Respecting Human Dignity from the Beginning

Elena Muller García

Years ago, I used to attend the Miami International Book Fair, always held in the month of November. The first time I walked through the Street Fair I saw a Planned Parenthood booth. Besides handing out fliers and providing literature on all its programs, they would collect signatures for whatever pro-legal abortion initiatives the organization was advocating for.  It took several letters and phone calls in the span of several years to finally get sponsors for a Respect Life booth at the Fair.  For several years I joined a small group of volunteers from Respect Life and Pro-Life programs in Miami to staff the booth. At the center of our booth we had a display that showed models of the development of the baby in utero. These models caught the attention of passersby. Some people would see it, smile, and come talk to us. Moms would often take the time to point out the various stages of development of the unborn child to their children. To those who showed an interest, we would give away life size plastic models of the fetus at 12 weeks with a card that described its development. 

In general people who passed by expressed approval for our being there and many of them would take the time to look at all the written materials that we had on the tables. Of course we also received negative feedback. Some, upon seeing our display would quickly turn their face away and rapidly walk away from our booth. Others stayed around to argue with us. Eventually the Miami Book Fair changed its policy and did not allow advocacy groups to exhibit at the yearly event. 

Even though I was not longer volunteering at a booth I continued to attend the fair and when time allowed it I would attend some of the author lectures, usually excellent presentations followed by lively conversations with members of the audience.  One year, probably 2010, I attended a presentation on a book about abortion. There were about some 50 people in the audience and I sat way in the back.  I cannot remember the name of the author nor of the book. I do remember her message: women who have had abortions should be proud and should wear t-shirts stating that they have had an abortion. In celebrating their abortions they would help eliminate the stigma around the procedure.  She criticized the use of the adjective “rare” in the pro-choice slogan of the time of keeping abortion “safe, legal and rare” because it implied that abortion is not really something good and desirable. 

Every member of the audience who raised their hand to speak expressed approval for what she had proposed.  Sitting in the back, I felt a combination of rage at what I had heard and frustration at myself for not raising my hand and express my dissent.  The next day I spoke with a Respect Life leader.  He had not heard of the author or her book. I managed to calm myself then by concluding that that speaker was an outlier. Unfortunately, if that author was an outlier more than a decade ago, the idea that abortion should be celebrated has become mainstream among abortion advocates.¹

It is my belief, however, that the voice of the advocates for life, of those who recognize that human dignity begins at the beginning of each person’s life and continues through all the stages of development until natural death is stronger and will carry the day. It is my hope that these voices will respectfully persuade others who think differently and collaborate in creating the conditions for a more just society in which all can thrive. What follows is a listing of factors that, in my estimation, will contribute to that. 


Pope Francis 

In Laudato Si’, the 2015 encyclical on the ecology, Pope Francis reminds us that protection of the unborn human should not be set aside by those who care for the environment.  “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?”²

A year earlier, he had shared during an audience how he responds to people who object to the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion.  “Many times in my life as a priest, I have heard objections. “Tell me, why, for example, does the Church oppose abortion? Is it a religious problem?” — “No, no. It’s not a religious problem” — “Is it a philosophical problem?” — “No, it’s not a philosophical problem”. It is a scientific problem, because there is a human life there and it is not licit to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem. “But no, the modern school of thought...”. — “Listen, in the old and the modern schools of thought, the word kill means the same thing! The same is true for euthanasia.”³ 

In 2015 in a statement related to the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis included this:  “The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.“⁴

I remember at the time the statement was reported in many newspapers as a novel idea: that a priest would forgive the sin of abortion.  This has been common practice in the United States for years.  My reason for including this here is because it shows that when Pope Francis is talking about abortion he is not just merely quoting a teaching in the catechism. He is speaking from his experience as a pastor who has heard the stories of countless women who have approached him and talked to him about their ordeal with abortion and the circumstances that led to it.  

Although our focus here is the dignity of life from the beginning, it is important to emphasize that the Catholic Church’s advocacy continues through all stages of life until death.  Pope Francis is adamant about it. He has said, as quoted above: “it is not licit to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem.”  That includes euthanasia and the death penalty.

²  LS, 120
³  Paul VI Audience Hall, Saturday, 15 November 2014
⁴ “Letter of his holiness Pope Francis according to which an indulgence is granted to the faithfulbon the occasion of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy”, from the Vatican, 1 September 2015


In his historic address to the US Congress in 2015 Pope Francis included a plea for the abolition of the death penalty. “I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human being is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”⁵ He also expressed his support for the renewed effort by the US Catholic Bishops for the abolition of the death penalty. 

The Dobbs Decision

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States issued the Roe vs. Wade decision which legalized abortion throughout the nation.  On June 24, 2022 that decision was reversed by the same court in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.  Much has been said by proponents in both sides of the abortion divide about what this reversal entails. Without pretending to give a full explanation of Dobbs, here is a brief summary of what it did and what it did not do. 

Dobb’s did overrule Roe vs Wade.  In the words of Justice Samuel Alito: “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”⁶

As momentous as that was, Dobb’s did not grant legal protection to the unborn child. Nor did it answer the crucial question of when life begins. The decision as to whether abortion is going to be legal or not is left to each of the 50 states. 

Helen Alvaré, professor of law at Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, considers that:

“It is a win for human life not because Dobbs promises constitutional protection for unborn human beings, but because for the first time in 49 years, citizens have the chance to argue effectively to protect that life and to try to convince a majority of their fellow Americans. Since Roe, no such argument has been permitted a chance of winning.”⁷

Contrary to rumors that were widely spread, Dobbs will not make women face criminal prosecution for abortions or miscarriages, nor will it lead to bans on contraception and same-sex marriage.⁸

Leaving the decision on the legality and regulation of abortion to the states does not mean an automatic win for the unborn child. The decision now rests with the citizens of each state, and our nation is divided on this issue.  Pro-abortion advocates are and will make every effort to keep abortion legal.  


In the state of Florida, for example, which has passed a 15 week and a 6 week gestation limit (not effective yet) to abortion, the pro-abortion side is gathering signatures for a proposed amendment to the Florida constitution for the 2024 election that would legalize abortion until viability with a loophole that would allow it up to birth.⁹

Supporting Women and Families

Now that the legal advocacy for the protection of the unborn at the state level has a real possibility of success,  it is good to note, as some have, that equally or more important are the efforts to support pregnant women and families.

In October of 2022, the Most Reverend William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and Chairman of the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a letter to all members of Congress advocating for policies that support women and families.  These include: promoting the welfare of women and families, economic policies that support families, work conditions that support healthy families and the inclusion of Immigrant and mixed-status families.  Regarding the latter, the letter states that, among other points, “we cannot accept policies that unjustly exclude newcomers, especially when we continue to rely on—and collectively benefit from—their labors.” And: Immigrant workers in particular, whether seasonal, undocumented, or otherwise, must be treated “not as mere tools of production but as persons.”¹⁰ The letter also highlights Walking with Moms in Need a parish based ministry to support pregnant women.¹¹ 

There are many other organizations that have for years supported pregnant women. To name only a few, at the national level: Heartbeat International¹² and Women Deserve Better¹³. In Florida: Florida Pregnancy Care Network, Inc.¹⁴

Natural Family Planning

As it has been stated before, the Dobbs decision did not ban contraception. However, the no longer guarantee of the availability of abortion as back up contraception when contraception fails, has increased the interest in finding reliable, effective methods of birth control. At the same time, popular culture shows that many women are not happy using contraceptives. This has been pointed out by moral theologian and cultural analyst Pia de Solenni, S.Th.D. 

In a recent article in America Magazine, Di Solenni contrasts this dissatisfaction with last year’s published proceedings from the Pontifical Academy for Life in which some contributors argued that the church’s teaching on birth control “could be changed to make some allowances for the use of contraception.” DiSolemni attended two conferences in Rome that were held to address the issues in answer to Pope Francis’ call to theologians and academics to explore the issues raised by the Pontifical Academy for Life.  The second conference, hosted by the Lejeune Foundation, “communicated joy.” In contrast to that joy, Di Solemni emphasizes, “article after article” in the secular media acknowledges that women on contraceptives “report a variety of adverse events, including depression.”¹⁵


Here are some helpful links for those who would like to know more about Natural Family Planning:

What is Natural Family Planning? | USCCB
Fertility Awareness | NFP Training | Couple to Couple League International (
The Fertility Awareness Database, FAbM Base

Support for women who have had abortions

Pro-abortion speak, in its categorizing of abortion as healthcare for women, ignores the existence of the human life it snuffs out. Likewise, it ignores the sequel of post abortion stress syndrome that many women who have had an abortion experience.   Nevertheless the suffering is real. 

As I have pointed out, Pope Francis has been very outspoken regarding the suffering he has seen experienced by the women who have come to him in the confessional.  He is not the only one. Project Rachel, a program that ministers to women (and also men) who are experiencing post abortion syndrome was founded in 1984 in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Vicky Thorn, a bereavement counsellor, after many women who had had abortions had come to her grieving. After its founding, Project Rachel programs were established in almost every diocese in the United States. When Pope Francis made universal the permission to allow priests to give absolution for the sin of abortion, the United States bishops had already given that permission at the insistence of Vicki Thorn.¹⁶   

Project Rachel is now a program of the USCCB. Project Rachel Ministry | USCCB 

In Conclusion

If each of the topics that I have touched on here were doors in a house, all that I have done is point them out and open them a little bit.  There is much more to be said – the doors need to be opened much more.  There are also many more doors that have remained unmentioned, such as the need for collaboration with diverse groups, and a comprehensive answer to the question of when life begins.  This is just a beginning of what could become a more thorough endeavor in support of the dignity of life from the beginning and through all stages of development to natural death.  


Elena Muller Garcia, holds an M.A. in Religious Studies from Barry University. She worked for 25 years at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm  Beach and is currently an instructor with the diocese’s School of  Christian Formation. Elena arrived in the United States from Cuba in 1961 as part of Operation Pedro Pan.