Mother Teresa's Letter to the US Supreme Court on Roe v. Wade
Mother Teresa's Letter to the US Supreme Court on Roe v. Wade
This amicus brief was filed before the U.S. Supreme Court in
the cases of Loce v. New Jersey and Krail et al. v. New Jersey in February
1994, by Mother Teresa.
I hope you will count it no presumption that I seek your leave to address
you on behalf of the unborn child. Like that child I can be considered an
outsider. I am not an American citizen.
My parents were Albanian. I was born before the First World War in a
part of what was not yet, and is no longer, Yugoslavia.
In many senses I know what it is like to be without a country.
I also know what is like to feel an adopted citizen of other lands. When
I was still a young girl I traveled to India.
I found my work among the poor and the sick of that nation, and I have
lived there ever since.
Since 1950 I have worked with my many sisters from around the world as
one of the Missionaries of Charity. Our congregation now has over four hundred
foundations in more that one hundred countries, including the United States
We have almost five thousand sisters.
We care for those who are often treated as outsiders in their own communities
by their own neighbors—the starving, the crippled, the impoverished, and
the diseased, from the old woman with a brain tumor in Calcutta to the young
man with AIDS in New York City.
A special focus of our care are mothers and their children.
This includes mothers who feel pressured to sacrifice their unborn children
by want, neglect, despair, and philosophies and government policies that
promote the dehumanization of inconvenient human life. And it includes the
children themselves, innocent and utterly defenseless, who are at the mercy
of those who would deny their humanity.
So, in a sense, my sisters and those we serve are all outsiders together.
At the same time, we are supremely conscious of the common bonds of humanity
that unite us and transcend national boundaries.
In another sense, no one in the world who prizes liberty and human rights
can feel anything but a strong kinship with America. Yours is the one great
nation in all of history that was founded on the precept of equal rights
and respect for all humankind, for the poorest and weakest of us as well
as the richest and strongest.
As your Declaration of Independence put it, in words that have never
lost their power to stir the heart: “We hold these truths to be self evident:
that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with
certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness…” A nation founded on these principles holds a sacred trust:
to stand as an example to the rest of the world, to climb ever higher in
its practical realization of the ideals of human dignity, brotherhood, and
mutual respect. Your constant efforts in fulfillment of that mission, far
more that your size or your wealth or your military might, have made America
an inspiration to all mankind.
It must be recognized that your model was never one of realized perfection,
but of ceaseless aspiration. From the outset, for example, America denied
the African slave his freedom and human dignity. But in time you righted
that wrong, albeit at an incalculable cost in human suffering and loss of
Your impetus has almost always been toward a fuller, more all embracing
conception and assurance of the rights that your founding fathers recognized
as inherent and God-given.
Yours has ever been an inclusive, not an exclusive, society. And your
steps, though they may have paused or faltered now and then, have been pointed
in the right direction and have trod the right path. The task has not always
been an easy one, and each new generation has faced its own challenges and
temptations. But in a uniquely courageous and inspiring way, America has
Yet there has been one infinitely tragic and destructive departure from
those American ideals in recent memory. It was this Court's own decision
in Roe v. Wade (1973) to exclude the unborn child from the human family.
You ruled that a mother, in consultation with her doctor, has broad discretion,
guaranteed against infringement by the United States Constitution, to choose
to destroy her unborn child.
Your opinion stated that you did not need to “resolve the difficult question
of when life begins.” That question is inescapable. If the right to life
in an inherent and inalienable right, it must surely exist wherever life
exists. No one can deny that the unborn child is a distinct being, that it
is human, and that it is alive. It is unjust, therefore, to deprive the unborn
child of its fundamental right to life on the basis of its age, size, or
condition of dependency.
It was a sad infidelity to America's highest ideals when this Court said
that it did not matter, or could not be determined, when the inalienable
right to life began for a child in its mother's womb.
America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade
has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers
against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord
at the heart of the most intimate human relationships.
It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly
It has portrayed the greatest of gifts—a child—as a competitor, an intrusion,
and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered domination
over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters.
And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women
to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners.
Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every
human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does
not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of
anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.
The Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany recently
ruled that “the
unborn child is entitled to its rights to life independently of acceptance
by its mother; this is an elementary and inalienable right that emanates
from the dignity of the human being.” Americans may feel justly proud that
Germany in 1993 was able to recognize the sanctity of human life. You must
weep that your own government, at present, seems blind to this truth.
I have no new teaching for America. I seek only to recall you to faithfulness
to what you once taught the world. Your nation was founded on the proposition—very
old as a moral precept, but startling and innovative as a political insight—that
human life is a gift of immeasurable worth, and that it deserves, always
and everywhere, to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.
I urge the Court to take the opportunity presented by the petitions in
these cases to consider the fundamental question of when human life begins
and to declare without equivocation the inalienable rights which it possesses.