October 2nd, Respect life Sunday
While recognizing the intrinsic evil of abortion, that is of each and every abortion in any and all circumstances, there is serious difficulty in discerning how to bring a nation from a pro-abortion stance to becoming pro-life. In particular, some generally pro-life politicians (in various nations, including the USA) have agreed to vote in favor of certain legislative bills which are pro-abortion in cases of rape and incest. These pro-life politicians justify voting in favor of the pro-abortion bills by claiming that the bill (though still pro-abortion) restricts abortion and begins to move the nation gradually to a pro-life stance.
Indeed, there are some politicians who, while stating that they are pro-life and are against all abortions, nevertheless also state that they will pass legislation which (while restricting abortion overall) allows for abortion in cases of rape and incest.
Can a good politician vote for such a bill or hold such a stance? Can a pro-life politician vote in favor of allowing abortions only in extreme cases (e.g. rape or incest)?
Abortion is always wrong
The Catholic Church teaches, and we can discover simply from reason alone, that abortion is always always wrong. There is never a case in which it is permissible to directly and intentionally kill an unborn child.
Even in cases of rape or incest, abortion is wrong – it does no good to commit another sin (abortion) in order to balance out the first sin (rape). The child is innocent and should not be punished for the sins of others: Children shall not die for the sins of their parents and parents shall not die for the sins of their children.
Politicians are obligated to be pro-life
Further, because of the gravity of abortion and especially because of the grave harm it does to society in general, politicians are obligated to be pro-life. Politicians are obliged to use their power to defend the innocent and the defenseless – the unborn children are at the top of the list.
If a politician does not defend the unborn, nothing else he does (in regard to human relations) will matter. After the commandments regarding God (which, properly understood, may include also the fourth commandment of honoring father and mother), the fifth commandment against murder is the most important to uphold.
If a politician does not defend the right to life, then every other right is lost as well. With the exception of a politician who actively persecutes the Church and seeks to destroy the Gospel of Christ, there is no worse politician than one who is pro-abortion.
The question of “pro-life” bills which allow for limited cases of abortion
Still, there are many pro-life politicians who feel constrained to vote in favor of certain bills which would have the over-all effect of limiting abortions, while at the same time maintaining the legality of abortion in the case of rape or incest. Let us be clear, such bills are (technically) pro-abortion; even though they have a good goal of limiting abortions over all, these bills maintain the “right” of abortion in certain cases.
Can a politician consider himself to be “pro-life”, if he votes in favor of such a bill? Is there room for a momentary and partial compromise in order to get something passed which will at least be a little bit less pro-abortion than the current policies?
We look to Evangelium vitae, the encyclical on life from Bl. John Paul II: “A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.” (n.73)
Circumstances in which a pro-life politician can vote pro-abortion
1) The pro-abortion law must be less pro-abortion than the current status quo. It must constitute a move toward a pro-life stance.
2) It must be impossible (or at least very nearly impossible) to overturn completely the current pro-abortion law.
3) The politician must be unquestionably pro-life, and this must be publicly known.
4) The politician must have the intention of using this less pro-abortion law as a step toward ultimately eradicating abortion all together.
It seems to me, as one who admittedly knows very little about politics and has almost no political views, that President George W. Bush could fit this category. It was well known that he was personally against abortion and wanted to see it completely removed from society. Yet, as a politician, he was not willing to push for legislation which would make abortion illegal in all cases – rather (as I understand it), he allowed for exceptions in cases of rape. Still, it seems that even this pro-abortion stance was taken as a means of compromise so as to get at least some progress in the pro-life cause.
What is very clearly not acceptable, however, is the stance of those who claim to be working against abortion but who do nothing in practice to pass pro-life (or at least less pro-abortion) legislation. It is not permissible to vote pro-abortion when there is a viable pro-life option (or when there is a less pro-abortion option). Neither can a politician claim to be working against abortion simply by attempting to increase the standard of living for the lower classes while at the same time voting pro-abortion.
The only licit way in which a politician may vote for a pro-abortion law, is if that law is less pro-abortion than the current status quo and if that politician can find no other feasible means of limiting abortions. In such cases, it would be permissible for a pro-life politician to vote in favor of a bill which permits abortion in certain restricted cases (e.g. rape) while limiting the availability of abortion over all.
NOTE: As I will be on vacation from October 3rd through the 14th, the comment box will be closed. It will be opened from the 15th.