When should it be legal for a doctor -- or anyone else -- to deliberately take an innocent human life?
Politicians in both parties need to listen to the answer Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles gave to this question Saturday as he offered a requiem Mass for aborted babies.
"Only God, who is the Lord of our beginning and the Lord of our ending, can make the determination of the beginning and end of life," he said.
"The right to life, as we know, is the foundation of every other right and liberty and the true foundation of justice and peace in society," he said. "If the child in the womb has no right to be born, if the sick and the old have no right to be taken care of, then there is no solid foundation to defend anyone's human rights."
The archbishop's principle -- which is true -- has not often prevailed in Washington in recent decades. It did not prevail last week.
The House Republican leadership on Wednesday postponed a vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. It would prohibit a doctor from killing an unborn child during or after the 20th week of pregnancy unless it was necessary to save the life of the mother or unless the child to be killed had been conceived in an act of rape or incest that was reported to law enforcement.
Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina led the small insurgency that caused the leaders to surrender their planned vote.
Ellmers was against a rape exception before she was for one.
In 2012, she co-sponsored the District of Columba Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which had no rape exception. In 2013, she co-sponsored a national version of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which when she co-sponsored it also had no rape exception.
When that bill was amended to include a rape exception that required that the rape to be reported before a late-term unborn child conceived in rape could be terminated, Ellmers not only voted for it, but also defended it on the House floor.
"This legislation is supported by reliable scientific research that shows that an unborn child at 20 weeks' gestation can feel pain," Ellmers said. "Coupled with the now-known dangerous acts of an abortionist like Kermit Gosnell, it is clear that Congress must act."
Last week, Ellmers worked to stop the vote on an identical bill and removed her name as a co-sponsor.
Why did she no longer want to defend the life of what she herself called "an unborn child" -- including those conceived in rape?
"We got into trouble last year, and I think we need to be careful again," Ellmer was quoted as saying in the National Journal, "we need to be smart about how we're moving forward. The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn't be on an issue where we know that millennials -- social issues just aren't as important [to them]."
For Ellmers, what she perceives to be the political cost of trying to save the lives of late-term unborn babies -- and of bearing public witness to their right to life -- is not worth paying. Or, at least, not now.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went further. She will not publicly acknowledge the species to which an unborn child belongs.
CNSNews.com reporters Lauretta Brown and Brittany Hughes each asked Pelosi at a press briefing if an unborn child 20 weeks into pregnancy is a human being. Pelosi would not answer.
But she insisted she had more "standing" than other members of Congress -- or the pope -- to talk about abortion.
"When I was a new member of Congress, as a Catholic and a mom of five, opposing some of the initiatives similar to what -- in the same vein as -- what we have today," said Pelosi, "one of the Republicans stood up and said: Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about having babies than the pope.
"Yeah, Yeah. That would be true," said Pelosi.
As Pelosi was speaking, members of the California legislature were preparing to introduce the "End of Life Option Act." This bill would make it legal for a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to a patient with a terminal illness.
Where legalized abortion allows doctors to kill unborn human beings, the "End of Life Option" would allow them to kill born ones.
"Our hope is to see the end-of-life option as part of a continuum of established rights available to patients," said state Sen. Bill Monning, one of the bill's sponsors.
Archbishop Gomez also sees a continuum.
"As we are remembering that tragic day when abortion was legalized in our nation, some of our leaders here in California introduced legislation to make it legal to kill the old, the sick and the disabled," said Gomez. "So, let us pray and work that they will not be able to succeed.
"We cannot allow," he said, "the cruel logic that says that human life is disposable ... the cruel logic that says that some lives are not worth living and some lives are not worth protecting."
"Not one of us -- no one -- has the right to decide who can live and who can die and when that time will come," he said.