How We Talk About Life — and Death

Living cells, mixed media artwork.

Living cells, mixed media artwork. Ruslan Kokarev /

It’s not often words escape us. But in the aftermath of the now viral recording(s) raising concerns over whether Planned Parenthood seeks profit from aborted fetal tissue — and the crassness with which its representative discusses how to accomplish it without “crushing” the tissue/organs — that’s where we were left: with no words. We confess to being at a complete loss of what to say in the face of humanity’s brokenness.

Beyond the ethical questions of how an organization receives payment for tissue sales or the debates around the potential benefits of the patients’ donations of fetal tissue, the videos are an in-your-face reminder of our culture’s blatant disrespect for life.

That disregard is not unique in our society, of course. Journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Medicine: “There’s nothing more to be done. She’s a vegetable.” Justice system: “He’s gonna fry.” War: “Light ‘em up.” Uncomfortable questions about life and death and ethics are best papered over with emotionless cliché, obviously.

As a society and as individuals, when we fail to recognize the imago dei in others, we trend further away from our uniquely human capacity to empathize and closer to isolated, analytical, and almost robotic assessments of value.

Lawmakers Call for Probes into Planned Parenthood Video Allegations

REUTERS / Dominick Reuter / RNS

The Planned Parenthood logo is pictured outside a clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 27, 2014. Photo via REUTERS / Dominick Reuter / RNS

Lawmakers are calling for investigations into a health care provider that has come under fire by anti-abortion activists for allegedly selling fetal organs for profit.

The anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress claims that the Planned Parenthood foundation violated the law by selling the fetal tissue to medical researchers.

Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero vehemently denied the accusations, saying that the tissue in question was donated to medical research – not sold.

“These outrageous claims are flat-out untrue, but that doesn’t matter to politicians with a longstanding political agenda to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood,” Ferrero said.

Abortion Rates Declining Nationwide

Image via Steve Allen/

Image via Steve Allen/

The number of abortions nationwide has declined by about 12 percent in the last 5 years, according to the Associated Press. States with the strongest restrictions to abortion access and states with the least show a similar decline in rates. 

"Explanations vary," the Associated Press reports, with one factor being a decline in the teen pregnancy rate. Depending on which side of the abortion debate you lie, you can find advocates who attribute the overall decline in abortions to either better sex education and access to contracepton — or advanced technology and a new generation of women for whom there is "an increased awareness of the humanity of the baby before it is born."

From the AP: 

"Abortion-rights advocates attribute it to expanded access to effective contraceptives and a drop in unintended pregnancies. Some foes of abortion say there has been a shift in societal attitudes, with more women choosing to carry their pregnancies to term.

Several of the states that have been most aggressive in passing anti-abortion laws — including Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma — have seen their abortion numbers drop by more than 15 percent since 2010. But more liberal states such as New York, Washington and Oregon also had declines of that magnitude, even as they maintained unrestricted access to abortion."

Public Religion Research Institute, a public opinion research group in Washington, D.C., has created an interactive atlas of American values and hot-button social issues. See where your state lands on attitudes over the availability and legality of abortion here.

Americans Prefer ‘Pro-Choice’ Label by Biggest Margin in Seven Years

Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock / RNS

An anti-abortion protester holds in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001. Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock / RNS

Despite Americans’ shifting opinions on a range of moral and ethical issues, abortion foes have been encouraged by numbers showing that opposition to abortion rights appeared to have resisted serious slippage, and was even gaining traction.

But a Gallup poll released May 29 shows that may be changing: 50 percent of all Americans now identify as “pro-choice,” the first statistically significant lead over the “pro-life” label, which came in at 44 percent, since 2008.

The data suggest this could signal an end to the seesaw battle that has characterized opinions on abortion over the past few years.

It’s About Life: U.S. Catholic Bishops Outline Principles on EPA Carbon Regulations

Steam rising from a factory, Todd Klassy /

Steam rising from a factory, Todd Klassy /

How refreshing to see Roman Catholic Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s May 29 letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy urging that the new carbon pollution rules on existing power plants should “protect the health and welfare of all people, especially children, the elderly, as well as poor and vulnerable communities from harmful pollution emitted from power plants and from the impacts of climate change.” The Miami archbishop was speaking on behalf of the U.S. bishops in his role as chairman of the U.S. bishop’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Since last Monday and even in the months leading up to the release of the new EPA rules governing carbon pollution, there’s been a battle royale in the media and the blogosphere between the fossil fuel industry (and their supporters) and the environmentalists (and their proxies).

Activists Rally to Bury the Bodies from Gosnell Abortion Trial

Priests for Life dedicated naming certificates for babies who died in clinic of Dr Gosnell. Photo via RNS/Priests for Life.

Now that the trial for abortion provider Kermit Gosnell has ended with a conviction, many are asking what public officials in Philadelphia plan to do with the 47 bodies from the case.

After Gosnell’s arrest in 2011, then-Archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali asked the district attorney’s office for the bodies of the aborted fetuses. The bodies were being retained for the trial, but after it ended and Gosnell was sentenced to life in prison, his successor, Archbishop Charles Chaput, has renewed the request to bury the bodies.

Francis Maier, special assistant to Chaput, said that he doesn’t know whether or not a service would include a Catholic Mass, but he said it would be quiet and dignified.

Will the Kermit Gosnell Verdict Change the Abortion Debate?

Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

Anti-abortion protestor in front of Supreme Court, Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

Even before rogue abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted in Philadelphia on Monday of delivering and then killing late-term infants, abortion opponents were convinced they had a case that could reshape an abortion debate that has remained static over the years.

After the verdict, they were even more confident.

“Dr. Gosnell is only the front man; and the real trial has only just begun. The defendant is the abortion license in America,” Robert P. George, a Princeton law professor and leading conservative activist, wrote after a jury convicted Gosnell of three counts of first-degree murder for snipping the spines of babies after botched abortions.

Gosnell, who could face the death penalty, was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 41-year-old patient who sought an abortion at the squalid West Philadelphia clinic that prosecutors labeled a “house of horrors.”

Yet the fervent prayers for a game-changing impact from the Gosnell conviction may go unanswered for a variety of reasons.

U.S. Anti-Abortion Leaders Join Rome’s March for Life

Jeanne Monahan, new president of March for Life. RNS photo by Adelle Banks.

Jeanne Monahan, new president of March for Life. RNS photo by Adelle Banks.

American anti-abortion leaders will be in Rome on Sunday to participate in Italy’s third March for Life and lend their expertise to the nation’s small anti-abortion movement as it tries to learn from its American counterpart.

Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and Lila Rose of Live Action will be among those who will march through central Rome on Sunday morning, from the Colosseum up to Castel Sant’Angelo, a few hundred meters from the Vatican.

While the annual March for Life in Washington — which celebrated its 40th anniversary in January — attracts hundreds of thousands of people and heavy media coverage, in Europe anti-abortion movements have often kept a lower profile and haven’t been able to shape social discourse as in the United States.

Polls regularly show high levels of support for abortion rights throughout Europe. A January poll by Eurispes found that 64 percent of Italians favor legalizing abortion pills.

In Italy, abortion is currently legal in hospitals up to the third month of pregnancy.

Will He Find Faith?

Black and white magnolia, Gregory Johnston /

Black and white magnolia, Gregory Johnston /

 C.S. Lewis described himself as a dinosaur as he lived in a cultural landscape that seemed to change before his eyes.

I don’t feel like a dinosaur, but I do feel like a disembodied voice crying in the wilderness as I struggle, like a fish swimming upstream, to believe that the Gospel is real and solid and still matters.

It’s not that cynics and agnostics have convincing arguments – though some do.

And it’s not as if Faith itself has lost its power and edge – because it hasn’t.

Perhaps it’s true in every age, but it certainly seems more true now, that many of those who call themselves believers, believe and live as if they believe a different Gospel altogether.

The contradiction is so thorough, it must be deliberate.