Pro-Life Perspectives

Wishy-washy, liberal Catholics are notorious for their insistence that Catholic citizens not base their political votes solely on whether or not a candidate is Pro-Life. There are many other compelling issues that demand out attention, so they say: war, poverty, energy policy, economic policy. A candidate's stance on abortion is but one of many issues that Catholics ought to consider when supporting a candidate. This is the liberal critique. Interestingly enough, Traditionalist Catholics often take a similar criticisms of the Pro-Life movement: that a too exclusive focus on the abortion issue detracts attention from matters liturgical and spiritual and ignores growing concerns that many Catholics have about our economic system. I personally happen to agree with the latter critique but dismiss the former. But are these critiques really any different? Both assert that the Pro-Life movement leads Catholics to place too much emphasis on abortion, so how is the traditionalist criticism substantially different from that of the liberals?

It would help to examine the critiques at greater length.

The liberal accusation is that there are so many other issues that effect the common good besides abortion that it really does not make sense to choose a candidate based on this issue alone. With multiple wars going on the cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives, economic decisions being made that will alter the course of our nation's history for a century, and a crumbling infrastructure coupled with endemic energy problems, the abortion question seems to be a relatively low priority. Sure, take abortion into account, says the liberal Catholic, but weigh it proportional to the impact of other issues as well. The effect of this thinking is that a candidate who is, say, pro-choice but looks good on all other issues can be voted for in good conscience, since the many other issues he is sound on "outweigh" the abortion issue. In effect, it is an argument liberal Catholics use to justify voting for pro-death politicians.

The pro-life Catholic rightly responds to this critique by noting that abortion is not simply one issue among many. Because it deals with something fundamental - the life of a human being - it is in a category set apart (along with other "life issues" like euthanasia and fetal stem cell research). It is not one category of political issues on par with questions economic or domestic, but is a kind of "meta-policy" issue that reaches above the others and encompasses them all, because all other political issues presuppose human life. You have to be alive to take a position energy policy, foreign policy, etc. or be affected by them. Life issues stand above and prior to every other political question.

Since this is the case, they serve as "qualifiers" in a sense. A politician who does not get it right on the life issue disqualifies himself from being fit to hold public office, regardless of what his positions on other questions are, just like an overtly racist politician would be seen as unfit to hold office regardless of what his thoughts on economic policy are. A politician who does not think that every human being has a fundamental right to be alive is not the sort of person we want making our laws. For this reason, pro-life Catholics rightly insist on the point that no Catholic can in good conscience vote for a politician who is pro-abortion.

Yet I mentioned above that there is a Traditionalist critique even to the pro-life Catholic critique, and it is this: While the pro-life Catholic is correct in asserting that life issues must have a sort of pride of place in our political life, they err insofar as they enshrine the pro-life cause as the cruz of their spiritual life.

For example, there are many Catholics who believe that abortion is the original sin of our country and that, if abortion were simply done away with, the Age of Peace would descend upon us, God would bless us again, and our country's woes would be healed. This is simply not true. Abortion is a societal symptom of a cultural disposition that is oriented against God - abortion shows up in a country that has already rejected God; it itself does not bring about that rejection, though it may make us more calloused. The original sin of the United States is materialism, in my opinion. This materialism gave rise to greed, which gave rise to a culture that sees human life as expendable. Our nation would not be healed if abortion went away. I understand that abortion is a grievous evil, but it is an effect, not a cause.

There is also a tendency among some Catholics to make the pro-life movement the center edifice of their spiritual life. The two most solemn events of the year become Easter and the March for Life. An hour is spent weekly in front of the abortion clinic but they are too busy for Adoration. They know the arguments in favor of the pro-life cause in and out but care little about liturgical questions or broader issues of Catholic apologetics. All Masses and rosaries are offered for an end to abortion but none for the Holy Souls.

Okay, I admit I am using extremes to make a point. It is certainly possible to be a good, well-rounded Catholic and a pro-lifer. Most of us reading this probably are. But imbalances do exist, and to the degree that we let our political action against abortion bleed over to take pride of place in our spiritual lives, to that degree are we subtly allowing our spiritual life to become unbalanced and become subject to a kind of activism that replaces true holiness with activity. The activity is not bad; that is the biggest snare with activism, is that the activity we clutter our time with is activity that is objectively good. But it is not the same as holiness.

Abortion must be stopped, and yes, abortion is a category of its own that trumps other political considerations. But it does not trump all spiritual considerations, and the best way to ultimately get rid of abortion is for all of us to become as holy as we can by God's grace, because then our prayers and works will be that much more efficacious, ennobled and empowered by God's mighty arm.