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It is Good that You Exist

The Rajoy government proposal to reverse the law legalizing abortion as a right has begun a painful debate. The author tells about the experience of the local CL community, which is trying to face the issue without censuring any facts.

Ignacio Carbajosa Pérez

A short time ago, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of a terrible event in Spain’s recent history: the terrorist attacks on March 11, 2004, which caused 192 deaths on a number of Madrid trains. Three days after that massacre there was an unexpected election result: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero became President of the government, opening a phase of revolutionary changes to the law on issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and education, with the objective of “broadening rights.

The Spanish Church, and with it the local Communion and Liberation community, interpreted those laws as a direct attack on the Christian roots of our country and the values upon which our people’s co-existence has been based for centuries. Thus began a phase of “battle” that saw even the bishops take to the streets alongside protesters who one day decried the perversion of marriage (the new law abolished sexual difference as a characteristic sign of marriage), and another day marched against the introduction of an Education to Citizenship curriculum in the schools that indoctrinated students in the positivist mentality, and yet another day objected to the idea of abortion as a woman’s right.

That battle had positive consequences. On the one hand, it forced society to take a stand on membership in the Church, be it for, against, or indifferent. In other words, it defined the borders of the small people of God that lives in Spain. On the other hand, it fostered the beginning of reflection on the nature of the Church, her presence in society, and her mission in history. CL members involved in the struggle engaged intensely in this reflection. The turning point came with the March 2008 elections. Until then, one could still think that the Zapatero phenomenon was due to a historical anomaly, extraneous to Spanish society. But the result swept away all doubts. After four years in which the new socialism openly showed all its cards, Zapatero won again, with an even larger number of votes, over 11 million. For those willing to understand, the lesson was clear. The problem was not Zapatero, but Spanish society itself. To use the image of the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, the moment had arrived to stop supporting the old empire and its legislative system, in order to build a new social context in which the beauty of Christianity would shine before all with its winning attractiveness, a beauty that had brought about a civilization and a world view that was now collapsing.
Several years have passed and the winds of history–or better, of economy–have risen against those “young revolutionaries.” And yet their laws and the mentality of Spanish society remain. In the apparent “pax Romana” that provoked the crisis and the low profile of Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government, CL has distinguished itself through the flowering of social works that are meeting the needs of our fellow citizens at the grassroots level, showing in action the beauty that embraces human pain made worse by our own self-censure of the religious issue.
Three months ago, some truly surprising news came out: the Rajoy government, through its Justice Minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, presented a bill that proposes an about-face from the 2010 Socialist law proclaiming abortion to be a right. In practice, it proposed returning to a law like those in most European countries, except that Minister tried to abolish abortion also for reasons of eugenics, that is, when the fetus has a malformation. The reactions were not slow in coming: the cultural left and the liberal world joined forces in an unprecedented campaign.

Sad spectacle. Communion and Liberation had learned its lesson, at least on this occasion. It was no longer a matter of fighting for a law, but of going against a wounded and needy society. Animated by passion for our society and for all that happens in it, we witnessed the sad and painful spectacle of a debate for the most part void of grounding in reality, full of censure, rich in abstract images of woman, of her freedom and her happiness. Why sad and painful? Living on the edge of reality has a price, and we wanted to say publicly what we thought, out of love for each and every woman and man of our society. What did we say? What was the source of our judgment?
We wanted to start from the drama of a real woman who has an undesired pregnancy, like those we already know in our homes or foster families. It is surprising how much this predicament is censured by both sides facing off in the discussion. Those who want abortion as a right describe an independent woman, without ties, who, to be free, demands the right to decide about her body. On the other side, many of those who cry that abortion is murder do not want to recognize the anguish and abandonment a woman in those circumstances experiences. The latter have even described the CL document as a “naive folly full of good intentions.”
How is it possible, instead, to understand and embrace in a concrete way the situation experienced by a woman abandoned by her family and on the verge of having an abortion? It is the first invitation to acknowledge the presence of the divine among us, the one thing that saves the human person. A family doctor recounted her experience during the public presentation of the document: “It changed my way of looking at women who are considering abortion. At first, I only saw their error, and so a wall rose up between me and them: ‘I cannot help you; I am a conscientious objector. Go to another doctor.’ And I continued to leave them all alone. Now, I see their wrong choice, but also their terrible predicament.” She gave an example. A few months ago a woman arrived, an alcoholic and drug addict, well known in the clinic for her ill-mannered ways. Our doctor friend was fond of this woman, who, crying, confessed to her, “I’m pregnant. What am I to do with my life? I can’t keep this child.” For all the medical staff, it was a clear case for abortion. “It will be very difficult, but it is not impossible. I will help you,” our colleague answered. What the woman’s own willpower was unable to accomplish, the child she carried was able to do, together with the human gaze of her doctor: with surprising determination she stopped drinking and taking drugs, carried the child to term, and says of him, “He is a gift of God, who gave him to me so that I would change. I did not deserve that life.”
These facts make us open our eyes. “What a woman most desires, her first ‘right,’” says the CL document, “is not to ‘get rid of’ a life that is an irritation. Her desire is to be loved, so that in turn she can embrace with the same love the powerful fact of a new life growing within her. The more the right of a woman to decide about her body is put abstractly in the foreground, the more she is abandoned to a solitude that is against her very nature. Our experience tells us that we are free when we love and are loved–in other words, when we acknowledge our need and depend on another’s affection.”
The document then addresses the difficulty Spanish society has in using reason correctly, given that it exerts it “in an abstract way, without starting from real experience, systematically censuring the facts of the problem.” Discussion of a woman’s right is couched in abstract terms, censuring the fact that there is already a life in her womb. The most terrible thing is that “a society that does not help or educate people to face all of reality, without censuring any of its factors, is destined to suffer in a particularly burdensome way the setbacks of life, those circumstances in which problems cannot be eliminated.” For 30 years, from the first debate on abortion, marked by the discussion of scientific data, up to the current one, centered on women’s rights, Spanish society “has slowly moved away from reality.” We are all conscious of how this mentality affects us as well.
The third topic of the document: let’s be realistic, “who is able to face the drama of a pregnancy caused by a rape, or a child who is born with malformations? Who can embrace a life like this?” We have to say loud and clear that it seems impossible to us, just as it does to the rest of Spanish society. But a fact–which is a point of reference–comes to our help: the growing number of families among us who welcome these children. A few years ago, one of these families, already with natural children of their own, welcomed a child conceived by rape, who had grave defects and was blind. Some time later, they welcomed a girl who also had grave deficiencies. And, a few months ago, they received an urgent call asking them to take in a young girl, abandoned by her relatives, who needed a family where she could bring to term her fourth pregnancy, avoiding a fourth abortion. Unable to find another situation for her, they decided to host her themselves. The atmosphere in their home is wonderful, full of joy and affection for these people, affection that in turn builds their family.

Secret desire. Those who see the impossible happening right before their eyes are forced to turn to this family and ask, “How can you be this way?” and then wait for an answer. The answer will simply be the story of how the Christian event reached them. This is the last topic addressed in the document. We cannot spare Spanish society this question; we must set in the foreground a human gaze that now, more than ever, is not of this world. We cannot hide from anyone the answer to this question: the Mystery that created all things entered into history as mercy incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, leaning over a widow whose only son had died, telling her, “Don’t cry!” This is the same One who did not condemn the prostitute, but knew her secret desire to be loved and preferred as someone unique in this world.
And Minister Gallardón’s bill? Of course, it would be very good if it succeeded, but without social support it will not last long. It may reach parliamentary debate already mutilated because a provision for abortion for reasons of eugenics will be re-introduced. Neither most members of the government party, nor the majority of Spanish society (about 85% according to the statistics) are willing to accept and welcome a being that has malformations. In other words, the overwhelming majority of Spaniards no longer knows the gaze that Jesus turned on that young widow of Nain, and that gives meaning and new affection to reality. We expect a very exciting period.
Those coarse Galilean fishermen faced a similar situation when they landed in the capital of the Roman empire, cradle of law and heir to the great Greek philosophy, which, notwithstanding everything, threw its newborns into the Tiber. That handful of men, over time, changed the face of the empire, building a civilization that loved life, because their own life was beautiful, and created a system of laws that gave public expression to that social experience. We know what happened later, during the Enlightenment: Kant, Lessing, and other authors claimed to conserve all the values that Christian civilization had reached, considering them self-evident for reason and eliminating the source that nourished them: Christ. For them, reason had reached adulthood and could exclusively possess the great values of the West, separating from something that seemed to go against reason: the fact that a man, Jesus of Nazareth, was God. And even so, they defined themselves Christians, because Christianity represented the apex of morality, where man calls God his “father” and his enemy “brother.” But they eliminated the Christian event and its newness, Christ, God’s companionship for man. The Enlightenment succeeded in making the great values of Christian civilization a civil patrimony, and wrote constitutions and declarations of human rights, but in the course of few generations that house of cards began to lose its foundations. To the degree to which the Christian event stopped being a living and real factor that has an impact on society, the values that had helped and supported society were falling one by one. We would do well to draw a lesson from this historical process: defense of values without Christ is destined to fail. Some of us were also tempted to consider the values we defend in the document as self-evident. Some would have preferred to eliminate any reference to Jesus or Pope Francis, because “it would put people off, they will throw it away....” But what experience have I had of Christ? How has He influenced the formation of my person? To what degree will the experience I desire to communicate bring good to the person I have before me? Taking initiative to distribute a document is very educative, because it brings to light the foundation of each person.

Unconditional embrace.“We Christians have nothing to impose on our society,” it says in the closing lines, an affirmation that made some of us reticent. The truth is that it costs a lot to recognize in public that in some moments of our history the Church tried, in one way or another, to impose something. But we cannot forget that, like Jesus, the Church loves the freedom of women and men and her vocation is to testify to faith as a proposal for the freedom of the other. The document closes with these lines: “A new historic responsibility is opening up for us, characterized by the embrace of all the needs of our sisters and brothers. The extraordinary news is that this charity, echo of that gaze of the Nazarene, is present in our midst. Our existence is an unconditional embrace of all people, whatever their situation, to tell them, ‘It is beautiful that you exist.’” Time is given to us for this.