Abortion and the Election

Well intentioned but very misinformed critics and Catholics are lamenting Obama’s choice of Biden. Their opposition centers on the abortion issue.
I use the word “misinformed” advisedly. They will tell you that the American bishops for years have told us that we cannot vote for a candidate who is pro-life. Au contraire. Obviously, these one-issue Catholics have never read “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
Before we go into Faithful Citizenship, I want to make a distinction between pro-choice and pro-life. Pro-choice means that a person is in favor of a woman’s right to choose, including the right to choose abortion. Pro-life means that a person is in or rather should be in favor of supporting life issues from conception to natural death. Unfortunately, some pro-life people are in support of life only from conception to birth. Legislators, who generally claim to be pro-life, were responsible for the defeat of the child health care bill. That bill was about medical care for children from birth on. Their choice was not very pro-life. Or, can someone who supports abortion in the case of rape and incest and also supports stem cell research really claim to be pro-life?
The bishops say that we are to work to mitigate evil when we cannot eliminate it. In our pluralistic society, we may never be able to bring about a complete ban on abortion. In fact, such a ban would return us to back room abortion quacks and more lives would ultimately be in danger. Under these conditions, women who opted for abortion might also die. Doesn’t it make more sense to spend our time and energy mitigating the evil of abortion by developing effective ways to reduce drastically the call for abortions? We can work to establish effective adoption services. We can alleviate poverty and other conditions which sometimes lead to abortions. We can provide adequate prenatal care for women who are pregnant. We can embark on educational efforts to help people make morally correct decisions.
Back to the Faithful Citizenship. First, the bishops remind us that we have a moral responsibility to be involved in political life. Exercising Faithful Citizenship requires prayer, study and, conscience formation, and prudence. We cannot cop out by saying, “Don’t mix religion and politics.” Gandhi said that person who say this do not understand either politics or religion!
The virtue of prudence requires us “advance the common good” by discerning which “public policies are morally sound.” “[W]e cannot differ on our obligation to protect human life and dignity and help build through moral means a more just and peaceful world.” There are things that are intrinsically evil. All intentional taking of human life is intrinsically evil. The bishops single out abortion but do not stop there. They identify other “threats to the dignity of human life”—euthanasia, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, genocide, torture, racism and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror war. None of these acts can ever be justified. [Racism may be the elephant in the living room in this election and we must be on our guard.]
Hence, the great moral dilemma. In our complex world, the dignity of human life is threatened in many ways. The bishops write:
Human life is sacred. Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Within our society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed. This teaching also compels us to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.
In forming our consciences, we must evaluate all these issues. The bishops specifically warn us against deciding based on party politics.
Bishop Bernadin taught us about the consistent web of life. Life is sacred from conception to grave. Other themes of Catholic social teaching also come into play. They remind us that every human being has the right to the “things required for human decency—food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing.” There is an option for the poor and vulnerable. Workers have dignity and rights. We are in solidarity with one another and must pursue the common good. We are also to care for creation.
According to the Catholic Catechism no. 1778, “every person is obliged to follow faithfully what he [or she] knows to be just and right.” We have to form our consciences. We must rely primarily on the Word of God in the Scriptures and the way that Word has been interpreted by the faith community known as the church. We run a great risk when we rely on news media to form our consciences for us.
I have used and quoted from the two-page bulletin insert version of Faithful Citizenship. It can be found at http://www.faithfulcitizenship.org/docs/insert_2p_bw_english.pdf. The full document is at http://www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship/FCStatement.pdf.

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