How to Vote Catholic 2012
The Dominant Issue of Abortion (Chapter IV)
“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC 2271).
Those who treat abortion as just one issue among others are misleading Catholic voters. Abortion belongs to a small group of policy issues that are not weighed by prudential judgment. All instances of abortion are morally wrong. Therefore, considering allowing abortion for any reason at all is unacceptable from a Catholic perspective.
Sadly, most Catholic members of the U.S. Congress are pro-abortion. This has been the case for many years. These members of the Senate and House disguise their pro-abortion position by citing a long list of “Catholic” issues with abortion being only one among them. They effectively bury their pro-abortion votes under other votes affecting poverty, the environment, wages, war, and so on.
Their method of convincing voters of their Catholic credentials is to trade disagreement on the most important of all issues, life, with agreement on a number of others. This is like saying that you can build a house without a foundation, because all the other parts of the house are strong. Our Catholic politicians who support abortion should be called to conversion. As the U. S. bishops have pointed out in this eloquent passage from Living the Gospel of Life (1998):
“As bishops we have the responsibility to call Americans to conversion, including political leaders, and especially those publicly identified as Catholic. . . . As chief teachers in the Church, we must therefore explain, persuade, correct and admonish those in leadership positions who contradict the Gospel of life through their actions and policies. Catholic public officials who disregard Church teaching on the inviolability of the human person indirectly collude in the taking of innocent life. . . . So also we must remind these leaders of their duty to exercise genuine moral leadership in society. They do this not by unthinking adherence to public opinion polls or by repeating empty pro-choice slogans, but by educating and sensitizing themselves and their constituents to the humanity of the unborn child. At the same time we need to redouble our efforts to evangelize and catechize our people on the dignity of life and the wrongness of abortion. . . .In all cases, bishops have the duty and pastoral responsibility to continue to challenge those officials on the issue in question and persistently call them to a change of heart.”
Our natural desire to help another person in need, especially when he or she is threatened with violence, is what the Church calls solidarity. Why? We naturally sense the moral obligation to help persons protect their lives and their well-being because of their unique dignity as human beings.
This inclination towards helping others is the natural law at the basis of our moral judgment. Many people who were once pro-abortion experienced an awakening of this inclination towards the unborn while looking at a sonogram. Suddenly they realized, this is a human life!
Perhaps the biggest challenge in educating Catholic voters is overcoming the way they have been taught the meaning of social justice. The phrase “social justice” has been used as code language for those who fail to place abortion at the top of the pyramid of issues to be addressed by politicians. Those who espouse only social justice and not life issues almost always bury the abortion issue in a long list of other concerns.
This is not an accurate representation of what the Church means by social justice. Commitment to social justice arises from the same moral vision as the defense of innocent life.
In short, there’s continuity between providing someone with food and shelter and the willingness to defend their life when it is threatened. The Church often employs the phrase “social justice” when addressing “the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority” (CCC 1928).
The demands of social justice begin with the right to life and end with the right to be protected from euthanasia or the temptation of assisted suicide. It’s a huge mistake to detach the idea of social justice from the protection of vulnerable life: “The source of moral obligation to protect the unborn and to feed the hungry spring from the same source—the inherent dignity of the human person”(CCC 1929).
The Dominant Issue
The Church’s pronouncements on abortion as an evil are spoken with the highest level of authority—there is not the least hint that either a Catholic voter or a Catholic candidate can ignore them. The reason the abortion issue can be called the dominant issue in determining how to vote is twofold:
First, the protection of life—the right to life—is a moral principle that sits at the foundation of morality itself. This right is “inalienable,” meaning that it cannot be removed, even by the choice of the mother or father. The founders of the United States all recognized this natural right that could not be removed by the action of the State.
Second, the Catholic injunction to oppose abortion is unqualified: Individuals are not required, or allowed, to make prudential judgments of the principle to a specific case. Appeals to individual “conscience” or “social justice” cannot override this infallible teaching.
The President and Congress must take whatever action they can to reduce the number of abortions and, in the future, put an end to abortion for good. For the moment, no step is too small.
The Church, however, allows support for politicians “whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known” who take an “incremental” approach to restoring the culture of life (Evangelium Vitae, 73).
In other words, it’s permissible for a Catholic voter to vote for a politician who attempts to pass, for example, the ban on partial-birth abortion. The support for such a ban is not to be construed as political indifference to the thousands (and millions) of other abortions. The Born-Alive Infant Protection Act and Unborn Victims of Violence Act, both passed by Congress in 2002, are other examples of incremental measures to protect life.
- Abortion is the dominant political issue.
- Being pro-abortion disqualifies a candidate from a Catholic vote.
- Catholics can justly support politicians who advocate incremental means toward eliminating abortion.
By Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate