Given that the 30th anniversary of the historic Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court falls in this month, the abortion issue is sure to be back in public discussion. The Catholic Church is still struggling with how best to resist the normalization of abortion that Roe v. Wade symbolizes. One strategy is to fight for re-criminalization, or at least for the most restrictive statute possible. Another is to abandon reliance on the state to enforce personal morality, and to make the case for life through the culture.
These are not mutually exclusive methods, but there is perhaps a certain tension between them. The more time Catholic leaders spend lobbying and attempting to persuade legislators, the less time they may invest in winning the broader cultural argument.
[As if the two are mutually exclusive. They're not, of course. Anyhoo.]
This tension comes to mind while reading a recent news item in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily newspaper. On January 11, the paper reported that in the first nine months of 2002, some 9,196 abortions were performed in Roman hospitals, a number comparable to the country’s other large urban areas. (The number of doctors willing to perform abortions in Rome is smaller than normal, but the number of procedures is not). The statistic that hit home, however, was that at Rome’s Santo Spirito hospital, a complex located perhaps 500 yards from the Vatican, there are eight abortions performed every week, more than 300 a year. If any place on earth should be shaped by the Catholic pro-life argument, one would think a hospital in the shadows of St. Peter’s and named after the Holy Spirit would be it.
Even at a symbolic level, the reality at Santo Spirito suggests the church has some work to do.