The threats to prenatal populations around the globe have multiplied so much and so rapidly, that we urgently need a new emphasis on prenatal justice.
The term – “prenatal justice” – signals a number of important truths. It asserts the fact that prenatal children are objectively owed the same protections and supports from the law — and from public policy — that other vulnerable and marginalized populations receive. I explained this in a recent open letter to the Holy Father.
Because Pope Francis has so effectively established the “new balance” between different life issues, he is uniquely positioned to shift his focus and advocate with a new and powerful authenticity on behalf of prenatal justice.
There is some evidence to suggest that he has.
In a speech given from the Apostolic Palace’s Hall of Blessings, Francis addressed diplomats from the 183 countries that have official relationships with the Vatican with powerful words about the universal demands of human rights.
“Each human being has a right to dignified care,” Pope Francis said. “For each human person is an end in himself or herself, and never simply a means to be valued only for his or her usefulness.” He dialed in on a foundational concern of his: “If we deprive the weakest among us of the right to life, how can we effectively guarantee respect for every other right?”
Every other right, the pope correctly emphasized, relies on the right to life. And the signs of the times indicate that this foundational right is under particular threat. Again, the Holy Father speaking to all the countries in the world with whom the Holy See has formal relationships:
The pandemic forced us to confront two unavoidable dimensions of human existence: sickness and death. In doing so, it reminded us of the value of life, of every individual human life and its dignity, at every moment of its earthly pilgrimage, from conception in the womb until its natural end. It is painful, however, to note that under the pretext of guaranteeing presumed subjective rights, a growing number of legal systems in our world seem to be moving away from their inalienable duty to protect human life at every one of its phases.
In specifically invoking “conception in the womb” and “natural end”, Francis is invoking abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia here.
Especially with prenatal justice in mind as a clear focus of his remarks, one can only imagine what the representatives from Ireland, Argentina, the United States and other countries very much guilty of what he’s calling out here. The rights on which prenatal justice insists, the Holy Father rightly implies here, are objective and universal. Indeed, when they are considered subjective this paves the way for those with power to turn them into mere things which can be discarded via throwaway culture.
This is a very solid foundation on which to build a new focus on prenatal justice, but there is much more to do here if the Holy Father is going to respond to the signs of the times. It will not do to simply list abortion as one of several issues worthy of our concern. As Evangelium vitaemakes clear, the consistent life ethic is simply the teaching of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the circumstances in which we find ourselves always require that we prioritize different topics.
In our time, there is a world-wide genocidal assault on prenatal children. Increasingly, civil governments protect and even participate in this assault “under the pretext of guaranteeing presumed subjective rights,” when in fact what is going on is the paradigmatic and most urgent example of violent throwaway culture imaginable.
The Holy Father’s discussion of “insufficiently universal human rights” in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, though it did rightly draw attention to women as the victims of forced abortions, failed even to mention an increasingly legalized genocidal assault directed specifically at prenatal children: a failure analogous to giving a set of reflections on global ecological threats that omitted mention of climate change.
This, frankly, was cause for concern. How could the clearest victims of insufficiently universal human rights be omitted from this discussion? Those of us praying that the Holy Father shift to make prenatal justice a clear and distinct priority for his pontificate have a new reason to hope.
The kind of confident, even stinging remarks he gave to an audience containing large numbers of people (and countries they represent) indicted by his set of concerns was heartening. His important distinction between the foundational right to life and the pretext of subjective rights could very well be the foundation of a defense of prenatal justice that meets the signs of the times.
Let us continue to pray that Pope Francis’s powerfully challenging words to diplomats are the promise of vigorous programmatic leadership to come, and soon.