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 | By Dr. Dan Osborn

Speaking Life

Wise Advice From an Emmy Winner

Since the overturning of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the U.S., I have been reflecting on what it means to be fully “pro-life” as Catholic Christians. Recently, my thoughts have turned to arguably the greatest thinker the world has ever seen, as well as to an Emmy-winning artist who shares the Good News through his music.

Note: The Church is taking concrete steps to do even more to “Speak Life.” Dioceses throughout the U.S., including ours, are taking part in an initiative called “Walking with Moms in Need,” encouraging Catholic parishes and communities to accompany local pregnant and parenting women in need. For more information, visit

The Church does not teach science

It’s not at the same level of reading Scripture every day, but one worthwhile practice is to frequently read a section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (the CCC). If you do, I promise you won’t find a sentence like this one from a medical textbook: “The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”1 No – the Church is not called to teach science, though she is very much called to teach about the moral dimensions of scientific developments (the problem with in vitro fertilization, for example).

You won’t even find this statement in official Catholic teaching: “Human personhood begins at conception.” The Church is actually quite careful in the way she states her teaching on the moral obligation to protect human life in the womb. Here is what Vatican II says: “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”2  Similarly, the CCC states that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception”3 – and “since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.”4 As you see, the Church takes great pains to avoid teaching science. The Church’s teachings stick to faith and morals.

When it comes to the issue of abortion, I recall a vivid example from my moral theology class in Rome. Let’s say it is Nov. 15 and you are out hunting. You hear a rustling in the bushes but can’t quite make out whether it’s a deer or your mother-in-law. If there is any doubt whatsoever, you are morally required to not pull the trigger. The same is true about human life in the womb. Since there is a definite possibility that the human life just conceived is a human person, we are morally prohibited from choosing abortion. Human life “must be treated from conception as a person,” the Church teaches. And as scientists are discovering how early after conception a totally unique human DNA is present, this moral mandate becomes all the more confirmed.

The seamless garment

The late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin is famous for his plea for a consistent ethic of life. He pointed out that “the spectrum of life cuts across the issues of genetics, abortion, capital punishment, modern warfare and the care of the terminally ill.” The image he used to sum up this unified pro-life approach is “the seamless garment.” Not long after he introduced this symbol, though, Cardinal Bernadin became concerned about how “the seamless garment” image was being used. In a 1988 interview he lamented:

“I know that some people…have used the consistent ethic to give the impression that the abortion issue is not all that important any more, that you should be against abortion in a general way but that there are more important issues, so don’t hold anyone’s feet to the fire just on abortion. That is a misuse of the consistent ethic, and I deplore it.”

After all, even a seamless garment begins with a single, principle thread – and that thread is the preborn child’s right to life. If her or his life is terminated in the womb, then other life issues such as the dignity of immigrants and the immorality of euthanasia never come into play for that individual.

TobyMac and the Angelic Doctor

In the Letter of James, we read that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God.”5 I remember the look on students’ faces when our professor in Rome said: “In his Summa of theology, St. Thomas Aquinas actually has a lot more to say about sins of speech than he does about sexual sins.” This saint, who is called the Angelic Doctor because his teachings are so sublime, reminds us that unless it is absolutely necessary to divulge something harmful to another person’s good name and reputation, we are morally prohibited from doing so.

This teaching is based on love (willing the good of another) and justice (giving to others what is due to them). We may only divulge such information for an objectively valid reason, and only to someone who has responsibility or oversight, such as a parent, police officer or employer. Otherwise, saying something harmful about another person (such as through gossiping) is decidedly “anti-life,” since our words can do irreparable damage to another person’s life. This is true whether our harmful words are actually true (the sin of detraction) or not true (the more serious sin of calumny).

As the CCC explains: “Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

  • of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
  • of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
  • of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.6

Pope Francis has talked about gossip and abortion in similar ways these past few years. He compares gossip to the action of a terrorist who walks in a room, leaves a bomb, and then walks away before the damage starts to be inflicted. And he compares the decision to abort a child to “hiring a hitman” in order to dispose of someone we do not want around.

While our speech can sadly be “anti-life,” our call as Christians is to actively “Speak Life,” which is the title of a beautiful song by the Christian singer TobyMac. If you have a moment, please consider watching this music video, which shows people experiencing pain through the words of others. A piano-playing boy gets bullied by his sports-loving peers. A young wife gets verbally abused by her husband. But then we see an angelic little girl leaning over to whisper words of encouragement and affirmation to them— words that, in a sense, bring them back to life. TobyMac’s song and video creatively promote a culture of life by drawing attention to the power of loving words. As the video ends, we read this profound reminder: “In every encounter we either give life or drain it; there is no neutral exchange.” Even our words to those in favor of abortion should be marked by gentleness and love if there is to be any chance of them having a change of heart.

In the aftermath of the June 24 Supreme Court decision to leave behind Roe v. Wade, TobyMac’s lyrics have also made me think of women going through crisis pregnancies – and the tender words they deserve to hear:

  • Well, it's crazy to imagine / Words from my lips as the arms of compassion
  • Mountains crumble with every syllable / Hope can live or die
  • So speak life, speak life…
  • Look into the eyes of the broken hearted
  • Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope
  • You speak love, you speak…life.

  1. Langman's Medical Embryology, 7th ed.
  2. Gaudium et spes, 51.
  3. CCC 2270
  4. CCC 2274
  5. Jas 3:7-9
  6. CCC 2477

Dr. Dan Osborn is the Diocesan Theologian and Coordinator of Permanent Diaconate Formation & Ministry for the Diocese of Saginaw.