There are some attacks on human dignity that are so egregious that, to the extent that they are defended by a society, they preclude that society from claiming to be “just.”
Abortion is one such attack.
The very concept of human rights is meaningless if among those rights is not included the universal right to life. That’s basic logic. If a human being can be killed for any reason, or no reason at all, or if the right to life is only granted based upon certain criteria, then all the other rights which a human supposedly enjoys rest on a foundation of sand. Pope St. John Paul II states it succinctly:
The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. (Christifideles Laici, no. 38)
For this reason, we can rightly say that social justice begins in the womb.
Last November, the U.S. bishops reaffirmed this truth, when they wrote in a letter to accompany their 2020 voter guide that, “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”
A Masterclass in Moral Distortion
Some people (including even one U.S. cardinal) criticized the U.S. bishops for this statement. Among various criticisms, they claimed that it contradicted Pope Francis’ emphasis on other issues like immigration and poverty. In the lead-up to state and national elections, we are again hearing such criticisms, with various voices criticizing pro-lifers for being narrow, “single-issue” voters. Abortion, we are told, is just one issue amongst many others that must be weighed in the balance.
Perhaps the most breathtakingly misguided version of the argument was advanced last week by a group of evangelicals calling themselves “Pro-life Evangelicals for Biden.” In a statement, this group said that they “disagree” with Biden and the Democratic party on abortion. However, they add, they have concluded that it is “pro-life” to vote for him, due to his stance on issues such as poverty, racism, health care, and the environment.
The group released their statement on Friday, October 2. Three days later, during a town hall, Biden was asked how he would protect “reproductive rights” should supreme court nominee Amy Coney Barrett help overturn Roe v. Wade. Biden replied, “[T]he only responsible response to that would be to pass legislation making Roe the law of the land. That’s what I would do.”
As President Trump tweeted (rightly) in response, “Wow. Joe Biden just took a more Liberal position on Roe v. Wade than Elizabeth Warren at her highest.” Trump added, “Biden and Democrats just clarified the fact that they are fully in favor of (very) LATE TERM ABORTION, right up until the time of birth, and beyond – which would be execution.”
In their statement, Pro-life Evangelicals for Biden wrote that they believe that “on balance, Joe Biden’s policies are more consistent with the biblically shaped ethic of life than those of Donald Trump.” Someone, however, is going to have to explain to me how vowing to codify in federal law the gruesome murder of innocent human beings in any way reflects a “biblically shaped ethic of life.”
In their document on voting, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. bishops write that one of the primary temptations that threatens to “distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity” is “a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity.” The stance taken by Pro-life Evangelicals for Biden amounts to a masterclass in this form of distortion.
Abortion: Not “One Issue Among Many”
In a statement announcing October as Respect Life Month, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, recounted what happened when he personally told Pope Francis about the criticism the U.S. bishops had received for calling abortion their “preeminent priority.”
“The Holy Father expressed his support for our efforts observing that if we fail to protect life, no other rights matter,” Archbishop Naumann explained. “Pope Francis also said that abortion is not primarily a Catholic or even a religious issue, it is first and foremost a human rights issue.”
As the U.S. bishops wrote in Forming Consciences, “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.”
Indeed, at its heart, abortion is one of the most straight-forward moral issues facing our society. As the Holy Father rightly noted, one need not be a Christian to recognize that abortion is an enormous evil. All that is needed is to acknowledge these two basic truths: 1) Every human being is endowed with the right to life by the mere fact of being human, and 2) The unborn child is a human being.
Unfortunately, pro-abortion propagandists have introduced a false complexity into the abortion issue. If you ever watch a debate about abortion, you will notice how the pro-abortion side will do everything in their power to steer the conversation away from the humanity of the unborn child. Instead, they will speak about issues like “autonomy,” and “choice,” or focus entirely on the worst of the hard cases, like rape and incest, which are so emotionally charged that the humanity of the other victim in such cases – i.e. the unborn child – disappears in a haze.
Up to a point, it’s understandable that people steeped from birth in the lies of the sexual revolution might be confused about abortion. But Christians have no such excuse. We have Scripture, and we have Christ’s admonitions about laying down our lives for our neighbor, especially the weak and innocent. Moreover, the Catholic Church has always condemned the murderous act of abortion. “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 a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (no. 2271). Abortion can never be a viable choice or be morally justified, regardless of individual circumstances or intentions. As individuals or as a society, we must always, always reject and never support the violence of abortion. It is incompatible with love of God and love of neighbor.
Scandalously, it is the apathy of Christians more than anything that has allowed the violence of abortion to flourish. If every Christian church rose up and spoke with a prophetic voice against the grave injustice of abortion, and if every church reached out to abortion-vulnerable men and women with Christ-like charity, abortion would end overnight. Churches and pastors must eschew the ‘reasonable middle ground’ when it comes to abortion. When it comes to the legalized murder of the innocent, there is no reasonable middle ground.
Pray for the Unborn. Vote Pro-life
Furthermore, we must never listen to those cynical voices who claim that the Church has no right to “impose” its “religious beliefs” on society on the issue of abortion. Quite the contrary, as disciples of the Lord Jesus, Christians have an obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society. It is a requirement of our faith.
Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, explained that “charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as ‘social charity.’” (no. 29)
The Holy Father wrote:
The Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest. . . . The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. (no. 28)
There are, indeed, very many important issues facing our country and world. But none of them hold a candle to the legalized and industrial-scale murder of innocent human beings. This great evil in our midst affects every one of us. Tens of millions of our brothers and sisters are missing (63-67 million in the U.S.) snuffed out before they had a chance to breathe a single breath. Tens of millions of men and women have been complicit in, and wounded by, an act of violence. Families have been devastated. Future generations will never come to be because their parents were murdered in the womb.
The Church is not a political institution, but she must speak with a prophetic voice on moral issues that touch on politics. We believe that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. It is the foundation of all the principles of Catholic social teaching. Afterall, how can we be credible advocates of all other social issues that come between life and death unless we acknowledge, love, serve, and defend the life of every innocent unborn child? This is why social justice begins in the womb.
We are remined of the words of Pope St. John Paul II, regarding the priority of defending innocent human life:
It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. A society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized. Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace. (Evangelium Vitae, no. 101)
As we celebrate Respect Life Month, and as we prepare to vote in this year’s state and national elections, let us remember the plight of the unborn, the most vulnerable of our society. During this month of the rosary, please consider praying the rosary every day for the protection of the unborn and all victims of the culture of death. And when we head to the voting booth (or send in our mail-in vote), let us vote pro-life.