There seems to be a set of talking points circulating among some members of the Catholic left. I saw an example of it in a Facebook discussion that was going on yesterday, but it's not the first time I've seen some of the ideas expressed, so it seems like a good time to respond to some of these ideas.
Let me preface this by saying that I am not a Republican. I stopped voting for them after McCain's presidential campaign, and really should have stopped before. What happened to me is something that has happened to my fellow Catholics on both the Republican and Democrat sides of the aisle: we realized that neither party is a good fit for Catholics; we became disenchanted with the two-party system generally; we recognized that the attacks on the sanctity of human life and of the family were not truly being fought against by either party; we began to understand that both parties supported the evil of gay "marriage" and that neither can really be trusted to protect religious freedom; or there was some other combination of serious concerns that arose out of the last decade or so of our political experiences at the local, state, and/or national level.
I am, of course, also not a Democrat, as I am philosophically opposed to supporting a party whose platform includes the pernicious idea that not all human life is valuable, and that innocent people can be sentenced to death in their mothers' wombs for the "crime" of inconvenient conception.
Having said all that, I also must say this: it took me a great deal of time to reach the "third-party" point, and so I am not impatient with my fellow Catholics who earnestly, if misguidedly, believe that they must support one party or the other, who sincerely believe that to limit some grave evil or promote some tremendous good they must give their vote to one party's candidates in general or their presidential candidate in particular.
I have encountered passionate Catholics who used these serious criteria to vote for Hillary Clinton, and others who used the same criteria to vote for Donald Trump. There is nothing wrong with that at all. We have to vote according to the dictates of our own consciences, and if someone sincerely believed that one candidate would at least limit the evil being proposed by the other (for one example) he or she would have a duty to support that candidate. Sane and reasonable Catholics understand this and can remain friends even if one friend was a Hillary supporter and the other voted for Trump.
Alas, sane and reasonable Catholics are a rare breed. While most Catholics I know who at least seriously considered a Trump vote were not blind to his faults and were uneasy about some of his proposals, there are some Catholics who really will vote for anybody with an "R" after his name. Those are the ones who will say that they vote Republican because of abortion, but then turn around and insist their fellow Catholics vote for a local pro-abort Republican because at least the party policy is pro-life. At that point I think they are deluding themselves about their real reasons for supporting Republicans, frankly. Again, while some Catholics who pondered voting for Hillary were deeply troubled and unhappy about even having to consider such a thing, other Catholics make quite a habit of voting for Democrats, and will ignore the reality that the Democrats haven't done much to get us out of imperialistic wars or, despite the lip service some of them pay on the issue, to work to abolish the death penalty either, while they have worked hard to harass nuns, give out free abortions and contraception and force little girls to share public restrooms with adult men. Priorities, you know.
Let's face it: both political parties are deeply, perhaps irredeemably flawed. So when Catholics become so partisan that they start using a typical Democrat talking point to slander their fellow Catholics, I have a problem with that.
The talking point is the weary old canard that pro-life Americans (or, in this iteration, pro-life Catholics) are really just pro-birth, because once the baby is born they will offer no help whatsoever. Since it can be empirically demonstrated that pro-life Americans, especially pro-life American Catholics, can and do offer help up to and including taking in unwed mothers and adopting their children, though, the slur had to be changed a bit. The new form is this: pro-life Catholics are actually anti-life, because they vote for the Republican Party whose anti-life policies cause pretty much all abortions (and by the way, all that pro-life volunteering you do at various crisis pregnancy ministries is just pathetic, because it's nowhere near as important as what the government can do for unwed mothers; but that ugly attitude is a topic for another time).
What are these anti-life policies? According to the Catholic left, the Republican Party sins against unborn babies by wanting to cut taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor; by refusing to support universal health care; by proposing a rollback of some recent increases to various social programs (this is being framed as "cutting" those programs, though the increases were only meant to help during the economic downturn and the media has been telling us for some time that we're in a recovery) such as SNAP, and so on. In other words, every time the Republican Party has a disagreement with the Democratic Party over either a) the size and scope of a federal social program or b) the amount of money that should be spent on such programs, not only is the Democratic Party right, but the Republican Party is intentionally causing abortions, or else facilitating them by their negligent unconcern for the poor.
Now, I am not opposed to a good debate about which social programs do help the poor and should be increased, and which do not help and may even harm the poor; I'm even fine with a rousing discussion of the principle of subsidiarity and whether some programs currently being managed by behemoth federal offices might not be better and more efficiently administered at the state and local level. Sane and reasonable Catholics have those kinds of debates all the time without automatically imputing bad motives to each other.
But the idea that figuring out how much money you have to spend on various programs before committing to spend a particular amount, or leaving open the option to scale back a recent increase that may now be unnecessary, is tantamount to causing abortions is a kind of reasoning that makes me want to know: do the trees on your planet have 18-karat gold leaves that rain down on a grateful populace or something? Because in the real world, while most of us would love to have the government's cheerful unconcern about going trillions of dollars in debt, we also know that increasing social programs costs actual money that has to come from somewhere, and it is both irresponsible and unjust to pretend that discussing such things is proof that one is rich or greedy or full of hatred for the poor.
It is okay to ask if the economic recovery of the last few years of the Obama presidency means that not as many people will need SNAP, for instance, and if therefore the program could be trimmed a bit without hurting anybody. It is okay to ask whether countries that have universal health care (including single-payer or two-tier) have reduced surgical abortions because moms don't have to worry about pregnancy and delivery costs and are thus happy to give birth when they have an unplanned pregnancy, or because those countries also provide free or subsidized birth control, sterilizations, and (perhaps most importantly), free or subsidized medical abortions using drugs like RU-486. Consider, for instance, that in 2015 55% of abortions in England and Wales were medical abortions, while an astonishing 91% of abortions in Sweden were medical abortions. Medical abortion isn't contraception (not even emergency contraception) and it doesn't end the problem of abortion--it just makes it invisible. Meanwhile in some of these countries Catholic doctors and nurses have lost their right to refuse to participate in these and other intrinsically evil practices that are mistakenly called "health care."
These are serious problems. But some Catholics on the left have a tendency to ignore them. Worse, some of them say that it's just not worth trying to enact laws that might protect unborn children. Even though most of the countries in Europe, for instance, have policies which restrict abortion, American Catholics on the left insist that fighting legal battles even to reduce (let alone to end) the slaughter of over a million babies a year isn't a battle worth fighting. It's not going to happen, they say, so why bother? Let's focus on changing hearts and on fighting poverty instead.
I wonder what some American Catholics before the American Civil War thought of the Dred Scott decision? Did they think that, after all, slavery would only end when people's hearts changed? Did they think that it was too bad about slavery, but after all, SCOTUS had ruled and the ruling was now settled law? Did they think that voting for the party that wanted to end slavery meant supporting the economic ruin of the South? Did they think that slavery would diminish naturally if enough people received enough direct government support to mitigate the long, slow disintegration of the plantation system?
We may never know, but we do know one thing clearly in the light of history: American Catholics who thought this way, if any of them did, were deeply wrong. And I have this hope that a nation that finally woke up to the terrible evil of slavery and fought a war over it will also wake up to the terrible evil of abortion and work to undo the damage of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.
Because, quite frankly, deciding that abortion is not that important of an issue, that the million-plus babies killed in American each year in their mother's wombs must continue to die until people's hearts are changed but that the execution of prisoners is a much worse moral ill** that must be ended by judicial fiat, that a single-payer health care system is worth the price of hundreds of thousands of medical abortions annually along with the persecution of doctors and nurses who won't participate in these killings, is nothing but throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
**For the record, while the death penalty is not intrinsically evil I support current Catholic thinking about it and would like to see it abolished. Since I also want to see abortion abolished by force of law this makes me consistently pro-life on these issues.
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