Here are Archbishop Mitchel Rozanski’s prepared remarks for the Gospel of Life Prayer Breakfast.
Good morning to you and thank you so much for being a part of this Gospel of Life Prayer Breakfast sponsored by Legatus. My thanks to Msgr. Henry Breier, the rector of our Cathedral Basilica and chaplain to our Legatus group here in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, to Martin Kerckhoff and all who have worked so diligently to make sure that we could gather today. Outside of celebrating Masses at our churches, I think that this is the largest gathering I have attended here in St. Louis and it is very fitting that it is a cause that is dear to our hearts and at the heart of our Church.
A few years back, while I was still the auxiliary bishop in Baltimore, Maryland, there was an opportunity for a gathering of ecumenical and interfaith leaders to come together for an important issue in the community. One of the Protestant ministers asked me if I would attend representing the Catholic Church. When I told him that I would be present, he remarked to me, “it is so important that the Catholics are going to be there. You are consistent in your teachings and that speaks volumes to the rest of us.” I must admit being taken aback by his remark, but on reflection, I realized what he had meant. Our belief in the Pro-Life Gospel is one that embraces the creative love of God that is present from the moment of conception until natural death.
But sadly, especially over the course of the 20th century, we have seen what ideologies based in mere human thought, excluding God from the picture, have brought to our world. The two World Wars, the holocaust, terrorism threats that continue to our very day, violence that pervades our communities, and on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in this country and began the horrible slaughter of the most innocent of our humanity. Soon after I arrived in St. Louis, I learned that Cardinal Carberry acted immediately after that Supreme Court decision to begin one of the first pro-life offices and ministries in our country. Some of you here today may remember Cardinal Carberry’s far-sighted vision in establishing this office as an official ministry of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. As President George W. Bush reminded us after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we would be in this battle for the long haul. Even in 1973, it was apparent to Cardinal Carberry that we would continue the struggle to stand up for life in its most innocent form as long as it would take. Like the war on terrorism, this battle is “fought” on many fronts with coordinated and well-planned efforts. As Catholics, we believe in our rightful place in the public forum, to influence laws to be fair and just in treating the dignity of each and every human person, especially the most vulnerable.
We realize that situations arise that may lead a woman to consider aborting her child. We believe as Catholics that it is incumbent upon us to provide alternatives and support to those women and men who may find themselves in those circumstances. And we have a beautiful story to share of God’s redeeming love for us, one that truly glories in our participation in God’s creation especially in bringing new life into the world and so we share our story with those who may not realize the great gift that God has given to us. To those women and men who may have chosen abortion, we provide opportunities for reconciliation and healing, allowing God through the Church’s ministry to bring light to the darkness.
Over my year here in St. Louis, I have been privileged to witness the many facets of our pro-life efforts that are making a difference to women and men and most importantly to the preborn children who are saved from abortion. Let me take some time to share with you my own experiences over this past year. Just a block down the street from our Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Blvd. is the ThriVe clinic. I visited there last month for an explanation of its services and a tour of that wonderful facility. It is one of three locations in our greater St. Louis area along with a mobile fleet of medical vans.
ThriVe clinic provides pregnancy testing, ultrasound services, counseling and support services with a staff of people who are committed to the women and the babies that they are carrying. It is a bright, cheerful atmosphere, uplifting and full of life. There is a place to shop for supplies and clothes for infants, where moms can get the supplies they need to raise their babies. What a blessing it is to our region to have places like ThriVE clinics to give women an alternative to abortions. These are places of life!
In my former assignments in Baltimore, Springfield and now in St. Louis, in visiting pregnancy clinics, I have been told by staff members of the importance that the ultrasound machines make in helping women to choose to give their babies life. I know I speak for all of us who are grateful to the Knights of Columbus, who have funded the ultrasound machines for our pregnancy clinics. During my recent visit to the ThriVe clinic, I was shown a new ultrasound machine, provided through the generosity of the Knights, which has a beautiful, clear resolution that shows the baby in its mother’s womb with such clarity. Seeing the image on the screen of the baby in the womb, a woman realizes the life that she is nurturing, a life that needs to be born to a waiting world.
Earlier I mentioned the foresight of Cardinal Carberry in establishing our (Respect Life) Apostolate. Many other dioceses have modeled their pro-life offices from our Respect Life Apostolate. It is a tribute to those early pioneers in the pro-life movement here in St. Louis that others have taken our example in continuing these efforts. Over this past year, I have been able to meet with and work with Cindy Haehnel who admirably leads our pro-life efforts in coordinating with our parishes and other archdiocesan institutions. The RLA office supports parish pro-life committees which have been one of the leaders in our parish committees, involving thousands of people in our pro-life movement from praying outside of abortion clinics to providing baby supplies to our pregnancy centers and educating themselves in pro-life legislation. Our RLA has been involved and supported the passing of numerous local and state laws over the years. Many of these laws have been passed in other states thereby strengthening their pro-life efforts. And the RLA has not only been so important in our present efforts but has been a major resource in educating our young people in the pro-life movement. Over these past years, I have been privileged to participate in the Right to Life marches in Washington D.C. It is a stirring sight to see so many young people from all over the country, who come together each year to stand for life.
They are both the present and the future of our pro-life movement whose exuberance will ensure that our cause will continue as a strong voice for our nation. Despite the hardships that they endure, and I can attest that January in Washington D.C. is not always a pleasant time, they rally in great numbers standing up for life! As polling of the American population shows it is becoming more pro-life, we must find ways to increase the visibility of our RLA to provide a call to arms to our Catholic families. A vibrant office can use the momentum that is already started to gather more Catholics to become actively involved in our pro-life apostolate.
As Catholics, we believe that Jesus has given the care of His Church to all of us. Certainly living the Gospel of life is rooted in each one of our baptismal calling. Our Holy Fathers of recent times have urged us Catholics to take our rightful places in the public square; in educating ourselves about our legislative processes, studying proposed legislation, and using our rights as citizens to voice our concern that all laws uphold the inherent dignity of each and every human being, especially the most vulnerable among us. Pope St. John Paul II, who spent much time in his own life fighting the totalitarian regimes of Nazism and Communism, urged Catholics to be actively involved in the public square.
Our Missouri Catholic Conference, under the leadership of Tyler McClay, the executive director, keeps close watch on upcoming legislation and is our Catholic voice in Jefferson City. The MCC helps to coordinate our efforts through lobbying for laws that are just and fair for the people of our state, particularly in the area of pro-life. Let me give you some of the recent updates that MCC is watching for all of us. The Supreme Court has accepted for review Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This lawsuit presents an opportunity for the Court to overturn or severely limit Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey by ruling a Mississippi law that bans abortion at 15 weeks is constitutional. The full eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to reconsider and hear as a full court its decision blocking portions of Missouri House Bill 126 (Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act) later this month. The judges will reconsider whether HB 126 8, 14, 18 and 20 week abortion bans, along with the ban on abortion performed solely based on a Down Syndrome diagnosis, are constitutional. Recently, The Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 decision not to block a recently passed Texas heartbeat bill that bans abortions in the state at six weeks. While there are legal and political questions about whether this law is sustainable, unborn children are being saved in Texas every day right now as a result of this ruling.
While these legal cases progress, Missouri’s incremental legal approach has nearly eliminated abortions from being performed in our state. In 2019, there were 1,471 abortions performed in the state, the lowest level since Roe v. Wade was decided. This is a decrease from the high point in 1984 of 20,204. This dramatic drop can be attributed to the culture of life being fostered in the state, along with legislative victories. Here are a list of the pro-life legislative victories since Roe v. Wade was decided:
• Missouri law proclaims life begins at conception.
• Waiting periods before an abortion can be performed.
• Informed consent must be obtained 72 hours before an abortion is performed.
• Public funding of abortions is prohibited.
• It is unlawful to discriminate against a healthcare provider for refusing to participate in an abortion.
• Funding for Show-Me Healthy Babies and Alternatives to Abortion programs.
• Telemedicine abortions are prohibited in Missouri.
• Abortions after 22 weeks are prohibited unless to save the life of the mother.
• Abortions must be performed by licensed physicians.
• Abortionists must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
• Over 75 qualified pregnancy resource centers currently operate in the state.
What can we currently do to stem this evil in our state? We must work to make abortion not only illegal, but unthinkable. I’d like to propose a few answers that together, we can accomplish.
• We do that by providing support to those mothers in their time of need, and by continuing to give witness to the world that all life, from conception to natural death, has dignity.
•We must do more to protect the sanctity of all life and help to provide Missouri residents with the means to support themselves and their families so that abortion is not a choice they feel they are forced to make.
•We must lend our pro-life support to our neighbors to the east and west where women are now going for their abortions.
My brothers and sisters, I speak to you today as a pastor. Our greatest weapon in our pro-life battle is the Gospel given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him all of our efforts bear fruit. What we bring to the pro-life cause is our faith and our prayers. Without these we know that we are merely, as St. Paul says, a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Not one of us in this room believe that our struggle will be easy or expedient. We are all astute to know that being pro-life means to be in this for the long haul. Our prayers and intercessions before the Lord give us the strength we need to continue to witness boldly to the message of pro-life. At times, we can become discouraged or even despair. Prayer lifts us to the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus so that we will not grow weary. Please know you have my gratitude and my full support as I stand with you in our struggles. God has bestowed upon us, his people formed in His image, the greatest gift that can ever be given — life itself. May we always respect with utmost dignity human life in all its stages and tirelessly speak for the most vulnerable among us. This is the mandate of our Savior entrusted to us, His people. Through all of our efforts and in all ways, may the name of Jesus Christ be praised! Amen.