make abortion even more dangerous for women by removing physician oversight.
SB 1245 establishes a pilot program in Los Angeles County to make it an abortion destination.
SB 1142 makes California an abortion destination for out of state women.
It goes without saying that we are, as always, opposed to abortion expansion since it always takes the life of a human being, with more than 132,000 lives lost each year in our state alone. Paying for every ancillary expense of a woman who has an abortion without ensuring adequate services for parenting women amounts to reproductive coercion. Women deserve to be empowered with non-violent solutions to the challenges they face during pregnancy.
Additionally concerning is doing all of this in the name of marginalized communities. It was none other than civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, best known for her leadership with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party, who according to a recent biographer viewed abortion as a social justice issue and placed it among the white supremacist tools to regulate Black lives. Not all her fellow activists always agreed with her but they respected her convictions and together they were able to find immense common ground to better the lives of women and children. “Children have a right to live,” she said. “And I think that these mothers have a right to support them in a decent way…We are dealing with human beings.”
Hamer’s advocacy reminds me also of my mother Theresa who worked as a maternity nurse and nursing instructor at St. John’s Catholic Hospital in Springfield, Illinois. She was always concerned especially for poor women, for their family’s wellbeing, and that they could get a nursing education – to which end a scholarship was even created in her name! California needs equity for the choices of pregnant and parenting women as they pursue motherhood.
The legislative list above is daunting and disappointing. It is especially so in the light of all of the riches in our state and the opportunities we have to commit, as the California bishops put it in our recent statement, “to a vision for our state that honors women with life-affirming support and practical resources so that all families can thrive, and so that no woman feels trapped into the devastating decision to end a life by abortion.”
Many California Catholics are already living out this vision through tireless efforts at pregnancy shelters, clinics and centers across our communities, through parish ministries of accompaniment that Walk with Moms in Need, through parish and Saint Vincent de Paul food pantries, financial support, parenting classes, domestic violence awareness, migrant support and mental health ministry through community participation and Eucharistic solidarity. We must do more. I invite you to three simple actions today:
Pray – for women, children, and families in need and for just laws that protect life and dignity.
Learn – about current legislation and share this information with others.
Advocate – a simple step: sign up for the California Catholic Legislative Network today and receive timely updates and Action Alerts by which you can respond with the click of a button.
Read more about this legislation and sign up for Action Alerts at cacatholic.org/action-alerts. Thank you for giving of your time, talent, and treasure to walk with those in need. After all, as one author put it well, “There is no wealth but life.”