The Value of Life

October 17 2022 | by

ON JUNE 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court reversed its January 22, 1973, Roe vs. Wade abortion decision which had legalized elective abortion in the United States throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The Roe reversal was in response to the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That involved a Mississippi law that banned nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The majority decision of the court read, “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision… It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” In the wake of this decision, the legislative bodies in the fifty states of the United States are currently jockeying with allowing, limiting, or prohibiting elective abortion.

If abortion were an operation like any other, it would never have caused upheaval. People don’t protest having gall bladders removed. Pope Francis phrased the argument simply in a July 4, 2022 interview with the National Catholic Register, “I ask: Is it legitimate, is it right, to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem?”

Miscarriage (spontaneous abortion) has always been commonplace. Between 10 percent and 15 percent of pregnancies end in spontaneous miscarriage. A variety of factors can cause a miscarriage: hormonal or chemical imbalance, chromosomal abnormality, drugs, abnormality in the uterus, medical condition, infection, immune system reaction, incompetent cervix. A woman doesn’t choose a spontaneous abortion. It just happens.

On the other hand, elective abortion is chosen by someone: the pregnant woman, her spouse or partner, an abuser, a parent, or another care giver. While advocates hail abortion as “freedom of choice,” it hardly ever is freely chosen. For most women, aborting involves pressure and stress, either interiorly in the women’s spirit or outside from others. While performed from antiquity, elective abortion was always dangerous until modern times when updated abortion techniques decreased (but never eliminated) the hazards. Of course, abortion is never merely hazardous for the baby; it’s fatal, as Pope Francis noted.


Mary’s consent


Saint Anthony recognized life in the womb as the first stages of life outside. Christ Himself came into the world through conception and birth.

Anthony identifies an obvious but overlooked truth: although the Blessed Mother was filled with the Holy Spirit and given every grace imaginable, her womb was not filled with the Incarnate God – God enfleshed – until she agreed. At a particular time, in a particular place, God, Whose Spirit fills all things, assumed human flesh and took up residence in the womb of a particular virgin. No random act. A deliberate choice, an unrepeatable being.

Anthony’s description of the Incarnation is almost poetic. “This fire [of the Holy Spirit] came upon the Virgin, and filled her with the charism of graces. But in this fire, the Incarnation of the Word was not yet, but waited for the consent of the Virgin… And after the fire, the whisper of a gentle breeze (Anthony is referring to 1 Kings 19: 11-12); and in that was the Lord. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, [Lk 1.38] she whispered. And immediately, The Word was made flesh [Jn 1.14]… He came… to… the blessed Virgin, who gave birth to him, whom he came in his own person to see, to dwell in, and to take flesh from” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals IV, pp. 174-175; translated by Paul Spilsbury; Edizioni Messaggero Padova).


Moses in the basket


Beyond a clump of cells and a miniscule developing human embryo, Anthony recognizes the Divine God. Although he existed from eternity and was always Divine, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity received the Jewish name Joshua (Savior, anglicized to Jesus) when the angel Gabriel appeared to Joseph and instructed him to take the pregnant Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:21).

Anthony equates Jesus in the womb with Jesus outside it in his sermon notes on the hiding of Moses in the basket of bulrushes [Ex. 2.2-3]. In this allegorical sermon, Anthony sees Moses as a figure of Jesus Christ “who reposed in the blessed Virgin as in a basket, and was exposed to the flowing river of this world; he whom the ‘king’s daughter’ (Holy Church) adopted as her own child” (Sermons III, p. 419).


The human person


Jesus became a human person at his conception. So does everyone else. Anthony recognizes this. “Note that we read of five persons who were called by God before they were conceived in the womb” (Sermons IV, p. 163). Anthony lists these: “The first was Isaac, of whom Genesis 17 says: Sara thy wife shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name Isaac [Gen. 17.19]. The second was Samson, of whom Judges 13 says: The angel said to the wife of Manue: Thou shalt conceive and bear a son [Jg. 13.3]. The third was Josias, of whom III Kings 13 says: Behold, a child shall be born to the house of David, Josias by name [3 (1) Kg 13.2]. The fourth and fifth were John the Baptist [Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luke 1: 13)] and Jesus” (Sermons IV, p. 164). In a different homily, Anthony recognizes a sixth Biblical figure who was conceived to play a prominent role in God’s plan of salvation, namely Saint Paul the Apostle. God “set him apart from his mother’s womb’… and called him by his grace [Gal 1.15]” (Sermons IV, p. 305).


The Assidua


Anthony could never be accused of valuing unborn lives below born ones. The Assidua, the first biography written about him, emphasizes his compassion for every human being, calling each to repentance that would bring the joy of knowing God’s forgiveness and love. Anthony had a powerful apostolate with prostitutes, some of whom must have confessed to him elective abortions. “He freed prostitutes from sinful and disgraceful activities,” (Life of St. Anthony  – Assidua, p. 18, Edizioni Messagero Padova), thereby doing more than preaching against sin, but also helping women to reform their lives and follow a chaste path.

Updated on October 19 2022