Debate points to ponder: Can a Catholic be pro-life and support abortion on demand?

Short answer: not really, and it’s no coincidence that it’s also the long answer. Perhaps the most intriguing — and relatively orderly — part of last night’s vice presidential debate came at the very end, when moderator Elaine Quijano turned to “social issues” with less than 15 of the event’s 90 minutes left on the clock. When asked how faith informs their public lives, Tim Kaine answered that, in effect, it doesn’t. He practices his Catholic faith privately, but says that the “doctrines” of his religion shouldn’t factor into his policy preferences, especially on abortion. Rather, Kaine says that the issue is whether women can decide for themselves to end a pregnancy:


This clip misses the set-up, from the Washington Post’s transcript:

KAINE: Yeah, that’s an easy one for me, Elaine. It’s an easy one. I’m really fortunate. I grew up in a wonderful household with great Irish Catholic parents. My mom and dad are sitting right here. I was educated by Jesuits at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City. My 40th reunion is in 10 days.

And I worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, now nearly 35 years ago, and they were the heroes of my life. I try to practice my religion in a very devout way and follow the teachings of my church in my own personal life. But I don’t believe in this nation, a First Amendment nation, where we don’t raise any religion over the other, and we allow people to worship as they please, that the doctrines of any one religion should be mandated for everyone.

And a couple of minutes later, Kaine challenged Pence to explain why the choice shouldn’t be left to women:

KAINE: Governor, why don’t you trust women to make this choice for themselves? We can encourage people to support life. Of course we can. But why don’t you trust women? Why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?

That’s what we ought to be doing in public life. Living our lives of faith or motivation with enthusiasm and excitement, convincing other, dialoguing with each other about important moral issues of the day…

PENCE: Because there are…

KAINE: … but on fundamental issues of morality, we should let women make their own decisions.

PENCE: Because there is — a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn. I believe it with all my heart.


Why don’t you trust women to make this choice for themselves? Pence missed the correct response to this question which is this: This choice doesn’t involve just themselves. A properly formed Catholic would know this — and the reason for it makes the “private faith/public person” dichotomy utterly false.

In the Catholic faith, abortion has been anathema literally since the first Christian catechism was written around 70 AD, as the teachings of the apostles titled the Didache. Its proscription against abortion was plain, and its reason clear, emphasis mine:

And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.

That which has been begotten was a reference to infanticide, and this teaching clearly links abortion to that practice. The current catechism spends an entire section dedicated to this two-millennia teaching, making the protection of life from conception forward an undeniable part of the faith. “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion (pp. 2271), because “the inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation” (pp. 2272, italics in original).


In other words, there are two human beings involved in this decision — the woman, and the unborn child. Kaine ignores this Catholic teaching in order to make his “women should choose on their own” argument, which is specious at its core. There is nothing in Catholic teaching which supports the killing of one life for the convenience of the other, regardless of the circumstances — as the very next section in the catechism makes clear on the subject of euthanasia, too.

Nor does Catholic teaching absolve Catholics for tacitly allowing for moral evil as a prudential judgment between private and public life. Fr. James Bradley rebuked Kaine on Twitter during this argument with a specific instruction from Catholic authorities at the highest levels:

The full document includes another point that Fr. Bradley missed for brevity:

In democratic societies, all proposals are freely discussed and examined. Those who, on the basis of respect for individual conscience, would view the moral duty of Christians to act according to their conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life, denying the legitimacy of their political involvement following from their convictions about the common good, would be guilty of a form of intolerant secularism. Such a position would seek to deny not only any engagement of Christianity in public or political life, but even the possibility of natural ethics itself. Were this the case, the road would be open to moral anarchy, which would be anything but legitimate pluralism. The oppression of the weak by the strong would be the obvious consequence. The marginalization of Christianity, moreover, would not bode well for the future of society or for consensus among peoples; indeed, it would threaten the very spiritual and cultural foundations of civilization.


In other words, it’s a retreat made out of cowardice. And since Kaine invoked his time with the Jesuits, it’s worth noting what the most prominent of that order has had to say about abortion:

“Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil,” the Pope said Feb. 18. …

“The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish,” the journalist said. “Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoid pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of ‘the lesser of two evils’?”

Said the Pope, “Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem. It is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best-case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no?”

The Holy Father expanded on the evil of abortion.

“It’s against the Hippocratic oaths must doctors take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned,” he said.

We all struggle to live our faith, of course, and I found Kaine’s answer on the death penalty more substantial on that point (even if it oversimplified the Church’s opposition to it, which is not quite absolute). But one cannot claim to live one’s Catholic faith and not only not act against abortion, but seek to make abortion on demand easier to acquire and to demand subsidies to cover the costs, as Kaine has now said he supports by opposing the Hyde Amendment. He wants more people to participate in a clear moral evil. That might be a popular Democratic doctrine, but it’s not Catholic — and Kaine should stop pretending that it doesn’t matter.


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