I have tried to avoid using this site for direct political advocacy. I knew that would be difficult during a presidential campaign in these hyper-partisan times, and some commenters have expressed frustration that I have not been more pointedly political.
Of course, I know politics and government are central to most of the critical issues that confront us. But rather than join the cacophony of rancorous partisan debate, I wanted to try to objectively examine the moral imperatives at the core of Catholic social teachings, rather than erroneously reducing those teachings to partisan policy positions—as too many are doing already.
In that vein, I need to challenge an argument put forward virtually every election year—spearheaded this year, it seems, by several American bishops. It is the contention that the ongoing, intentional mass destruction of pre-born human life is reducible to a “single issue” interchangeable with other “social justice” issues.
I disagree. I believe, consistent with statements by the U.S. Bishops over the years, that legalized abortion violates a foundational principle, of our Declaration of Independence and the natural law of God on which it is based: that every human life, created by God, is sacred; and every human being, from the moment of creation, has a natural, unalienable right to life.
As such, legalized abortion—in the words of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, author of the “seamless garment” approach to life issues—”undermines respect for life in all other contexts.”
It is as it was with the “single issue” of slavery in the 19th century. There the foundational principle of individual liberty—also a part of the natural law of God and also cited as a natural right in the Declaration of Independence—was undermined by the enslavement of millions of people; and America’s great experiment in human freedom could not legitimately move forward until this unspeakable violation of that foundational principle was abolished.
Today, we cannot truly build a culture of life—nor can we consistently advocate for “justice” in any credible sense—until the massive denial of life and justice to the most innocent, most defenseless of human beings is ended.
Thus I adhere to the principle set forth by the U.S. Bishops in their 1999 document, “Living the Gospel of Life”: “We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of innocent human life.”
The bishops did not say “begin and end”; of course, we must go from there to address a wide range of issues of human suffering, threats to human life and justice. But we must begin by addressing the ONLY issue where the direct, massive killing of innocent human life is government policy. Because it is that reality—that this killing is carried out “under mantle of law,” in Cardinal Bernardin’s words—that “undermines respect for life in all other contexts.”
Moreover, by invoking abortion as a “solution” to a range of social concerns—poverty, child abuse, disability—the abortion mentality invites us to destroy the victims, rather than the causes, of human suffering. And that has implications far beyond the millions of unborn children killed every year—as if that reality were not horrific enough.
Consider a couple of examples of how the abortion mentality negatively impacts other issues of life and justice.
Take our responsibility to protect the environment. We constantly hear that climate change is “settled science.” I’m not quite sure what that means. Do we know that certain changes are not just cyclical? Do we know if, and how much, human activity is a contributing factor? If so, do we know what the solutions are? More importantly, do we really know what the long-term effects are? I’m not debunking this; I readily admit I don’t know enough about it. I’m trying to learn, but it is sometimes difficult to discern what is science from what is ideology.
Contrast this with what we KNOW to be settled science—that every child in utero is a growing, developing, LIVING human being. Yet we disregard that science, destroying these lives by the thousands every day. How do we allow that settled science to be ignored, but expect to convince people to respond to the relatively less settled science of global warming?
Or consider the death penalty, which I ardently oppose. But the death penalty is not used to intentionally kill innocent people. Of course, it does result in innocent people being wrongly executed. That is one of the reasons to oppose it, though our Catholic reasons run much deeper.
But how do we sensitize people to the value of the life of even the most hardened, violent murderer, when we have become absolutely morally numbed to the massive killing of the most innocent, most defenseless, of human lives?
Of course, giving special attention to protecting the unborn does not—and should not—preclude our also doing what we can to address other issues of life and justice (allowing, of course, for differing prudential judgements; agreeing on injustices to be addressed does not require being in lockstep on solutions. That is a topic for a future post.)
The problem comes when we have to make political choices, as between one candidate who opposes abortion and another whose stands on other “justice” issues we may like, but who supports the legalized killing of the unborn.
In such cases, I would never presume to tell my fellow Catholics who they must vote for. I will, however, try to persuade them that the injustice of abortion is so massive, and so all-encompassing in its undermining of respect for human life, that perhaps they might see it as I do: as a disqualifying issue that precludes my voting for a pro-abortion candidate.
And I would ask those who disagree: Would a Catholic in 19th century America have been justified in voting against a candidate solely because that candidate supported the continued enslavement of millions of human beings?
Or would that, too, have been unacceptable “single issue” voting?