“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.In your book were writtenall the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” Psalms 139:13-16 | NRSV
Today’s date holds a peculiar slice of American history that speaks volumes if one is willing to read between the lines. In fact, it resembles the Old Testament’s description of changes—good and bad—brought about by the hand and decree of Israel’s and Judah’s successive monarchs. U.S. President Ronald Reagan issued a presidential proclamation on January 13, 1984, designating Sunday, January 22, 1984 as National Sanctity of Human Life Day, noting that it was the 11th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, in which the Supreme Court issued a ruling that guaranteed women access to abortion. George H. W. Bush, who succeeded Reagan as president, continued the annual proclamation throughout his presidency; however, Bill Clinton, did away with the annual observance during his eight years in office, President George W. Bush, Clinton’s successor, resumed the annual proclamation and did so throughout his presidency. Barack Obama refused to issue a National Sanctity of Human Life proclamation during the two terms of his presidency, but in the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump issued a proclamation declaring January 22, 2018 to be National Sanctity of Human Life Day. In contrast to the up and down trend of U.S. Presidents, the Proper Calendar of the Catholic Church in the United States declares the 22nd of January (or the 23rd if the 22nd is a Sunday) is to be observed as the “Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children”. For those who struggle to find their own voice in the debate, I offer the following firsthand perspective on this sacred trust:
It is easy to be dogmatic until the dog barks at you. Sunday morning began much the same as any other: two cups of coffee, a blueberry bagel slathered with lite cream cheese (to appease my diet-conscious wife), numerous read-throughs of the morning’s soon-to-be-delivered sermon, and intermittent prayer. Like clockwork, we traveled down Rock Creek Road to a little white-frame church where nothing memorable happened during the worship service that followed, including my preaching. We returned home as we do most Sundays after church; I changed into jeans and an old college sweatshirt and set about to do nothing in particular—one of the reasons I love Sunday afternoons. During the interlude leading up to lunch, I received a text message from my high school senior daughter. Text messages are common occurrences these days and notoriously void of emotion, but this one conjured up plenty on my part: “Dad, I need to talk to you. Please call when you can.” Without knowing what she meant, I did what she asked and placed the call. She answered, and I asked what was on her mind. She said, “Dad, I don’t want to tell you. Can’t you just guess and I’ll let you know when you get it right?” All I could think to say was what I honestly believe: “No matter what you have to tell me, nothing will change the fact that you’re my daughter and I will always love you.” Interminable silence followed, broken finally by what I somehow already knew: “I’m pregnant.” Two simple words, yet profound enough to change the world. I appreciate anyone’s honest struggle with what to do with those two words, but must confess a vested interest in every human outcome of the debate. Born to an unwed mother in 1960, I would have had a damning designation on my birth certificate were it not for the tireless efforts of Edna Gladney on behalf of children like me some twenty years previous. As bad as it would have been to have a prejudiced label on my birth certificate, the good news is that I have a birth certificate. The even better news is that my birth mother had the courage to enter Sellers Baptist Home in New Orleans and gift me to Henry and Lois, a couple with hearts large enough to allow a child to flourish in the arms of great nourishing love. I would never denigrate that poor young woman’s angst over yielding her child, and, in fact, attempt consciously to live in such a way as to validate the outcome of her decision. Two things get lost in the debate over choice versus life: the enduring turmoil of the mother-in-waiting, and the enduring destiny of the child-in-waiting. For those who uphold the individual’s choice as superior to the unborn child, you will, no doubt, abhor my opposition to your position. For those who vilify the individual in support of a moral dilemma, you must excuse my sensitivity to the turmoil of the woman. I have been and continue to be profoundly altered by the courage of my daughter who followed the first two words with four others: “I’m having this baby.” The bottom line is this: I write not on this critical issue as physician, scientist, theologian—liberal or conservative; I speak as a survivor, and write as a father (From Ordinary Glory: Finding Grace in the Commonplace by Dane Fowlkes).
“O GOD our Creator, we give thanks to thee, who alone hast the power to impart the breath of life as thou dost form each of us in our mother’s womb: grant, we pray; that we, whom thou hast made stewards of creation, may remain faithful to this sacred trust and constant in safeguarding the dignity of every human life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.” (Divine Worship: The Missal)