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Roe v. Wade: A national tragedy

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley                    Jan. 24, 2016

There are certain dates in our nation’s history that will “live in infamy,” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt once remarked. These dates are seared into our consciousness because they are forever tied to the memory of some unprecedented attack on innocent life and on the very fabric of our nation’s principles and values. On Dec. 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor triggered the United States’ entry into World War II, the costliest war in human history. Sept. 11, 2001, brought our nation face to face with a new kind of enemy, international terrorism in the form of Al Qaeda.

Jan. 22, 1973, marks one of these watershed moments in our history as well. On that date, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in the case of Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion on demand throughout the United States.

The consequences of this legal decision have resulted in tens of millions of victims. The victims of abortion are not only the innocent children whose lives have been ended even before they came to see the light of day. The victims also are the mothers and fathers of these children, and their families, who live with the emotional and spiritual wounds that are the consequences of the decision to abort.

Our whole nation has suffered the incalculable loss of unrealized human talent and giftedness. Among the 55 million direct victims of abortion in the United States might have been the next Martin Luther King Jr., the next Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or the woman or man who might have found a cure for cancer. The cost of abortion is incalculable.

A further consequence of this legal decision is the continued unraveling of respect for life and the dignity of the human person. When the most innocent and the most vulnerable are stripped of legal protection we have taken a decisive step on a slippery slope leading inevitably to further violations of human dignity and even more widespread disregard for the sacredness of human life.

Abortion is certainly not the only life issue demanding our attention and concern. But, it is the most symptomatic of something terribly wrong in our culture. It is the most egregious affront to life because it is an attack against innocence itself.

Advocacy and legislative efforts have led to some notable successes in limiting the threat to unborn children that Roe v. Wade represents. But these are not enough. What is required is a change of heart among those who are indifferent to the evil of abortion. What is required is hope and conversion. I have been encouraged by the various efforts to engage people in prayer seeking an end to abortion.

Forty Days for Life has been a valuable initiative educating and mobilizing people in prayer and witness to end abortion and affirming the dignity of each and every life from conception to natural death. The importance of prayer has been highlighted with the establishment of the Holy Innocents Chapel whose primary goal has been to end abortion in Oklahoma City and offer an alternative to the choice by connecting abortion-minded women with organizations like Birth Choice. The Lord has heard our prayers and the abortion clinic adjacent to the Holy Innocents Foundation chapel recently closed and the abortionist who ran the clinic was stripped of his medical license.

Even as we pray to bring about an end to abortion in our nation we cannot neglect the “other victims” of abortion, the mothers and fathers of aborted children. There are people in our parishes, in our communities, perhaps in our families who carry the burden of their own participation in abortion. They need our compassion and understanding. Fortunately, an effective post abortion ministry is available in our archdiocese. It is called Rachel’s Vineyard. Rachel’s Vineyard is a weekend retreat experience offered in a confidential setting whose entire focus is healing and reconciliation. I encourage those who are bearing the wounds of abortion, or know somebody who is carrying these deep hurts to consider this healing path.

In addition to the various local observances that occur each year on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established Jan. 22 as a day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through abortion and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life.

In the spirit of prayer and penance each year we renew our commitment to turning back the destructive tide that has been unleashed through the Roe v. Wade decision. Our goal is to build a culture of life in which the dignity of every human person is valued and every human life is afforded due protection from conception to natural death.

Rachel's Vineyard Retreat 

Have you had an abortion or been affected by another's abortion? Sadness, anxiety, guilt and grief are common, not only for the woman, but also the man involved or for other relatives and friends.

There is help. Experience the healing love of Jesus Christ at a Rachel's Vineyard weekend retreat. Participation is strictly confidential. 

Next retreat: April 8-10
Call: (405) 623-3844
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
Online: www.rachelsvineyard.org