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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action


The mission of ARCC is to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and conditio n.
Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates. 
                                          -   Patrick Sullivan, ARCC President

The Issue of Abortion

Frank Lesko


One of the most frustrating aspects of current political discourse in America to me is that just about everyone seems to misunderstand the issue of abortion. Everyone.

Neither of the two major political parties has a comprehensive platform addressing abortion in any definitive way. Looking at the issue from the standpoint of supply and demand might help: The Republican Party seeks solely to address abortion from the standpoint of supply. Simply put, their platform hopes to make abortion illegal. The Democratic Party does something that might be considered the opposite: They leave the supply of abortion open and available but their other policies have the best chance of driving down rates of abortion by directly addressing the known drivers of abortion. They address abortion--intentionally or not--by reducing demand for it.

So the Republican Party claims to want to drive down supply of abortion (with little likelihood that any of that can be achieved) all the while driving up demand. They may indirectly reduce abortions by offering a "home" to the pro-life movement and thus giving it some legitimacy, but I wonder if that is offset by all the negative connotations associated with Republicans. The Democrats maintain supply of abortion but they are making real progress in reducing demand.

Which party's abortion stance best matches Catholic teaching?  I'd say it's at best 50/50 but I think it's more 60/40 favoring the Democratic Party. Neither can be said to fully satisfy the demands of Catholic teaching, but one side most likely reduces abortions more than the other. And that side is the Democratic Party. However, neither party should get Catholic blessing on their abortion stance. Both are woefully incomplete.

Far too many miss this point. Even Fr. James Martin and Bishop Stowe. When they argue about abortion, they bring in the consistent life framework. They argue that there are a multitude of "life" issues in play and we as Catholic voters have room to be discerning based on a multitude of factors in any given election. I absolutely agree with them. I am super thankful for their witness on this matter. I support and celebrate the consistent ethic of life. But what I take issue with is that neither of them challenges the Republican lockdown on abortion from the standpoint of Catholic morality. I get the impression they pretty much concede the issue of abortion to the Republicans while they raise other life issues alongside it. I do not concede that.

Republican policies only promise to drive UP the rate of abortion. And for what... some elusive, improbable goal of making abortion illegal? And how many years will pass before that's even possible? It's already been 50 years since Roe v Wade and nothing much has changed legally. Even if it COULD be made illegal, will that actually stop the rate of abortion much? Yes, proximity to a clinic does factor in but people can travel out of state or country very easily today... it's not 1910 anymore. Even if Rove V. Wade could be overturned, the issue would go to the states and virtually all would keep it legal for the foreseeable future. It would be a giant legislative mess with no end in sight.

But let's pretend it could be made completely illegal:  How long could those laws stay on the books before being overturned with even stronger restrictions on pro-life inroads than before? Will there be an underground illegal network? If so what other crimes will rise as a result? (i.e. look at prohibition of alcohol or the drug wars today). Will the attempt to control people legally foster the right environment to raise consciences or will it simply lead to a polarized environment where people don't listen to each other? People just aren't thinking this through. As a grassroots organizer, it's basic knowledge that you simply cannot attempt to address an issue from a legislative standpoint until you have reached a certain critical mass of public opinion. We do not have that in the U.S.! Until then, you've got to build the base--and in this case that means building a culture of life. You've got to "make abortion unthinkable" as many activists say. There have to be so many supports and structures in place to encourage, celebrate and support motherhood and fatherhood that few would opt for abortion. That includes both the physical infrastructure of healthcare, higher wages and parental leave but also the social infrastructure of reducing shame and stigma associated with many of the circumstances around many pregnancies. And in that culture, not only would we reduce abortion but we'd calm so many traumas and triggers so that we can re-evaluate this issue collectively at some point in the future. I don't think that's possible today in the "culture wars" environment any more than it would be possible for all the nations of the world to put all their guns and military equipment into a big pile and melt them all down. We should constantly be pushing the world to imagine such things, and, like the Kingdom preached by Jesus, it probably is a lot closer than we think, but we've also got a long way to go and we've got to live in that space right now. So we can preach the end of all wars while advocating for whatever small, concrete changes we can make today.

Further, I have great doubts as to whether the Republican Party intends to actually make any substantial changes to abortion law. The "pro-life voting bloc" is clearly central to GOP strategy. I believe they only use these folks for money and votes and have little intention of delivering any results. If they did, they'd lose their votes and their money, so they'd never do that! They just keep them dangling on the end of their proverbial fishing line--always blaming the other side for lack of progress while delivering only scraps and morsels to occasionally whet their appetites.

A vote for Democrats yes does keep abortion legal, and you may not like that... but in a culture with stronger parental leave, universal health care, reduction in mass incarceration (including immigrant detention), higher wages, we know we can reduce many of the drivers that lead to abortion. No, that wouldn't address every abortion choice. Some people just use abortion as birth control. But here at least you have the chance of reducing some abortions and building a life-affirming culture that might even melt away some of the hardness of hearts from those who use it as birth control. A vote for Republicans arguably does not reduce abortion at all and may in fact even drive rates up.

The primary thing the Republican platform does is establish a shame paradigm--it draws a line in the sand establishing who is morally "right" and who is morally "wrong" so we can all judge each other more vigorously. Many critics of the culture wars approach have keenly pointed this out in so many words. What this means is that I am not convinced many so called "pro-life voters" care if people have abortions or not, just so long as "those people" can be labeled as "wrong" or "sinful" for doing so. At least, that's what their policy decisions suggest about their motivations. Is it really about reducing abortions or just establishing the label?

So voting for Republicans most likely only drives UP the rate of abortion while waiting decades for some legal action that will probably never happen... or you can vote Democratic which does keep it legal and you may not like that, but there is a lot of hope to REDUCE the rate of abortion right now. In theory, if you build a strong enough culture of life it won't matter what the laws are.

There are lots of things I wish were illegal. I wish war was illegal. In many cases, it probably is. But few hope to prevent war and establish peace by making wars illegal--treaties don't amount to much when people really want to fight. You can't solve every problem by making it illegal. Look at the drug wars for evidence of that.

To sum up: The calculations that say a Democratic vote CAN'T be "Catholic" "because of abortion" is wildly mistaken and poorly evaluated.

I am pro-life on abortion AND I think the most responsible pro-life vote on ABORTION today is a vote for the left. I'm not just a left-leaning voter because of all the other life issues.. I'm a left-leaning voter because of ABORTION.  And I would go further left than the Democratic Party--The Green New Deal and policies of Bernie Sanders and other progressives by far promise to build the "infrastructure of life" necessary to drive down rates of abortion. And maybe at some point in the future, after having this established and continuing to build a culture of life, we can revisit the legality of abortion.

ou may not like that, but the current strategy of the Republican Party is simply not going to work no matter how much you want it to. And I say this as someone very, very cold to the Democratic Party. I don't like the way their extreme stance on abortion has little in common with the majority of their own Democratic voters. The same can be said of their extreme views on many other issues. 87% of Democratic voters want Medicare for All, but it's still not even a part of the party platform! Insanity.

I suppose I could provide data to back this up if folks want that. Drivers of abortion, the legislative map and likelihood (or lack thereof) of pro-life victories, rates of abortion in other countries relative to their social and physical infrastructure, etc.  There has been a lot of debate as to whether Democratic or Republican administrations can really be correlated to drops in abortion.  The rate of abortion is going down regardless of who is in power. But how can we actually determine the responsible party? Both parties are always making legislative progress at all times, and a Republican administration may be carrying out the laws that the Democratic Congress enacted years prior.  So how do you establish causation?  Well, we do know what the drivers to abortion are and we do know that Democratic policies directly address those.  Is that enough?  To me it is.

Far too much of the Catholic discussion around abortion has to do with how legalized abortion relates to the concept of an "intrinsic evil." But that point gets pushed to its logical--or illogical--or hypothetical--extremes at the exclusion of all other considerations. At this point, it has pushed the pro-life movement into a corner rife with absurdities--where I would argue that Republican voters actually support a CULTURE OF ABORTION--not to mention a culture of death on so many other issues--but through some moral technicalities believe they maintain what they believe is moral purity all the while! As we know, every Catholic teaching exists within a framework, and all rights exist in a hierarchy of rights and considerations.


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