Saturday, March 01, 2008

Being a Faithful Catholic in America: Part V – Abortion

[This is part V of a series I began here. Part II is here Part III is here. Part IV is here. ]

In America, being Pro-Life means being against Abortion. I think we all know the Church’s teaching on abortion; nevertheless it is important to make sure we understand the depth of the issue. We must ask ourselves how the Catholic Consistent Ethic of Life applies to abortion so that we can understand the basis for the Church’s teaching on this. We must examine the current political and legal situation of abortion in our country. We must ask ourselves what the universal call to holiness demands of us in this situation.

ABORTION AND THE CONSISTENT ETHIC OF LIFE

Life begins at conception. Biologists who study animals assume this is the case for animals. As soon as the sperm meets the egg, there is life. Any attempt to claim otherwise is simply a “size matters” argument, claiming that just because a zygote is only a few cells it is not worth as much as you or me, by the same logic I would not be worth as much as some very large man or woman. This is obviously nonsense.

Some people claim that a fetus is not a life worth protecting because it is not a person. If it is not a person then it is no more wrong to kill a fetus than to kill a deer or being which lacks personhood. The argument arises over figuring out what determines personhood. One of the country’s most pre-eminent ethicists’, Peter Singer, associates personhood with consciousness. He therefore argues that even intelligent animals like dogs or dolphins have a greater dignity and right to life than babies (even up to 3 months old!) and those suffering from dementia or other mentally debilitating conditions!

This position is obviously utterly unacceptable and has contributed to our current culture of death. For us, as Catholics, we believe life begins at conception. Scientifically speaking, looking at DNA and genetic codes, we can clearly only say that this life is a human life. We cannot know when God creates the soul which formally makes the human life a human person, and the Church has never officially commented on this issue. However, we cannot simply abort a human life because we don’t know if it has a soul yet. For example, any hunter should be able to tell that if you see a bush rustling, but cannot tell what is behind the bush you don’t shoot into the bush because it could be a deer, but it could also be a fellow hunter. Similarly we can tell that from moment of conception there is human life. We cannot determine the moment of ensoulment therefore we do not know whether the life that is aborted is a person or not. So we must not, ever abort. Abortion is always an intrinsically evil act and is murdering the defenseless and the innocent. No person has the right to murder any other person. There are no exceptions.

ON CERTAIN CASES WHICH PEOPLE OFTEN CITE AS EXCEPTIONS

Many people who claim to be against abortion often site exceptions. They believe abortions should be legal in cases of rape and incest because the mother was not at fault in the conception of the child. However, this an argument based entirely on emotion and not on reason at all.

Certainly we must minister and care to the needs to those who have been so horribly violated. However, simply because someone has wronged them does not give them the right to kill some other innocent person. The baby is not guilty of anything. It is not the baby’s fault that the mother was raped. Why should the baby have to pay for someone else’s crime? We must fight the right to life of all persons, from conception to natural death, even if they were conceived through an act of rape.

ON THE CURRENT STATUS OF VOTING “PRO-LIFE”

For decades now the pro-life position has been associated with the Republican Party. People believe (like I used to) they have to vote Republican because the Republicans are against abortion. They tend to not even consider other issues. Abortion is the one and only issue for them. They believe that one cannot ever vote for a pro-choice politician. However, this is not the Church’s understanding or teaching.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops affirms that a voter may in good conscience vote for a pro-choice politician provided that the person is not voting for that politician BECAUSE he or she is pro-choice. Therefore, a Catholic may, in good conscience, vote Clinton or Obama, provided that the Catholic is voting for them on other issues (immigration, war, etc.) and not because they are pro-choice. I believe this is an important distinction to make because it enables (and demands) us to consider the other issues to approach the elections more intelligently and more openly.

[In this particular Presidential election, none of the remaining primary candidates can claim to pro-life. Obama and Clinton are both strongly pro-choice. McCain supports embryonic stem cell research (which we will consider in the next post). Therefore we must look at other issues in determining for whom to vote.]

Finally, before putting all our eggs in the basket of overturning Roe v. Wade, we must consider the wisdom and prudence of that desire. Let me explain. As Catholics, the law should not matter to us as much as the actions, the moral decisions, of the persons in our country. Abortion has been legal for 30 years now. It is a multi-billion dollar industry. If Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow abortions would not stop tomorrow. Instead, woman seeking abortions and doctors performing abortions would go underground, and the government would be forced, if they wished to enforce the new law, to dedicate time, energy, money, and people to finding these underground abortion clinics and arresting those involved. It would quickly turn into a “war on abortion,” which would inevitably fail just as the wars on poverty and drugs have failed. It seems to me that, considering the current moral state of America, a prohibition on abortion now would be no more successful than the prohibition on alcohol back in 1919.

We do not need a pro-life president or change in law (although both of those things may be good) as much as we a need a renewed moral voice to change consciences of Americans. America’s problems are much deeper than that policy or this policy. We have become a morally depraved and selfish country, and if we do not want to go down the path of Roman Empire, those of us who know and understand the teaching of Christ and His Church must teach and educate those who do not about the importance of all these life issues. We do not need this or that president as much as need a resurgence of faith in the one, true God, a faith that needs to be lived out with integrity and with zeal.

Abortions must stop, but I do not believe a change in law will stop them. We must evangelize and catechize the individuals who may or may not be tempted to choose abortion.

May God forgive us the sins of our country and give us the grace to bring His Gospel to all who are lacking it.

5 comments:

Craig Baker said...

There are other candidates than the major party players (or even some of the minor party players). Aside from that however I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the role of the law in this issue. For too many of us Christians we have used that as a crutch or an excuse to not take any direct action, such as sidewalk counseling, offering to adopt, and the like. Or even to be so bold as to befriend abortion doctors/workers. It seems that this issue, abortion, and our inability to change the law becomes a stumbling block in seeing the connection of abortion to the other life issues, poverty, war, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc . And this to the point where the only life issue seems to be abortion. Keep preaching brother!

Veronica said...

Thank you Josh, I think you covered these ideas excellently.

From a Public Health stand point I know that banning abortions does not make them go away. Women get illegal abortions at the same rate they get legal abortions. Legal abortions are proven to be safer for women because of anesthesia and proper medical care. Notice I said safER meaning they aren't completely safe. As always, abortions are 100% unsafe for the aborted child.

In my opinion, one important approach to ending abortion is to reduce the number of women who felt the need to have abortions in the first place.
To reduce the desire for an abortion, it would be necessary to create social policies that support a woman who is pregnant and going to give birth. This includes: health care, adoption services, child care, and pre-K services, also WIC and welfare.

Nobody wants to have an abortion, even women that have them don't want to have them. Even many doctors who perform them don't like abortion, but see what they do as a service to women who are terrified of what society will do to them if they have the baby.


Nobody actually LIKES abortion, but people still have them when they fear that the child will not be accepted or cared for, and when they fear that they won't have health care, and when they fear that they won't have a job, or food or be able to provide for the baby.

These are the societal ills that need to be addressed in order to end abortion.

DUgradstudent said...

To be devil's advocate (just call me Keanu):

"[A]ny hunter should be able to tell that if you see a bush rustling, but cannot tell what is behind the bush you don’t shoot into the bush because it could be a deer, but it could also be a fellow hunter."

Is the hunter shooting at whatever is rattling in the bush committing an intrinsically evil act?

Given that we can't know "ensoulment status", can we still say that abortion is without a doubt intrinsically evil?

I'm not trying to get at culpability of the hunter/pregnant woman, but rather the nature of the act given the necessary unknowns. In other words, is not making a conservative assumption (about personhood/ensoulment) intrinsically evil?

JB said...

Keanu,

Given that we can't know "ensoulment status", can we still say that abortion is without a doubt intrinsically evil?

We can certainly say that abortion is without a doubt intrinsically evil. It is the purposeful killing of a human being. It is akin to murder which is also intrinsically evil.

Is the hunter shooting at whatever is rattling in the bush committing an intrinsically evil act?

Good question...
It is an intrinsically evil act to murder a human being. The analogy fails in this aspect of the comparison because the intent of the hunter is always to kill a non-human life. Shooting into the bushes is reckless and irresponsible. He should know better, but it is not intrinsically evil.

On the other hand choosing to have (or perform) an abortion is always with the intent of ending a human life. Even if you don't know whether or not ensoulment has occurred (I just learned more on this distinction, I'll try to include in my next post on embryonic stem cell research), the intent is always to end a human life. Thus, intrinsically evil.

I'm not trying to get at culpability of the hunter/pregnant woman, but rather the nature of the act given the necessary unknowns. In other words, is not making a conservative assumption (about personhood/ensoulment) intrinsically evil

I have no idea why making an conservative assumption would be intrinsically evil. What evil could possibly come from "playing it safe" in this instance?

Craig Baker said...

Keanu,
The hunter not making a conservative decision in this case is always an intrinsically evil act if the life of another human is taken because the very act of shooting into a bush caries with it the end of killing. Intention does not determine the finis operis.