Two weeks ago I read that presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton, in her keynote speech at the Women in the World Summit in New York City, claimed that women are being denied the opportunity to have abortions because of the religious stalwarts in our country. Well, she didn’t exactly use those words. What she said was:
“Far too many women are denied access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth, and laws don’t count for much if they’re not enforced.”
“Rights have to exist in practice – not just on paper.”
“Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will, and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” (Emphasis added)
Her point was that if religious folks like us would only change our paradigm of what is moral and immoral, all would be right in the world….at least in the context of the so called, “War on Women”.
My knee-jerk rebuttal to Mrs. Clinton is that until God decides to give us a new set of commandments, the old ones will remain the underlying moral principles which guide us. It feels good to say that, but it doesn’t actually get us anywhere because it won’t change her or any pro-abortion liberal. As such, I don’t let those folks upset me.
Instead, what really confounds me about this mess is something I noticed three years ago when I became Catholic. That is, why do so many pro-life Catholics vote for liberal candidates who support abortion? It baffled me then when I heard staunch and committed Catholics say they planned to vote for our current president even though he made his pro-choice stance known, and it still baffles me today.
I know there are many less-than-fully-committed Catholics who take a pro-choice stance. I don’t understand them and it would be foolish of me to think I could change them with what I have to say in this blog. I am more interested in the Catholics who say they are pro-life but who still vote for pro-choice candidates, and whether I can change their perspectives.
The Catholic Church stands contrary to the cultural flow of the secular world on many moral issues (e.g., same-sex marriage, the death penalty, euthanasia, etc.), but none of them are more important, I feel, than the right to life of an unborn human being.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in Paragraph 2271, states:
“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.
God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”
Thus, in my struggle to understand how anyone can call themselves Catholic and still support a pro-abortion candidate, I decided a serious answer would require some research.
I first thought I ought to find out how Catholics actually voted in the last election. The Pew Research Center, in How the Faithful Voted: 2012 Preliminary Analysis, analyzed exit poll data after the last four presidential elections. It not only shows how Catholics voted but how all major religious affiliations voted.
The data shows that Catholics were fairly evenly divided between the two parties depending on the election year. Catholics also voted nearly identical to the general electorate. This means that about half of the voting Catholics voted for a pro-abortion candidate.
The data further shows that 78 percent of the total electorate claims to be Christian, (25 percent Catholics and 53 percent Protestants), with the other 22 percent claiming other faiths or having no religious affiliation. ABC News, in another poll from July 2014, Most Americans say they’re Christian, concluded that 83 percent of Americans claim to be Christian (22 percent Catholic and 61 percent Protestant).
There is a huge message in this data! If Catholics would all vote the same, their 22 to 25 percent of the electorate would be enough to influence an election. And, if all Christians pulled together and voted the same way, they would guarantee who gets elected!
This data tells us how they voted. But, it still doesn’t tell us why Catholics vote the way they do.
After more research I found the article, Why Do Many Pro-Life Catholics Vote Democrat?, in the September 4, 2014 edition of the Christian Post. It suggests there are two main reasons: First, committed Catholics may indicate they are pro-life but they tend to be more concerned about social welfare issues and they vote for the candidate who leans pro-welfare; and second, nearly half of voting committed Catholics incorrectly assume that the pro-welfare Democratic candidate is also pro-life.
The article asserts that these voters are generally less than fully informed about a candidate’s posture on abortion and, in fact, tend to overlook a candidate’s view on abortion as long as the candidate’s stance on social welfare agrees with their own. To quote the article, “It’s actually the social welfare part that is inhibiting the committed Catholics to vote for the Republican Party [in numbers that] we would expect … based upon abortion positions.”
There is no doubt that welfare in our society requires serious consideration. To Catholics, it is a fundamental issue deeply rooted in our beliefs. We donate a lot of money to, and invest a lot of sweat-equity in charity and charitable institutions. We take the commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” seriously. Most Catholics would agree that charity is at the foundation of our faith. And, most Catholics would also say that pro-life beliefs are foundational to our faith. The question, then, is how do you get those Catholics to view right to life as equal to or more important than welfare?
I believe there are two things necessary to change their voting behavior. The first is to encourage voters to learn more about where candidates stand on issues, and the second is for Catholic voters to understand the relative importance between the issues and why the Church stands the way it does.
With respect to the first, I know there are people who vote along party lines regardless of the candidates or issues because that’s how they’ve always voted. They do very little to learn where candidates stand on all the issues. For these uninformed voters one thing is for certain: a vote for a pro-welfare candidate who is also a pro-abortion candidate, whether the voter knows it or not, is a vote for abortion and against life.
As for the second, with so many important issues on the table during elections, even informed voters have difficulty choosing a candidate who aligns with their moral values. Voters need a sort of internal moral compass to assist them with sorting it all out. For Catholics, there is help to be found when setting those priorities – in The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Paragraph 2055 of the Catechism says:
“When someone asks him [Jesus], ‘Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?’ Jesus replies: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.’ The Decalogue must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law:
The commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Emphasis added).
In essence, this guidance says there is more to loving your neighbor than giving alms and voting for government provided social welfare. Loving your neighbor includes not killing them and, by extension, means not killing unborn children. It’s plain and simple.
If that’s not convincing enough to vote against a pro-abortion candidate, perhaps this logic will help: with social welfare there is never a candidate or a party who promises to ignore or do away with social programs – they all promise programs of various degrees across a social welfare spectrum. But, with abortion, there is no range or spectrum. The consequences are absolute. The aborted child doesn’t almost die. It dies, period.
Thus, ideally, if abortion and social welfare were the two most important factors to be considered when choosing a candidate, Catholics, or any Christian for that matter, ought to first side with pro-life candidates and then, second, determine which offers the best stance on social welfare. In other words, any amount of social welfare is better than none. But, even one abortion is unacceptable.
We have about a year and a half before the 2016 presidential election to convince our fellow Catholics of this undeniable logic. You can help by taking advantage of opportunities to engage in political discussions with Catholic voters and encourage them to examine where candidates stand on all the issues. Help them to question the priority they place on their moral values of social welfare verses abortion. Feel free to share this post on social media or email it to friends to help spread the word to those who need to hear it and to those who can spread it further. Wouldn’t it be great if Catholics came together in force as one faith and voted pro-life! By the grace of God, I know we can do it.
Thank you and God bless.
(Why Do Catholics Vote for Pro-Abortion Political Candidates? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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