By Deacon Frederick Bartels
22 January 2018
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. (Mk 3:22-30)
Pope St. John Paul II referred to abortion as “an unspeakable evil.” An abortive society is a self-terminating society. A society that upholds the “right” to intentionally kill children under the positive law, attacks the right to life, the most fundamental of all human rights. In doing so, all other human rights are placed at risk, a consequence noted as well by John Paul II. Abortion is a much bigger threat to America than people realize. In the present, it is perhaps the most obvious and brutal manifestation of the often bloody war between evil and good.
America is certainly a divided house on the issue of legally protecting the lives of unborn children. Unfortunately, although many Americans claim to support life in principle, they’re not pro-life with conviction. Often, Catholics and other Christians think it is fashionable to “not approve of abortion personally” but nevertheless insist people have a “right to choose” it. It seems this kind of rhetoric was first floated by anti-life politicians in an effort to appear fair and balanced. I think it’s important to finish out that sentence, the “right to choose.” The “right to choose” what? To “choose to intentionally kill unborn children at will.” Of course, a person who “does not approve” of abortion yet upholds the “right” to choose it is caught up in an absurd contradiction. It’s not sane to suggest one can oppose yet support the “right” to intentionally kill innocent children in their mothers’ wombs. It’s like saying, “I’d rather you didn’t kill that child, but go ahead if you think it’s necessary. I’ll support you in your decision.”
That stance is reflected in a number of surveys. For example, in 2017, a Gallup poll showed about 50% of Americans think abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. Half of America thinks there should be limits. Limits can show progress, but they’re not enough. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that a very large number of Americans think abortion is something to which people can resort when having a child is deemed difficult. That doesn’t work out too well for children. Nor for abortive parents who one day realize what they’ve done.
Mothers who have procured abortions often say they feel as if they’re caught in a living hell. The guilt is sometimes unbearable. Studies here, here and here show that the risk of suicide is much higher for post-abortion mothers.
Very few Americans are pro-life consistently and with conviction. The same 2017 Gallup poll showed only about 18% of Americans believed abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. This low percentage is likely due to consideration of cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is supposedly in danger (something which is very rare). The glaring moral error found in the first two is intentionally killing an innocent child for the sins of one or perhaps both of its parents. As for endangerment to a mother’s life due to pregnancy, the solution is not found in intentionally killing the child by direct abortion but in medically treating both mother and child (issues such as an ectopic pregnancy involve the law of double effect, which I cannot go into here).
Abortion has been around for a long time. The first recorded evidence of induced abortion is from the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus in 1550 B.C. There is evidence of abortions being performed in the ancient Greco-roman world. The Didache (c. A.D. 150), an ancient Christian document of the Church, prohibits abortion. Tertullian wrote about abortions in the 3rd century.
But in modern times, pre-born children are intentionally killed on a vast scale as never before seen. About 1.5 million abortions are procured annually in the U.S. More unborn children are killed by direct abortion in America each year than American soldiers who have been killed in battle in all the wars in our nation’s entire history. And the 1.5 million figure does not include abortions resulting from the use of contraceptive drugs and mechanical devices that can act as abortifacients. Just how many children are aborted in America each year? Nobody really knows. Nevertheless, given the frequency with which these contraceptives are employed, the number is perhaps terrifyingly high.
If we’re going to defeat legalized abortion, we need to understand something about its history and its causes. Of course, the root problem is sin. In addition to that, contraception and artificial birth control are linked to the rise of an abortion mentality.
John Paul II noted that, although contraception and abortion differ in moral gravity, they are fruits of the same tree.
[The use of contraceptives and abortion] are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception. (Evangelium Vitae 13)
How did we get to this point?
In 1930, the Anglican Lambeth Conference approved the use of artificial birth control in marriage, provided certain stipulations were met, but these provisions were quickly abandoned as the war against fertility gained momentum. Up until that point, both Catholics and Protestants prohibited the use of contraceptives.
Once the birth control pill was legalized in 1960, it became one of the main methods of “choice.” A contraceptive mentality was soon rigidly entrenched in the American landscape.
In 1968, Pope Paul VI released Humanae Vitae, which upheld the Church’s moral prohibition against the use of contraceptives. It was met with blatant outrage and a firestorm of dissent among Catholics and other Christians ensued. Men and women had become convinced they had a “right” to enjoy unrestrained sex without being shackled by the potential for an unwanted pregnancy.
Fertility had become a hindrance rather than a blessing. Children were looked on as burdens.
Paul VI prophetically warned in Humanae Vitae that the use of contraceptives would promote a general and pervasive lowering of moral standards. He noted that it is “an evil thing to make it easy” for people to violate the moral law (HV 17).
Five years later, abortion was legalized on this day in 1973. Violating the moral law was made easy.
What’s to be done? Where do we go from here?
There are many ways in which we can work to limit abortions: through prayer, catechesis, and education. But let us not forget that overturning Roe v. Wade is as close as the next installment of a few pro-life Supreme Court justices. It is the president who nominates Supreme Court justices who are later confirmed by the Senate. An anti-life president typically nominates anti-life justices. The opposite is normally the case for pro-life presidents. Further, a Senate composed of an anti-life majority often rejects judicial nominations from a pro-life president.
Therefore your vote, the vote of Catholics and other Christians can indeed tip the scales toward protecting a child’s life in its first home: the womb of its mother. The voting process is a process of moral discernment that can impact whether millions upon millions of children ever get to live a post-birth life. Should Americans consistently elect pro-life political candidates, Roe v. Wade could be defeated in one fell swoop.
However, the voting process—so crucial to our children’s future—is often exercised incorrectly, even carelessly. One serious error people make when voting is failing to properly prioritize according to the moral gravity of particular issues at hand. As a result, anti-life politicians, lacking a virtuous life-ethic, are often placed in positions of power and influence election cycle after election cycle.
The U.S. bishops teach in Faithful Citizenship that Catholics must avoid a moral equivalency which fails to make the distinctions between intrinsic evils, such as abortion or euthanasia, and other issues that involve in some way human life and dignity but which are of a lesser moral gravity. Many Catholics and other Christians give the nod to candidates who support intrinsic evils because they like what these politicians have to say about the economy, entitlement programs or foreign trade policies, for example. The problem is abortion is an intrinsic evil that must be opposed, whereas entitlements, immigration or trade policies are matters of prudential judgment involving a legitimate diversity of opinion. Unfortunately, people often conflate the two as if they are morally of the same weight.
How often it is said: “I can vote for a pro-abortion presidential candidate so long as I’m not voting for him because he’s pro-abortion.” That’s a simplistic statement that does not accurately reflect Church teaching nor articulate morally sound voting ethics.
Pope John Paul II, in Christifideles Laici (1988), no. 38, wrote:
The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds 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.
Although the U.S. bishops point out that Catholics are not single-issue voters and must consider all policies on the table, a careful reading of Faithful Citizenship shows a clear and strong emphasis on the requirement to oppose abortion and other intrinsic evils that directly attack human life itself: “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” (28).
In Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics (1998), the U.S. bishops write: “[A]bortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (32).
Against a careless and dismissive tendency that easily sets aside intrinsic evils, the bishops give this warning: “It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation” (Faithful Citizenship 38). The way we vote can have eternal consequences.
Will abortion ever be defeated?
Abortion will one day be defeated. Why? Because God is on our side. He is the God of life, not death. However, what is unclear is how it will be defeated. It could be that it will outlive our nation and we will not see its end until the return of Jesus Christ in glory.
Our nation is a divided house. It looks as if that will not change in the near future. But that does not mean we should give up the battle for life and for the legal protection of unborn children. At death, we will have to face these aborted children and, before Christ, give an account of whose side we were on during this bloody war here below.
But perhaps the most important question every Catholic must address is this: Is my own house divided? In other words, have I placed my faith, my life, and my voting preferences in separate compartments as if they are disconnected from each other? Or, on the other hand, are they united as one in Christ? Do I speak, live and vote as an intentional, committed disciple of Christ?
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/89084976.