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December 2019

It’s instinctive. When parents first gaze at their newborns, they immediately search for fingers and toes. On finding them, they breathe a sigh of relief: things are looking good. God’s gift of digits is one of His most remarkable. Our toes provide balance and grounding that help us walk. Our fingers help us grip a coffee cup or a pencil, screw a nut onto a bolt, and do any fine work. Imagine our lives without them.

God probably gave us those digits for another reason: they help us learn to count. For a child, counting is very abstract concept. What does “one” mean? What does “two” mean? They’re hard to explain without visual aids, and fingers do quite nicely. Counting is a very important skill, for we have an innate desire and a great need to keep track of how much we have, whether it’s personal possessions, business inventory, and just about everything else.

Even people. 2020 is a census year. The Constitution demands that every ten years we count the people living in the United States. The census is an important data-gathering tool used to make significant decisions affecting our lives. It affects decisions about where federal monies will be spent for roads, schools, hospitals, and other needed resources. It will be used to determine each state’s number of federal Congressional districts. States will use the information to draw legislative maps.

Of course, counting has more than one function. It also refers to how we, as individuals, stand and act on matters of controversy. Can we be “counted” on to do the right thing? It’s why we keep close track of how our leaders vote on important matters. It tells us whether they share our values and visions. It can predict how they will act in the future. And that tells us how we must act. Should we follow them or go in a different direction?

It’s why the recent fall general assembly of the U.S. bishops is best described as a good-news-bad-news conference. At issue was wording of the bishops’ document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizens.” The drafting committee included a statement, “The threat of abortion remains our pre-eminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”  That didn’t please some. A bishop argued that it is “discordant with the pope’s teaching if not inconsistent” and does a “grave disservice” to the pope’s message. A cardinal suggested that other issues were being ignored and that the bishops must not advance one party’s political issues to the exclusion of other needy people.

Ultimately, the bishops voted 143-69, with four abstentions, to keep the “preeminent priority” language. That’s the good news. But the bad news is that about one-third voted to remove it. The vote suggests is a badly fractured Church leadership at a time when unity and resolve are sorely needed. We need to understand why.

Part of the problem is that Church leadership has confused moral issues with political issues.   Legal abortion is a uniquely moral issue. It is the intentional killing of a defenseless human being. The Church has condemned abortion since the first century as “gravely contrary to the moral law,” a teaching that “remains unchangeable.” But it has happened over in our country 62 million times. Legal abortion is a moral evil wrongly made legal.

By contrast other issues are political. For example, a country has a sovereign right to decide how many immigrants may enter, or whether to open or close its borders. It has a right to decide on how to best tackle issues of poverty, education, environment, or the like. And while we must work to resolve them, those issues do not present the same moral problem as legal abortion. They do not involve the mass killing of innocent people. Church leadership should be able to understand that difference. Yet a large number seems unwilling to embrace it.

The bishops’ vote tells us that some of them would not have made very good doctors. The problem is one of judgment. Sometimes medical personnel must decide on how to best allocate scare resources—time, talent, medicines, and equipment—in mass injury situations. So they rank as the first priority those people whose lives they can save. The same principle is at work here. Who in society is most in danger of being killed if not immediately helped? Immigrants? No. School children? No. The homeless? No. The elderly? Not yet. The unborn? In droves. The unborn are the only innocent ones we have subjected to legal murder.

When we treat legal abortion as just another issue, no different from others, we both downplay the evil involved and diminish in value the lives of the unborn. Go back 150 years or so. Imagine telling black slaves that their freedom is no more important than education, or affordable housing, or building a hospital, or opening the country’s borders, or cleaning the environment. Or imagine telling them to be patient, and maybe things will work out. It’s apparently what some bishops propose for the unborn. “Just be patient, and maybe you’ll make it out of the womb alive.” Depriving people of their freedom, even of their very lives, when we can help them is itself an incredible wrong. We must not rationalize away their basic rights—the rights we enjoy—so we can vote for our preferred candidates, parties, and issues.

What applies to the bishops applies to us. 2020 is not just a census year. It is an election year. For the unborn, every single vote matters. They will live or die based on what we do—or don’t. We have an awesome responsibility to them. We need to count in their lives.

Two millennia ago, a man took his wife and her unborn baby on a grueling 90-mile journey, all so he could be counted. The child was not his. To St. Joseph, it did not matter; he protected mother and baby. And he changed the world. So can we. Merry Christmas!


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 2019. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Visit us at and on Facebook.

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