Issues for Catholic Voters (2012 edition) – Abortion
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 in the list of pressing political issues are misleading Catholic voters. Abortion belongs to a small group of policy issues that are not a matter of prudential judgment. All instances of direct abortion are morally wrong, for every direct abortion entails the direct taking of the life of an innocent human being. Therefore, justifying, considering or allowing abortion for any reason is unacceptable from a Catholic perspective.
Sadly, most Catholic members of the U.S. Congress are pro-abortion, or as some euphemistically say, “pro-choice.” 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 dismiss their pro-abortion votes under the guise that their other votes such as those affecting poverty, the environment, wages, war, and so on ‘prove’ their Catholicity.
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, which is quite natural, unfortunately does not always extend to those who are most vulnerable and most in need of protection. When the unborn child is recognized as a member of our human family, as can happen when viewing a sonogram, especially the latest 3-D technology, then conversions can happen. Many people who were once pro-abortion experienced an awakening of this recognition of the humanity of the unborn while looking at a sonogram. Suddenly they realized, this is a human life! Then the inclination to solidarity with these so desperately in need is likewise awakened.
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 is continuity between providing someone with food and shelter and defending their life when it is threatened. There is, by contrast, an absolute disconnect when a legislator simultaneously advocates for better and more extensive health care for children while also advocating or supporting the right to take the life of the child who is the intended (future) recipient of the good proposed. Justice demands both that the child be allowed to be born and that he/she receive suitable care. One without the other is a parody of social justice.
The demands of justice begin with recognizing the right to life and end with recognizing the right to be protected from euthanasia or the temptation of assisted suicide. It is impossible 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