One of the great stories of my childhood was Washington Irving’s 1809 tale of the legendary “Rip Van Winkle,” the man who fell asleep for 20 years, only to awaken to a new world he scarcely recognized. I must have been asleep at the cultural wheel on Jan. 22, 1973 because the infamous Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which has accounted for the premature death of more than 55 million unborn children, flew right under my radar.
My first reckoning of the slaughter of the innocents did not occur until 12 years after that infamous decision. At a parish social after the 11 o’clock Mass, I noticed a tiny lapel pin on a friend’s jacket. When asked, he told me that his pin represented fully developed fetal feet at just 10 weeks of gestation. At that moment I saw no lightning bolts from the sky nor did I have anything as dramatic as a Pauline dismount. There was just this quiet moment of clarity that opened my eyes to the true meaning of abortion on demand.
I started reading everything I could on the subject. I got involved with the Archdiocesan Respect Life Movement in a myriad of different positions, including three stints as our parish co-coordinator. I wrote several letters to the editor. Some were published.
A short time later, I became a weekly radio talk show host. For 20 years I verbally waged the culture war on air with abortion my salient issue. The publication of my 1999 book, “Liberalism: Fatal Consequences” with abortion as its linchpin followed. In 2008 I wrote a one-act play about abortion, “A Perfect Choice,” which was produced the next year on a local stage. I have also been an advisor to the Vitae Foundation and a board member of Birthright of St. Louis for a dozen years. All this happened to me just because I asked about those tiny fetal feet.
The hardest part of this battle for me has been trying to understand why all Catholics are not equally troubled by the abortion horror as I am. Perhaps the slavery issue may answer my question. The record of Catholics during the days of slavery is not a stellar one. Most Catholics, especially those in the South, were indifferent to the plight of the slave, just as most are indifferent toward abortion today. Like their antebellum forebears, too many Catholics blame abortion abolitionists for disturbing the peaceful order of their society.
Perhaps it was the conservative temperament of most Catholics then not to rock the cultural boat since reforming the earth was unimportant when compared with spending eternity with God. Of course that kind of thinking would be totally unacceptable today on issues as diverse as racism, the minimum wage, nuclear war, the death penalty and even global warming.
I think the real trouble resides in the fact that Catholics today do not fear the establishment as much as they did in the 19th century because we have become an intricate part of the power establishment. Catholic attitudes today spring more from the toxic fumes of an anti-religious secularism then they do from Church teachings on human life. Most of our Catholic senators and congressmen follow their political consciences instead of their moral consciences. Many go out of their way to embed and expand the abortion privilege instead of screaming in outrage for its speedy repeal. In effect Karl and now Saul are more important than Jesus.
A repeal or even a Constitutional amendment seem like pipe dreams. We have tried the courts, constitutional amendments, political persuasion and public debate for 42 years, and the left, supported by millions of federal dollars keeps up the assault on innocent life with a determined consistency that defies all the Christian virtues.
Granted prayer, sacrifice and the public witness of millions have saved many unborn lives. But abortion is still an intricate part of the social landscape. Only a loud public outrage can make a difference. It is not there because Catholics are not united enough to lead that outrage.
My personal prayer is that every Catholic will think about those tiny fetal feet, feel their power and be moved to do something as I was years ago. If that ever happens, abortion may disappear from this country just as slavery did 150 years ago.
WILLIAM A. BORST has taught at virtually all levels of education from elementary school through university, published commentaries in many local and national publications, and hosted a weekly talk show on WGNU radio for 22 years. Having recently served as editor of the Mindszenty Report, Dr. Borst is the author of two prominent books: Liberalism: Fatal Consequences (1999) and The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy (2005). He holds a PhD in American History from St. Louis University.