It’s election season again, and we should make one more attempt to convince our fellow citizens (and our fellow Catholics) that they cannot morally allow any issue to take precedence over abortion in their decisions about how to vote in the U.S. presidential election. This statement may strike some readers as just another example of knee-jerk conservatism or, worse, sycophantic advocacy for the Republican Party. But it is neither. It is simply a moral fact of life. This time around, I’m taking the gloves off.
God’s Teaching and Man’s Statistics
Church teaching could not be more clear on this point. The Magisterium has stated repeatedly that direct abortion is intrinsically evil under all circumstances, and that it is immoral to vote for a politician because he supports abortion. The Church has also taught that voting for a politician in spite of the fact that he supports abortion is at least remote cooperation with evil, and so can be justified only when there is a proportionate reason. I endorse this latter point entirely. But the problem, for those who wish to take advantage of this to support pro-abortion candidates, is that there is no issue on the contemporary American political scene that is even remotely proportionate to abortion. No issue exists that can be cited as a proportionately moral reason to support a candidate that favors abortion, especially in a Presidential election.
Admittedly this is partly a prudential judgment, for it involves not only the nature of the evil involved but how widespread it is — how many people are impacted by it. The Church’s teaching authority can help us to discern that murder is a more serious evil than theft, but the Church can employ no special charism to determine how large a problem murder may be in a particular society at a particular time. If the murder rate is very low, and the theft rate high, one is certainly justified in voting for a politician who concentrates his attention on reducing theft. But abortion is not only in the most serious class of moral evils (the deliberate taking of an innocent human life), but it affects more people than any other comparably serious crime.
The number of abortions reported in the United States is over one million per year. Since abortion is notoriously under-reported, the actual numbers are substantially higher. For the sake of argument, we will suggest that there are at least 1.5 million abortions annually in the United States. By contrast, there are about 17,000 other homicides per year in our country, a number two orders of magnitude lower. In fact, abortion is in roughly the same class as far less serious (but still significant) crimes such as burglary and domestic violence assaults, which numbered about 2.1 million each in 2005.
When compared with the issues that are widely argued to be somehow proportionate, the lack of proportionality is even more astonishing. Thus, while abortion claims between one and two million lives per year in the United States, premature deaths due to inadequate health care are estimated at about 34,000 per year; the Iraq War has claimed a total of roughly 55,000 American and Iraqi lives since its beginning several years ago; and the death penalty claimed the lives of 42 persons in the United States last year, most of whom were presumably at least guilty of a serious crime. You can find all these statistics in about five minutes of research on the web. I submit, again, that no voter who is guided by reason can even begin to make the argument that there is an issue in the United States presidential election that is remotely proportionate to abortion.
The argument that there are legitimate reasons to support a pro-abortion candidate is weakened still further when two common but false assumptions are brought into play. The first false assumption is that there is a moral equivalence between a candidate who places his emphasis on other issues and a candidate who is actually in favor of abortion. I stated earlier that, if the murder rate were very low and the theft rate very high, one might well vote for a politician who advances a good program for reducing theft. But what if this same candidate is determined to protect the right to murder or even seeks to expand murder’s “availability”? Surely this changes both the moral equation, and the potential consequences.
The second false assumption is that abortion is so endemic to our culture that there isn’t likely to be much that any candidate can do about it; therefore, whether a President is pro-abortion or pro-life will make very little practical difference. While I would reject this assumption for symbolic reasons alone (what impact does it have on a culture to place in its highest office a person who publicly advocates murder?), the argument rests on so deep an ignorance of American political life as to be utterly ludicrous. The primary political reason abortion is both legal and extremely widespread in our culture is because we are increasingly ruled by an oligarchy of activist judges who wish to remake society in their own image. At the apex of this oligarchy is the Supreme Court, and Supreme Court justices are appointed for life by the President of the United States. Apart from all other considerations, this political fact is of capital importance in the selection of the next President, especially with the Court in many ways fairly evenly divided, and with an opportunity for the next President to appoint two or more justices.
Moreover, in the culture wars overall, our nation is fairly evenly divided. The future of abortion (along with many related grave evils) will depend on relatively small shifts in American voting patterns. Yes, it is a difficult and long struggle, but it is hardly an irrelevant struggle or a struggle with no hope of success. Persons who are very much more pro-life than would be suggested by existing rulings and laws are not in a tiny minority. On the various related issues, they are always close to half of the population, and often more than half. The person who argues that there is nothing we can do about abortion, and therefore it is perfectly moral to vote based on other considerations, is simply denying — in the midst of hotly contested circumstances — that there is at least one very important thing he can do: He can refuse to vote for those who support abortion.
Thanks, But I’m Not Personally Affected
I could go on at considerable length about the links between abortion and so much else that horribly afflicts the American people and their social fabric: the breakdown of the family, the objectification and abuse of women, contraception, rampant divorce, female poverty, ubiquitous pornography, experimentation on human persons, euthanasia and everything else that attends both irresponsible sex and increasing callousness toward the human person. But it should be enough to focus on the unmistakable fact that well over one million innocent persons are being willfully and directly murdered each year, and that this is happening not in a few inaccessible locations but all around us, in our local communities, as part of the fabric of our daily lives.
The bottom line is that to most of us the unborn child is invisible. It is not as if we have to witness the fear, the screams of terror, the bloodshed, the grief and the devastation that accompanies the murder of older persons, whom we often encounter and sometimes come to know. No, abortion is rather a case of out of sight, out of mind, for a little baby that hardly anybody wanted anyway, and we find it very easy to go on with our lives, attending to the issues that affect us personally, hobnobbing with those we find congenial, feeling secure in being part of the status quo, and thankfully aware that we’re not foolish enough to rock the boat. Indeed, with respect to abortion, the commitment to resist is very seldom the result of an emotional process; it is very seldom governed by our feelings. Very few pro-lifers are moved by feelings of solidarity with pre-born children. How could they be?
Instead, the pro-life moral and political commitment is a rational commitment: Abortion is a serious evil, it is an epidemic evil, and it is linked to a great many other evils in our culture. Therefore I will oppose it, root and branch, tooth and nail. Unfortunately, those who seek instead to justify with specious arguments their desire to vote for pro-abortion candidates make no such intellectual commitment. As we have seen, their arguments are utterly bankrupt. For where is their proportionate issue? Global warming? Tax revisions that might possibly benefit the poor? The price of gas? No, we are talking here about death, death immediately before us and on a grand scale. That is why those who justify voting for pro-abortion candidates are so obviously wrong, so seriously wrong and — let us tell the whole truth — so dangerously wrong.