Mystery writer, apologist, and Dante scholar Dorothy Sayers once said of her fictional creation Lord Peter Wimsey something along the lines of, “Peter is not really Christian. He would have considered it impolite to hold such strong beliefs.” (If someone knows of the exact quotation — I believe it was from one of Sayers’ published letters — I’d be terribly grateful.)
It is, I think, one of the great temptations of people with an intellectual bent to feel apologetic over holding opinions which are too strong. And it is, I fear, because of a cowardice somewhat akin to this that I have felt slightly embarrassed each day as I check the American Catholic webpage and see that in the tag cloud in the right hand column the term “Abortion” is growing larger and larger. I have been no small contributor to this myself. I hesitate to go count, but I think over half my own posts have listed “abortion” as a topic.
And yet, as I watch the word grow in size, I hear one side of my mind saying, in a snobbish tone of voice, “Of course, Catholics do not need to be single issue voters. It’s not all about abortion.”
Well, I don’t think that we need to be single issue voters, in the sense that it’s possible to imagine some sort of situation in which an anti-abortion candidate was actively set on an evil so huge and immanent (say he promises to declare a war of aggression against China on his first day in office) that he would be unacceptable to vote for. However, I do think that we should weigh support for abortion rights very heavily against a candidate — and do so regardless of whether electing an anti-abortion candidate would actually make much difference in the abortion rate.
Why? Why should abortion be a topic which Catholic citizens keep bringing up, even in the face of arguments (occasionally even from some of our fellow Catholics) that “overturning Roe v. Wade is not the only way to reduce the number of abortions.” In order to keep to topic, let me be clear: I do think that legal restrictions on abortion both serve to reduce its incidence and also serve as a teaching tool; the law can successfully play moral stigma on a choice and it’s appropriate to use it that way. However what I’d like to argue in this post is that we should not vote for candidates who support “abortion rights” even if the victory of that candidate would not affect the abortion rate at all.
Let us start by recalling why, as Catholics, we recoil at abortion. It is the killing within the womb, a place which has throughout many cultures been used as a metaphor for that which is safe and enclosing, of a child by his own mother. We naturally shrink from a person who kills his own children (Medea remains unwelcome in polite society even to this very day) and there is something particularly odious, perhaps the violation of an implicit hospitality, about the killing of a child in the womb, when it is at its most helpless. So our opposition to abortion as a moral act is simply as a result of its being gravely — nay, revoltingly — wrong.
Why is it a legal issue, while other grave intra-familial sins, such as adultery, are not? Because abortions are performed by means of medical technology, and at this place and time in history the medical field is completely regulated by the government. It thus naturally became a matter of law whether doctors should perform abortions. This would have necessitated at least some government involvement either way, but the Supreme Court decided to go all in by making abortion a “right” — thus putting the government in the business of making sure that it was freely available throughout the nation.
Our current situation is, thus, not merely one in which the government fails to actively try to prevent abortions, but one in which the government actively certifies abortion as a procedure which doctors ought to make available and legally protects and provides it as a “right” which should not be impeded. For comparison, imagine if the law not only refused to punish wife-beating as a crime, but licensed marital counselors to provide “resolution by violence” facilities in which husbands could beat their wives secure in the knowledge that their “right” to beat their spouses was protected by the constitution from any local nuisance laws that mighty seek to impede it.
So while it’s true that “the government won’t make you have an abortion”, the government is very much actively involved in abortion: licensing it, protecting its availability from regulations inspired by local cultural sensibilities, and serving as a constant tempter that whispers in the ear those dealing with crisis pregnancies, “You always have the right to terminate.”
Abortion is, thus, both a horrific moral evil and also something in which the government has chosen to involve itself.
If we take both of these facts seriously, I find it hard to understand how we can reconcile ourselves morally with voting for a pro-abortion-rights candidate. For any office. Ever.
As yourself: Would we in our modern United States seriously consider voting for a candidate who said he firmly believed that racial lynchings should be legal? Even if he was running for an office which had no power over such matters, and even if we had reason to believe his election would in no way increase or decrease lynchings, we would recoil from voting for such a person because we would believe that such a person did not deserve to hold any office. Much the same if a candidate for office insisted that wife-beating should be legal, and was indeed the right of every husband.
We would refuse to vote for such a person because his promotion of such a grave moral evil as a legal right would mark him as a person unworthy and untrustworthy to be put in an office any of responsibility. And we would refuse to vote for him because we would think the less of ourselves for doing anything to benefit someone with such pernicious views.
It is for this same reason that we should, as Catholics, simply refuse to vote for any pro-abortion-rights candidate. It is not a matter of politics or divisiveness or “wedge issues”. It is simply a matter of moral decency.