Abortion emerged as a momentous and defining issue in the early days of the health-reform debate and yet, at the end, it was deemed hardly worth mentioning.

The Monday-morning quarterbacks can chalk it up to politics as usual, but for those of us whose lives revolve around overturning Roe v. Wade, this morning after opened a dark day indeed.

But no one should celebrate: Even with the passage of this abortion-friendly bill, reform is far from certain, and certainly a long way off.

The abortion debate is bigger and more important than the health-care reform debate, and the apparent inability of our nation to avoid wrestling with the abortion issue is another sign that until we resolve it the right way, we will not be able to make the progress we need to make on health care or any other matter of social justice or human rights.

Despite the views of some in political office, abortion is not an aspect of health care. In fact, this destructive and violent act does not even deserve the name “medical procedure.”

As I told members of Congress during a prayer service prior to Sunday’s vote, a medical procedure is supposed to help the body to do what it is trying to do but is having trouble doing. Abortion is just the opposite: It stops the body from doing what it is supposed to do and is doing very well. And in stopping the life of the child within by an unnatural and cruel method, it introduces numerous complications for the health of the mother.

Last year, the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report” found that nations with the most restrictive abortion laws have the lowest rates of maternal mortality. While the report itself did not make that connection, Samantha Singson of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute did, and her analysis held up as she hop-scotched around the globe. Abortion hurts women.
If it is our goal as Americans to make abortion safe, legal and rare, we are failing catastrophically on two fronts. Thousands of babies are murdered in the womb every day, adding up to more than a million a year. No one can argue that this procedure is rare; in fact, it is one of the most frequently performed elective surgeries.

And safe? Ask the patients of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia, whose license to operate his house of horrors was suspended last month and whose résumé includes the death of at least two women.

Ask the four children of Alexandra Nunez who thought their mother was having a cyst removed in January, when instead she made an appointment with death at a Queens, N.Y., abortion facility.

Ask the woman in Englewood, N.J., who in December was left in a coma and later required a hysterectomy following an abortion in a clinic where dirty forceps and a quarter inch of dirt and debris were found under an examining table.

Ask the 9,000 women who have registered their regret with the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. Abortion hurts women.

Because the “right to choose” has been elevated to a sacrament in our prevailing culture of death, abortion is allowed to remain the most unregulated of medical procedures, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. How many physicians have become millionaires with the blood of the unborn forever staining their hands — and their souls? Too many to count.

Abortion is not health care, it is not respectable, and it deserves the same kind of rejection by society as slavery, segregation and terrorism. And yet, 219 U.S. representatives have bought into the lie that abortion is a vital aspect of health care for women. But now the ball is back in our court.

This law due to be signed with much fanfare by the most pro-abortion president this nation has ever elected will be challenged in many ways. Officials in three states already are planning to sue on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

Perhaps more importantly, Republicans have vowed to repeal the bill once they are back in the majority. That means every pro-life voter, and everyone still sitting on the fence, must go to the polls to ensure that November’s elections will bring about the changes the American people want to see.

At Sunday’s prayer service in the Capitol, I spoke about the fact that authority and power mean service and that the people whom the legislators serve are not their people, but God’s people.

We govern ourselves; our voices matter. Thank God that, when legislators take public policy the wrong way, there are ways to remedy that. Let’s get started.

Father Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life.