For man, the right to life is the fundamental right. And yet, a part of contemporary culture has wanted to deny that right, turning it into an "uncomfortable" right, one that has to be defended. But there is no other right that so closely affects the very existence of the person! The right to life means the right to be born and then continue to live until one's natural end: "As long as I live, I have the right to live."
The question of conceived and unborn children is a particularly delicate yet clear problem. The legalization of the termination of pregnancy is none other than the authorization given to an adult, with the approval of an established law, to take the lives of children yet unborn and thus incapable of defending themselves. It is difficult to imagine a more unjust situation, and it is very difficult to speak of obsession in a matter such as this, where we are dealing with a fundamental imperative of every good conscience-the defense of the right to life of an innocent and defenseless human being.
Often the question is presented as a woman's right to free choice regarding the life already existing inside her, that she carries in her womb: the woman should have the right to choose between giving life or taking it away from the unborn child. Anyone can see that the alternative here is only apparent. It is not possible to speak of the right to choose when a clear moral evil is involved, when what is at stake is the commandment Do not kill!
Might this commandment allow of exception? The answer in and of itself is no, since even the hypothesis of legitimate defense, which never concerns an innocent but always and only an unjust aggressor, must respect the principle that moralists call the principium inculpatae tutelae (the principle of nonculpable defense). In order to be legitimate, that "defense" must be carried out in a way that causes the least damage and, if possible, saves the life of the aggressor.
This is not the case with an unborn child. A child conceived in its mother's womb is never an unjust aggressor; it is a defenseless being that is waiting to be welcomed and helped.
It is necessary to recognize that, in this context, we are witnessing true human tragedies. Often the woman is the victim of male selfishness, in the sense that the man, who has contributed to the conception of the new life, does not want to be burdened with it and leaves the responsibility to the woman, as if it were "her fault" alone. So, precisely when the woman most needs the man's support, he proves to be a cynical egotist, capable of exploiting her affection or weakness, yet stubbornly resistant to any sense of responsibility for his own action. These are problems that are well known not only in confessionals, but also in courts throughout the world and, more and more these days, in courts that deal with minors.
Therefore, in firmly rejecting "pro choice" it is necessary to become courageously "pro woman," promoting a choice that is truly in favor of women. It is precisely the woman, in fact, who pays the highest price, not only for her motherhood, but even more for its destruction, for the suppression of the life of the child who has been conceived. The only honest stance, in these cases, is that of radical solidarity with the woman. It is not right to leave her alone. The experiences of many counseling centers show that the woman does not want to suppress the life of the child she carries within her. If she is supported in this attitude, and if at the same time she is freed from the intimidation of those around her, then she is even capable of heroism. As I have said, numerous counseling centers are witness to this, as are, in a special way, houses for teenage mothers. It seems, therefore, that society is beginning to develop a more mature attitude in this regard, even if there are still many self-styled "benefactors" who claim to "help" women by liberating them from the prospect of motherhood.
We find ourselves here before a very delicate situation, both from the point of view of human rights and from a moral and pastoral point of view. All of these aspects are intertwined. I have always observed this to be the case in my own life and in my ministry as a priest, as a diocesan bishop, and then as the successor to Peter, with all the responsibility that this office entails.
Therefore, I must repeat that I categorically reject every accusation or suspicion concerning the Pope's alleged "obsession" with this issue. We are dealing with a problem of tremendous importance, in which all of us must show the utmost responsibility and vigilance. We cannot afford forms of permissiveness that would lead directly to the trampling of human rights, and also to the complete destruction of values which are fundamental not only for the lives of individuals and families but for society itself. Isn't there a sad truth in the powerful expression culture of death?
Obviously, the opposite of the culture of death is not and cannot be a program of irresponsible global population growth. The rate of population growth needs to be taken into consideration. The right path is that which the Church calls responsible parenthood; this is taught by the Church's family counseling programs. Responsible parenthood is the necessary condition for human love, and it is also the necessary condition for authentic conjugal love, because love cannot be irresponsible. Its beauty is the fruit of responsibility. When love is truly responsible, it is also truly free.
This is precisely the teaching I learned from the encyclical Humanae Vitae written by my venerable predecessor Paul VI, and that I had learned even earlier from my young friends, married and soon to be married, while I was writing Love and Responsibility. As I have said, they themselves were my teachers in this area. It was they, men and women alike, who made a creative contribution to the pastoral care of family, to pastoral efforts on behalf of responsible parenthood, to the foundation of counseling programs, which subsequently flourished. The principal activity and primary commitment of these programs is to foster human love. In them, responsibility for human love has been and continues to be lived out.
The hope is that this responsibility will never be lacking in any place or in any person; that this responsibility will never be lacking in legislators, teachers, or pastors. How many little-known people there are whom I would like to mention here and express my deepest gratitude for their generous commitment and great dedication! In their lives we find confirmation of the Christian and of the personalistic truth about man, who becomes fully himself to the extent that he gives himself as a free gift to others.
From the counseling programs we must turn to the universities. I have in mind the schools that I know and the institutions to whose founding I have contributed. I am thinking here in particular of the chair of ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin, as well as the institute erected there after my departure, under the direction of my closest collaborators and disciples-in particular Father Tadeusz Stycze´n and Father Andrzej Szostek. The concept of "person" is not only a marvelous theory; it is at the center of the human ethos.
I must also recall the analogous institute created at the Lateran University in Rome, which has already been the inspiration for similar initiatives in the United States, in Mexico, in Chile, and in other countries. The most effective way to be at the service of the truth of responsible parenthood is to show its ethical and anthropological foundations. In this field more than in any other, collaboration among pastors, biologists, and physicians is indispensable.
I cannot dwell here on contemporary thinkers, but I must mention at least one name-Emmanuel Lévinas, who represents a particular school of contemporary personalism and of the philosophy of dialogue. Like Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, he takes up the personalistic tradition of the Old Testament, where the relationship between the human "I" and the divine, absolutely sovereign "THOU" is so heavily emphasized.
God, who is the supreme Legislator, forcefully enjoined on Sinai the commandment "Thou shalt not kill," as an absolute moral imperative. Lévinas, who, like his co-religionists, deeply experienced the tragedy of the Holocaust, offers a remarkable formulation of this fundamental commandment of the Decalogue-for him, the face reveals the person. This philosophy of the face is also found in the Old Testament: in the Psalms, and in the writings of the Prophets, there are frequent references to "seeking God's face" (cf. Ps 26:8). It is through his face that man speaks, and in particular, every man who has suffered a wrong speaks and says the words "Do not kill me!" The human face and the commandment "Do not kill" are ingeniously joined in Lévinas, and thus become a testimony for our age, in which governments, even democratically elected governments, sanction executions with such ease.
Perhaps it is better to say no more than this about such a painful subject.