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Capture the Flag

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January 2014

Art imitates life.  In 1904, Elizabeth Magie patented The Landlord’s Game, a board game designed to demonstrate the economic benefits of imposing a land value tax on real estate.  Variations on the theme followed, and in 1935 Parker Brothers patented its own gameMonopoly.  By all accounts, sales have been brisk.

Another game goes back centuries, but this one isn’t about economics.  Capture the Flag is about conquest.  Two teams divide an open field on which each places a flag.  The object is to capture the other team’s flag.  It sounds simple enough, at least until the battle starts.  Capture the Flag is a game of strategy, as teams find the safest locations for their flags.  It’s a game of leverage as teams try to gain strength by picking off opponents one by one.  And in the end it’s a game of power, as one team makes its final assault on the prize.

For over 40 years our culture has been locked in pitched battle over a moral issue: whether any person has the right to take the life of an unborn baby. It has been anything but a game; the fight is for keeps.  This month marks the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the most controversial Supreme Court ruling since its 1857 ruling that slaves were property, not persons.  But Roe didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen without a battle plan.  The public opposed abortion.  Leaders of the abortion rights movement realized that the key to changing public opinion in favor legal abortion was to create a fictitious enemy of woman.  The movement found its enemy in the Church, particularly the Roman Catholic Church.   The message was relentless: “How dare the Church try to deprive a woman of a choice to control her own body!”  In an era of sexual liberation and disdain for traditional authority, the Church became the perfect enemy.

In 1973, a divided Supreme Court legalized abortion right up to the moment of birth.  Roe provided the abortion movement with great leverage, but not total victory.  It gave women a legal right to choose abortion, but it did not deprive opponents of their right to disagree.  After all, this is America, where our founding documents guarantee freedom for all.  People disagreeing with Roe remained free to defend the dignity and sanctity of unborn human life.

In the four decades since Roe, the Catholic Church has been a visible and vocal defender of the dignity and value of human life.  The Church has proclaimed the sanctity of life and the true freedom that comes from following God’s law.  It has ministered to women and men wounded by abortion.  And it has steadfastly resisted any advance of the culture of death. As Pope Francis recently wrote, the Church will never change its position opposing abortion.  Having taken the moral high ground, the Catholic Church has proven to be a well-placed and very immovable object.

But that hasn’t stopped its enemies from trying.  In December 2010, an 18-week pregnant woman went to Catholic-based Mercy Health Partners in Michigan after her bag of waters broke.   At the end of her third visit, she began to deliver.  The baby died two hours after birth.  In November 2012, the woman filed a negligence lawsuit claiming that she should have been given an abortion or at least told where to get one.  Her attorneys are from the American Civil Liberties Union, which usually does not get involved in negligence cases.  And the ACLU did not sue the hospital.  It sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose directives bar medical personnel from doing procedures deemed immoral or directing patients to those who will.

The suit can’t be about the baby’s death.  The woman wanted an abortion.  It can’t be about the woman because abortion is never medically necessary to save a mother’s life-and she survived.   It isn’t about restrictions on a physician’s practice.  The bishops’ directives do not prevent a doctor from practicing elsewhere.  If he wants to perform abortions, he can set up his own shop.  It may not be good for his practice, but that’s a matter of business judgment.  The suit is not about the so-called freedom of choice.  The Supreme Court has recognized that states might lawfully protect the rights of conscience of medical providers.  Historically, our country has honored the conscientious objections of our citizens, even in wartime.  And the ACLU has a long tradition of filing suits to protect the rights of conscientious objectors.

So why is it seeking to punish the Church for its conscientious objection?  It’s because the abortion movement wants to silence the Church’s moral authority.  The movement would like abortion to be treated as just a medical matter, no different morally than having a tonsillectomy.  But the Church is constantly reminding us all that the killing of a baby is always wrong.  That’s not what abortion supporters want to hear.  Abortions are down 25% since 1990, and they don’t like it.  So the movement hopes that by threatening the Church financially, it can force the Church to surrender its position.  It’s a form of religious persecution.

It will get worse before it gets better.  In late November a mob of pro-abortion activists converged on the cathedral in Argentina.  As 1,500 men shielded the cathedral from desecration, they were spit upon, cursed, and painted by the mob.  Topless women hung bras on them.  The mob burned in effigy Pope Francis, who ministered to the people of Argentina.  In December, pro-abortion feminists invaded a cathedral in Italy and desecrated an altar.   In Germany, a topless woman stood on an altar during a Christmas Mass.  The attacks are sadly fitting.  Abortion is all about the violent destruction of the true freedom that God intends for each of us.

However long the persecutions continue, they will fail.  For the Church carries the flag of God’s message, and that message cannot be captured. There is an adage: first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they persecute you. . . then you win.  If an idea can only succeed through coercion and persecution, it cannot succeed at all.  The truth prevails.  It will again.

Legal abortion will fall to God’s flag.  May it always fly high.

Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics.  He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.

©  Paul V. Esposito 2014.  Culture of Life.  Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted.  Comments?  Visit us at

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