Monday, May 12, 2003



In the short time I've been creating blogs, I hope my I've proven my "progressive" credentials to any fellow progressive Catholics out there. Yet, there is one issue that I almost completely agree with the conservatives.


Isn't our sense of moral outrage stronger when a murderer kills a pregnant woman than someone who is not pregnant?

I think that many of us intuitively know that there is something sacred involved with pregnancy. Advances in ultra-sound technology augment this intuitive sense.

From a secular legal perspective, I simply believe that the condition for the possibility of a right to choose is the guarantee of the right to life.

Furthermore, in formulating a law that would guarantee the right to life, it would be irresponsible of the state not to define what is meant by human life.

It seems to me that given humanity's history of genocide and ethnic conflict, we need to define human life protected under the law as broadly as possible.

I would propose that human life can be determined as a self contained living organism with the double helix DNA structure belonging to human beings.

Call me dense, but I cannot think of any alternate definition that cannot be turned on a class of human beings we all, even the pro-choice camp, wish to protect.

For example, if we say that self-awareness defines personhood, can we execute the comatose, even if there is a reasonable chance of recovery without heroic measures?

If we can do this, how long would it be before a murderer argues in court that he did not commit murder because he killed someone in their sleep?

There are those who deny that the embryo or fetus is a human life, much less a person.

Yet, the embryo or fetus has a unique human DNA code not shared with the mother. The unborn is a self contained living organism that is - scientifically speaking - human.

I look forward to the day when the popular consensus supports the idea of an enforceable right to life amendment protecting human life from conception to natural death without trampling legitimate privacy rights.

Some people argue that the state is not responsible for a human life until the life is viable. Viability then defines personhood. I have a hard time with this argument, because infants are not independently viable. Infanticide is immoral and a crime!

Indeed, I wonder if any of us are completely viable without the support of society and community. Our freedom rests on a contract with society to care for one another!

Yet, this form of reasoning has absolutely nothing to do with religion. This is an argument from human reason for making abortion illegal under civil law.

We do not need to mention the word "God" or "religion" to have a meaningful discussion about whether abortion should be legal or illegal, and good people can fall on either side depending on our values.

It is important to point out that if an anti-abortion law were passed, the penalty should apply to the doctors who perform abortions, and not the necessarily the women who procure the procedure. Women in difficult situations do not necessarily need to be punished.

I once heard an argument that effectively said that forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term is like forcing a person to give a blood transfusion for nine straight months. This is especially apparent in cases of rape and incest. In my mind, this is a good argument that helps us understand the pro-choice position.

The battle for civil law has to do with incommensurate conceptions of the common good. The pro-life position maintains that if we do not safeguard human life, freedom is meaningless.

For us, the state has a primary responsibility to protect human life, and all other rights rest on this one.

The pro-choice position maintains that without freedom and choice, life is dehumanizing, and hardly has value. Their motto might echo one of our American founders' who said: "Give me liberty, or give me death".

For the pro-choice camp, the state has a primary obligation to protect freedom, and secondarily protects life as an extension of the right to live freely.

Pro-choice Christians argue that in an imperfect world, the role of the state in safeguarding freedom may override the role of the state to safeguard life. Thus, it is argued one can be personally opposed to abortion, while voting pro-choice.

I do not agree with this position and do not think Christians should advocate it because we Christians are aware that our freedom is a limited freedom.

With the concepts of rights comes responsibilities. The goal is not independence, but interdependence. We recognize the value of individual liberty and the goodness of the human person within the context of the common good.

I am also a proponent of a consistent ethic of life, meaning I oppose the death penalty, support gun control, and oppose the militarization of the United States.

Thus, as tragic as issues as rape and incest are, I cannot justify the death penalty for the child of a criminal, when I would not even execute the criminal him or herself.

Along the lines of a consistent ethic of life, I am also supportive of adult stem cell research, but not embryonic stem cell research. I oppose human cloning.

I support economic justice, saving the lives of the poor. I would seek to reduce crime through prevention and rehabilitation.

I would seek to reduce terrorism through other means than war, such as global economic justice and diplomacy, or international law enforcement using the model of just policing rather than military models.

I believe protecting the environment is a life issue.

Yet, abortion is an important life issue involving defensless and innocent human life unjustly dehumanized and killed.

From the religious perspective, I do not deny that I feel even more strongly about the issue of abortion than I do when I consider the matter solely in the light of rational ethics and civil law.

Christians are called to trusting faith in a sovereign God when we face difficulties in life. Though I recognize the difficulty for people facing unexpected pregnancies, I believe that human life has an incomparable dignity revealed in the incarnation of God.

Furthermore, Jesus Christ always reached out to the weakest, the poorest, and the most marginalized and oppressed in society. He gave a voice to those who were voiceless. He recognized the humanity of those who were being de-humanized. His love was inclusive, rather than exclusive. Even the most progressive Catholic should find resonances of Christ's notions of the reign of God extending to the unborn human person!

In a like manner, the Democratic party as a party of the underdog should make room for pro-lifers.

Psalm 139 says that God knows each one of us before we are formed in the womb. Mary was immaculately conceived, and this has been solemnly defined as a doctrine to be received with the assent of faith and to be considered infallible - implying clearly that human life begins at conception.

How can we say life doesn't begin at conception without denying an infallible doctrine of the Church?

If we deny an infallible doctrine, this would have catastrophic consequences to our ability to discern any truth whatsoever in the Roman Catholic faith. I fail to understand how any Roman Catholic can deny that life begins at conception without contradicting important truths of the faith.

Murder is a violation of the fifth commandment.

We proclaim in the creed each Sunday that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life. How can any child be an unwanted child when their very being originates in the mystery of God?

A Christian confronted with an unexpected pregnancy has every right to feel whatever emotions arise in her individual circumstances. Faith informs us that God loves and desires this human life - for if he did not, there would be no pregnancy. I know this is difficult to accept in the midst of trial, and I do not blame anyone for doubting.

Yet, faith, as trust in God's providence, provides us the internal resources to accept God's will amidst any fears and doubts and amidst the darkness of the circumstances of an unexpected pregnancy. This is extremely difficult to put into practice, and living with such faith is partly what makes being Christian different from being an unbeliever or an atheist.

If we throw in all the authoritative statements explicitly condemning abortion and calling explicitly for laws against it, it simply appears that being a pro-choice Catholic is difficult to do in good conscience.

Christ's mercy is infinite in capacity, and the decision to see a difficult pregnancy through to natural birth is a challenge. I do believe that Christ can and does forgive women and doctors involved in abortion everyday. This forgiveness is real and complete.

Yet, if one does not ask for forgiveness because one doesn't feel he or she needs it, how can that one be forgiven?

I do think abortion can be a mortal sin. Objectively, the act is murder.

However, we can never judge another person's heart, since the ends, means, and circumstances remain unknown to us - and are only known to God and the individual. I accept that in Catholic moral theology, even the gravest act may not lead to the actual guilt of mortal sin for a particular individual.

I am not trying to argue for a cold-hearted condemnation of all who disagree with me on the point that abortion is ultimately murder.

Nevertheless, the Church has rightly always taught that we can look at an act objectively and make a judgment. If we cannot, all ethics and morality is thrown out the window. Abortion, as an act considered objectively, is a gravely immoral act.

It seems to me that holding the position that abortion is not ultimately murder is fraught with theological and rational contradictions. In this sense, I believe all Catholics should be fundamentally pro-life.

Yet, there are elements of the Catholic pro-life position that I would like to critique.

First, I question the idea of an automatic excommunication for procuring abortions.

This is the current discipline under canon law. It seems cruel and merciless to me that a confused teenager can incur an excommunication that can only be lifted by a bishop.

Many people do not realize that in the official teaching of the Church, confession to a priest means nothing if you are excommunicated. Confession is invalid until the excommunication is lifted, and this can only be done by a bishop!

Serial killers and pedophiles aren't automatically excommunicated, so why should a young woman in an understandably stressful situation be excommunicated?

Certainly, seeking an abortion is ultimately a grave offense against human dignity, but why is this sin elevated above almost all other sins regarding the dignity of human life?

Likewise, as we talk to others about abortion, we need to be careful to emphasize that women who have already had abortions are loved by God and can still receive God's mercy and God's grace.

Second, I question the recent statements out of the Vatican suggesting that a Catholic elected official cannot possibly vote pro-choice.

Intellectually, I apprehend the argument of a Mario Cuomo when he says that as a politician, he must represent his constituents, even when he disagrees with them as a Catholic.

While I do not believe this translates to an ardent pro-choice stance, it could mean compromise or abstaining on important abortion votes without violating Catholic moral principles.

I do not believe that the individual Catholic voter can rightly say, "I am personally opposed to abortion, but..."

Furthermore, I think it would be praiseworthy for elected officials to make their moral reservations on important issues known to their constituents.

At the same time, I do accept that an elected official can, and even should vote with a strong presumption of representing the majority consensus (where a consensus is more than a simple majority of 51%, and is more in the ball-park of two thirds).

If, after making her or his moral reservations known, all the polls indicate the constituents are still pro-choice by an overwhelming consensus, the elected official could be wrong to vote solely according to her or his own personal conscience as a representative.

An elected representative is not bound to vote solely according to his or her own conscience. Rather, he or she is obligated to represent his or her constituents, even when her or his constituents chose options that he or she finds morally ambiguous.

This means politicians must be able to compromise, abstain, make deals, or find other political solutions that reduce abortion rates in addition to restrictions.

The bishops must recognize the moral legitimacy of these options for Catholic politicians in certain circumstances without softening their promotion of a culture of life or desire to see legal abortion come to an end.

In a similar manner, I do not believe federal judges should be selected on a single issue with an eye to ignoring legal precedent. This opens the door to abuses of judicial authority. Judges should be selected based on legal competence without litmus tests.

Third, I question the mentality of many Catholics in the pro-life movement of voting based on this single issue.

Certainly, if abortion is murder, it may be the most important issue to those of us who are pro-life. I consider it a primary factor as I vote.

Yet, there are other equally grave threats to human life that I believe we should consider. There does exist a potential for pro-life Catholics and other pro-life Christians of being manipulated by politicians paying lip service to our cause while crassly trampling on other human rights.

For example, I had a strong hunch during the year 2000 elections that George Bush could conceivably get the United States into an unjust war.

I had this suspicion when Bush could not name the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and said to a reporter that he did not know why he should know this as a candidate for president of the United States.

I did not fault Bush so much for not knowing the names of these leaders, but I was flabbergasted when, on national television, he asked why he needed to know their names!

Afghanistan was already known to harbor Osama Bin Laden and other terrorists. I knew who Osama Bin Laden was prior to 9/11 from the bombing of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. I also knew Clinton authorized missile launches in the Sudan and Afghanistan to try to get Bin Laden.

Afghanistan's next door neighbor, Pakistan, was also known to harbor Islamic extremist, and was on the brink of war with India. Both Pakistan and India were nuclear powers.

Of course a candidate to become the President of the United States should be aware of all this, even if he does not know the specific names of key players. I knew it, and I'm not involved in politics. I picked all this up simply reading the newspapers!

I told my wife in the year 2000 that if this man is elected, we might wind up in a war in the middle-east! My hunch proved incredibly accurate.

Would I have been wrong to vote for Gore if I had good reason to believe that Bush would get us in an unjust war?

I believe that all pre-emptive wars are unjust according to paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Even if we are convinced that Saddam Hussein was a monster in possession of WMDs and supporting terrorism, was it just for Iraqi children to die in order to bring him down?

Furthermore, Bush's economic plan providing fiscally irresponsible tax breaks to the "investor class" while the IRS is targeting the poor for tax fraud on his watch is anything but compassionate conservatism. Poverty can kill people.

What about health care reform and the environment? Can some of Bush's politics also be deadly to the innocent?

Is it wrong to consider these issues as part of an overall strategy to promote the value and dignity of human life?

I also recognize that George Bush has strongly supported the death penalty, which is also an offense against human life. We could all see this in his record executions as Governor of Texas.

Bush presided over the first federal execution in decades in his first year in office as President. Federal death penalties had not been used since 1964!

With abortion, I'm not paying for it (as long as it is not federally funded). With the death penalty, I am!

In my mind, this issue alone almost cancels out whatever good he could do for the pro-life movement.

To be honest, I did vote for President Bush in the year 2000 based on the single issue of abortion. I honestly believed his advisors and cabinet would rein him in on the other issues. I regret that simplistic approach to my voting now.

What I am saying is that I can understand perfectly well how a Catholic could have opposed Bush for president in 2000, and how that opposition may have grown stronger during his term as president.

I doubt very much that I will vote for Bush again in 2004, given what he did in Iraq - which was wholesale slaughter of a people who never directly attacked the United States, and have not even been proven capable of attacking the U.S.

Pro-life Catholics must be very careful of avoiding harsh judgments on Catholics who may vote for pro-choice Democrats as though it means de facto support for abortion. We all might oppose abortion, and there may be other factors that went into consideration in the vote that are equally important.

I do not fault Catholics who supported Al Gore because they felt that in the grand scheme of things, Gore's overall positions were "more pro-life" than Bush's.

Despite the differences between Bush and Gore on abortion, I believe that Gore may have saved more human lives if he were elected than Bush has done so far.

Of course, we cannot vote on the pragmatic grounds of the greatest good for the greatest number all the time either - but sometimes, we are backed into no other option.

In this sense, I do not consider everyone who votes for a pro-choice candidate a heretic, as some conservatives on the web seem to argue. There is legitimate room for debate on the political solution to abortion. However, there really should be no disagreement among Catholics on the fundamental issue that an unborn child is a human being and has a right to live!

It's a shame that the Democratic Party does not support more pro-life candidates. Many progressive Catholics would love to see a pro-life Democrat run for office. Many of us see that abortion cannot be tackled without also tackling its causes, such as poverty. Many of us are also open to a third party solution.

Fourth, I am a proponent of the consistent ethic of life argument. We cannot persuasively argue for making abortion illegal while supporting euthanasia, assisted suicide, the death penalty, or a hawkish attitude to war.

Our opponents see and exploit the inconsistency in valuing one human life over another. They accuse us of being unconcerned about human life, and masking an obsession with sexual purity.

Our opponents see us as simply being controlling personality types who would not hesitate to kill another human being to gain control over others, calling it "law and order".

Our opponents believe that our desire to control others extends to reinforcing stereotypical gender roles to keep women barefoot and pregnant.

Our opponents do not believe us when we say that the issue is the dignity of human life.

Often times, pro-life Catholics reinforce this notion by making no logical connection between abortion and other life issues. We cannot create the impression that we have a fetish for the unborn and do not care about the right to life of other citizens of the world.

While most Catholics seem to see the connection between abortion and euthanasia, conservative American Catholics have come across as calloused warmongers and cold-hearted avengers against crime.

We need to strengthen our position on other life issues in order to gain a fair hearing on abortion. We should be adamant against the death penalty, and adamant against war!

I believe the Holy Father has asked the Church to move in this direction through his encyclical, Evengelium Vitae which very much emphasizes a consistent ethic of life argument.

Fifth, I am feminist on almost all other moral issues, and I believe that Gal 3:28 and Guadium et Spes 29 call us in this direction. Women outside of the Church are not going to listen to the Catholic position if we do not support fairness, justice, and equity for women in other areas of life.

Pro-life Catholics should be ardent supporters of stricter enforcement of laws against rape and incest, as well as prevention of sexual abuse.

We should be ardent and passionate supporters of issues such as equal opportunity in the work-place, an end to sexual harassment, and equal pay for equal work. We must actively seek ways to increase the participation of women in decision making processes in all institutions supporting the common good. We must be careful not to reinforce irrational or unjust gender stereotypes. Our position would be enhanced if we had women priests calling for an end to abortion.

Catholics could also support a woman's right to other means of reproductive freedom even when these other means may not be consistent with private moral teachings and practices.

We need to be willing to compromise on artificial birth control in the civil arena in order to win the larger battle on abortion.

The Church has been an opponent of introducing artificial contraception in developing nations where overpopulation is often believed to be a root cause of poverty. Whether we are right or wrong on artificial contraception, we lose the war on abortion every time we fight this battle.

We must learn to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves, as our Lord says in the Gospel.

Allowing condom distribution by secular agencies may not be the perfect moral or political solution in come of our minds, but it may help prevent abortions as well as AIDs, which are bigger victories, both short range and long range.

Sixth, we must use just means to make our position known. This means that even though we are waging a cultural war to defend the sacredness of human life, we cannot turn to the tactics of actual military conflict involving killing people or destroying property. These tactics defeat our purpose and relegate the pro-life voice to the fringes of society with terrorists and lunatics.

Indeed, in some pro-life marches in which I have participated, I have been embarrassed by pro-lifers who seem almost proud to be on the fringe - as though they don't care if we get a hearing in the mainstream.

Abortion is a form of murder, but we need to be careful how we try to win hearts and minds over to seeing this. Violence and radical rhetoric is not an effective means to create a non-violent attitude in the hearts of our opponents.

On judgment day, I do not think God will reward us simply for being pro-life if our way of being pro-life was aimed to offend people. We need to reach people, rather than repelling them.

On the same note, we should avoid displaying images of aborted fetuses. I have actually heard from pro-choice advocates that they are more fearful of losing political ground when we show positive images than when we show these negative images. It is more effective to show images of live unborn children, or live adopted children than displaying gruesome images of murdered children.

This brings me to a seventh point. When involved in one-on-one discussion with a pro-choice person, we Catholics need to learn to listen to others as much or more than making our positions known.

Many proponents of choice are hurting inside. Perhaps one is a victim of rape, or another had a relative die from a botched home abortion. Perhaps we are talking to a woman who is feeling guilty over her own abortion, and simply needs to know Christ still loves her deeply.

These events leave scars on the soul, and sometimes a compassionate ear can do more to bring healing than an argument. People who disagree with us are not likely to listen to us if we do not extend the same courtesy.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for the pro-life position is to simply shut up and listen to another, and this applies especially in the one-one-one discussion. We must listen to others so that our position will be heard.

Eighth, I mentioned already that some progressive pro-life Catholics realize when they vote that we need to tackle causes of abortion, such as poverty.

Catholicism, as an institution, probably provides more orphanages, schools, hospitals and social services to the poor than any government on earth. We also have a great legacy of social justice teaching that informs political choices with a preferential option for the poor. Pro-life Catholics must continue to support the varied ways that Catholicism combats poverty in word and deed.

If you are not providing financial donations, volunteer hours, and prayers to support the charitable work of the Church, and you care about abortion, you should start supporting Catholic charities and economic justice in politics.

Get involved in programs like Birth-Right or the Gabriel Project that help unwed mothers deal with unexpected pregnancy and care for their children. Pro-life Catholics may even feel inspired by the Spirit to prayerfully consider become adoptive parents or foster parents.

Finally, it should almost go without saying that we must pray....Prayer will be the winning shot in the battle over abortion.

Pray every day that America will grow in its respect for life. Pray for an end to abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, violent crime and war. Pray the Rosary, the Psalms, or just talk to God in your own words. Whatever you do, pray!

Peace and Blessings!


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