Have you heard all the fuss about the pregnant cheerleaders from Hempstead, Texas?  When four of the sixteen-member high school squad became pregnant, the school board voted to remove three of the girls who were continuing their pregnancies from the squad.  The fourth girl, who had an abortion, chose not to return.

The cheerleading angle captured the media’s attention, and that in turn has placed the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the unlikely position of defending non-aborting teenagers.  NOW filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education civil-rights section, leading the Hempstead school board to reverse its decision and to review each case on its own merits.

While the bizarre spectacle of pregnant cheerleaders seems to make a mockery of morality, it reveals that these mothers-to-be are still children, with children’s priorities.  Theirs is a neglected generation which is greatly in need of our love, protection and guidance.

At about the same time, The Wall Street Journal ran an article which attempted to draw a correlation between the rate of illegitimate births and various elements which signal the breakdown of society, especially poverty and violence.  It claimed that society can absorb a rate of illegitimacy of up to 25 per cent, after which the social structure begins to collapse.

Unfortunately, the author of the article believes that the solution is a return to the stigma of illegitimacy.  In our morally ambivalent society, this stigma is not applied in terms of criticizing behaviour, but in economic terms.  For example, benefits which single mothers receive for their children might be cut and made available only to married mothers, making it more difficult for single women to cope with pregnancy and motherhood.  This is typical of the structure of benefits prior to the 1960s.

It is very unlikely that such a policy would prompt a return to chastity, but the concern of the social planners is merely to limit births, not conceptions.  Welfare cutbacks would not only increase the number of abortions, but would cause additional hardship on young women in very difficult circumstances and most especially, on their children.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney confronted a similar case in 1986, when Lisa Martinez, a pregnant honours student, was prohibited by her school’s administration from attending graduation exercises.  The Cardinal, now head of the U.S. Bishops Pro-Life Committee, had repeatedly stated the archdiocese’s commitment to assisting women who choose life.

“We state publicly that no woman need turn to abortion because she has no other alternatives available to her.  We pledge ourselves to assist her with all her needs so that her baby is guaranteed needed pre-natal and post-partum medical care.”

The long-standing policy of the Archdiocesan school board was to penalize pregnant students, to emphasize that pre-marital sexual activity is not condoned.  The good intentions of the past, however, send a different message today.  The fathers of these babies, usually students themselves, continue their studies without incident, as do the young women who abort.

Mahoney recognized the problem of stigmatizing pregnant students.  In his statement, he reminds us that we are all sinners who seek forgiveness.  He states that he is grateful to Lisa for her strength in resisting the pressure of the abortion option.

“She has chosen to respect the dignity of the human life she now carries and nurtures.  She is now a participant with God in the creation of a new and unique human person.

“Because of the Church’s consistent and strong pro-life position, and I light of the public statements which I have made these past weeks in our Archdiocese, I am directing that Lisa Martinez participate fully with the Class of 1986 in all their graduation ceremonies and activities…”

Mahoney also directed the school board to review and update its policy for the upcoming school year.

By responding with compassion, Cardinal Mahoney created an opportunity for healing.  This is the meaning of Christmas put into action for our generation.  By opening doors instead of closing them, by comforting instead of punishing, by guiding instead of judging, we invoke the true spirit of Christmas, which is God’s boundless love.

May you all enjoy a happy and blessed Christmas!