Up Front and Personal

Words (and Images) Matter in Definition

By Rev. Michael W. Panicali

“I didn’t know that that was what abortion was,” one young man in the party of 10 parishioners from St. Mark-St. Margaret Mary parish said as he passed a video screen on the side of the most recent March for Life, showing some graphic details of an aborted child.

While it is not the intent of the March for Life to show these images, nor was this video screen affiliated with March for Life (but rather was placed there by an outside group of anti-abortion organizers), it nevertheless enforced a powerful, unfortunate reality to the thousands of us who walked by it on January 21 in our nation’s capital. 

In a culture where we are conditioned to speak of the unborn human being as a “fetus,” a “clump of cells,” or a “choice,” it is important to not disguise what abortion really is — gruesome, inhumane, violent, horrific, and terribly damaging not only to the unborn person but to mothers, fathers, community, society, nation.       

In fact, one sign that gripped me that frigid day simply read, “Former Fetuses United for Life.”

It cleverly speaks of our collective scientific origins and can unite faithful and non-religious, and even atheists, alike.  If one values human life outside the womb, why not value its origin? 

While killing a preborn sea turtle warrants a $100,000 fine and one year in prison, or killing a preborn bald eagle carries a $250,000 fine and two years in prison, killing a preborn human being — this carries no similar penalty.

It is nevertheless accompanied by great mourning, tragedy, and immeasurable wounds. 

It was a sad irony that the moment we marchers for life arrived home our optimism was tempered as we were gripped with the news of the fatal police shooting that evening of NYPD officer Jason Rivera. 

Days later we learned of the death of his partner, NYPD officer Wilbert Mora, from the same shooting. 

The images of them, in our newspapers and on our television and computer screens, as young, vibrant, eager police officers, tug at us.

We use the appropriate words to describe this tragic and horrific loss of human life, and the impact of this terrible violence gripping our city. 

With abortion, we must also use the appropriate words.  The images only reinforce reality.

Violence in the womb begets violence outside the womb. There is no disguising the cycle of violence that mars our humanity.

Father Panicali is the parochial vicar for St. Mark-St. Margaret Mary Parish, Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach, and local chaplain of Rosary for Life.