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    The Great Struggle of Our Age

    As we work for human rights and the defense of the most vulnerable, the right to life of the unborn is the defining issue of our time

    By Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson 1/1/2021
    Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and his wife, Dorian, walk with Mother Agnes Mary Donovan of the Sisters of Life and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, now president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, during the inaugural OneLife LA event in January 2015. Photo courtesy of OneLife LA


    Editor’s Note: These Liberties We Hold Sacred, a collection of speeches and essays by the supreme knight on the confluence of faith and public life, will be published later this month. The following text introduces five pieces related to building a culture of life.

    Each age has its great debate, its great struggle on behalf of the key rights of society’s most forgotten or helpless individuals. An important measure of decency and goodness of any society is its respect for the life and dignity of the people within it.

    Historically, as today, the marginalized have seen their lives valued less than the lives of others. Societies that practiced human sacrifice or slavery certainly provide public and jarring examples of such abuses of the right to life and dignity of other people, but in our own society, too, very real abuses exist. Today, such abuses generally happen in the shadows. The elderly and sick are offered assisted suicide; the unborn are seen as disposable, and a million people each year are thus never born. The rights of other groups, including the poor, immigrants, minorities and people of faith, are at times abused as well — whether by governments or individuals.

    In the late 20th century, and into the 21st, no issue has been more important in the United States than abortion. The reasons for this are twofold. First, abortion is the leading cause of death in the United States, leaving heart disease a distant second. Second, abortion is the issue of the day in which an entire class of people have been denied their humanity — completely. The very personhood of the unborn is denied, and the consequence in the United States alone has been 50 million deaths.

    America is a country that has shown great persistence, openness and eventual ability to struggle for the oppressed and marginalized. For example, so strong was the conviction toward justice that the country fought a civil war in no small part to free black men and women enslaved and considered by some to be less than human. A century later, the country underwent a further purification through the rightly celebrated civil rights movement that made great strides in overcoming legal segregation and rampant racism.

    In recent decades, it has been heartening to be part of America’s continued passion for justice in the fight against abortion — a fight which, like the fight against slavery in years past, occurs on a battlefield in which bad law provides aircover to the side of injustice. It has been heartening, too, to be a part of the growing majority who see the issue for what it is. Indeed, though some pundits and politicians want to tell us that the issue is “settled law,” the hundreds of thousands who annually march for life prove otherwise. What the Supreme Court imposed cannot be settled law because a law that denies life and human dignity is simply not a sustainable law. Considering the magnitude of the lives lost in this dehumanization of the unborn, it remains one of the most politically charged topics in our country’s political debates today.

    For the Knights of Columbus, commitment to those on the margins runs deep — from the widows and orphans of Irish immigrants in 19th-century New England to those persecuted for their faith in Mexico, the Middle East, and by Nazi and Communist regimes. With such a record, it is not surprising that the Knights of Columbus was early in its vocal defense of the rights of the unborn. As abortion began to gain legal recognition in the country, the organization’s members and leaders directed passionate rhetoric and substantial financial resources to defend the unborn from falling victim to legalized abortion, which was considered a serious backsliding in terms of their human rights. Not only my predecessor (Virgil Dechant) but my predecessor’s predecessor (John McDevitt) were outspoken champions of life from the early 1970s onward. And that commitment to the life and dignity of every person, born and unborn, by the Knights of Columbus has continued unabated.

    Today, the Knights of Columbus continues its work on behalf of the unborn and their families. In addition to providing practical support for pregnant women and families, the Order has shaped hearts and the debate on abortion in impactful ways. Most notably, thousands of pregnant women have been given the chance to see for themselves the life within them, through the more than 1,300 ultrasound machines donated by the Knights to pregnancy resource centers around the country. Our surveys, in partnership with the Marist Poll, have helped redefine the debate over abortion by exposing and highlighting the vast consensus that exists in favor of substantial restrictions on abortion — a fact too often neglected before our polling effort highlighted it.

    Despite the consensus, during the past decade, the Obama administration and various state governments have sought to coerce religious organizations into cooperating with this evil. Not surprisingly, we and other Catholic and non-Catholic faith-based organizations resisted these attempts. Courts would ultimately vindicate the rights of people of faith, but the legal and legislative battles themselves showed that what starts with denying the rights of one group (the unborn) swiftly spreads to denying the rights of other groups (like those who believe the unborn have rights).

    At the end of the day, abortion in the United States today is the defining issue in terms of how we deal with the most vulnerable. With abortion persistently promulgated as a right, a freedom and a “fix” for ending the life of one in favor of the ease of life of another, the abortion issue has defined and in many cases become the common battleground for other issues, including conscience and the dignity of even those who suffer. These issues might be challenged and defined in other areas, but are, in the United States, deeply conditioned either explicitly by abortion or implicitly by trends making abortion a legal reality. Abortion’s toll — both in terms of lost lives and lost values — means it is not enough to say that we are for the threatened, the marginalized or the “little guy,” if that claim excludes the most threatened, the most marginalized, and the smallest of all.

    It has often been said that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” If we would protect the unalienable rights to “life” and “liberty” on which this nation was founded, we would do well to continue to be vigilant in our defense of the rights of the unborn, and of those who — whatever the price — refuse to be coerced into overlooking their plight.


    WHILE LEADING the Order for the past two decades, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson has been a vocal advocate for religious freedom, both nationally and internationally. His latest book gathers together many of his speeches, essays and articles in defense of this “first freedom,” as well as on topics related to the sanctity of life, faithful citizenship, and the family. Together, they offer insight about restrictions on religious liberty and a vision for the role of faith in public life. The hardcover volume, titled These Liberties We Hold Sacred: Essays on Faith and Citizenship in the 21st Century (Square One), will be released Jan. 27 and is available to pre-order at various booksellers and at



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