One of the primary aspects of the message we deliver at Priests for Life regarding political responsibility is that towering in importance over all the issues is that of the right to life, violated most fundamentally in our day by abortion.
The fact that abortion is indeed the moral issue that must hold the strongest sway on our conscience and on our voting decision is just as true today as it ever was. Nothing has changed or weakened the basis for this assertion. In particular, three things have not changed: the math, the logic, and the teaching.
One. The math.
It remains true that nothing in our country or in the world claims more human lives than abortion. Even with the declining number of abortions in the United States, we still have over a million each year. Consider how that compares with other causes of death.
Major cardiovascular diseases claim the lives of approximately 796,000 people in a year. Cancers claim about 584,000.
Gun violence has claimed 559,332 — but that is not in a year, but rather in the 43 years since 1973.
The total number of executions by capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1976, has been 1439. Abortion kills more than twice that many people in a single day.
And the number of abortions since 1973 in America tops 59,000,000, which would the total combined population of Washington DC, Vermont, Wyoming, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Utah, Mississippi, Arkansas, Nevada, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Alaska.
Two. The logic.
Perhaps the late Cardinal John Foley said it best in an interview I conducted with him at the Vatican: “If we don’t have life, we don’t have anything!”
This is simply a conclusion of human reason. If the government takes away the right to life of the child in the womb, and that child is then killed by abortion, you have also taken away from that child her right to education, work, family, health care, protection from terrorism, and every other right or good she could possess in this life.
Moreover, in claiming to be able to take away that right to life from certain human beings, the government then puts on a shaky and questionable foundation its advocacy for these other rights. Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, one of the most renowned voices for life and bioethics in the church, said to me in an interview, “All of these rights presuppose the right to life. If the right to life is not defended, the defense of all these other rights is useless. It becomes a lie, because it would mean that the defense to the right to work, to society, etc. applies only to some, and not to all.”
Three. The teaching.
These conclusions of arithmetic and logic also find expression in the official teaching of the Catholic Church. What the Church has stated in the catechism, in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, in various people or exhortations and documents of bishops, regarding the priority that the right to life has among our moral concerns, has not changed.
That is why Pope St. John Paul II also stated, “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life — the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights … is not defended with maximum determination” (Christifideles Laici n.38, 1988).
The United States bishops used, in their landmark document Living the Gospel of Life (1998), the following analogy, which expresses, in their official teaching, the logical insight explained above:
“Adopting a consistent ethic of life, the Catholic Church promotes a broad spectrum of issues “seeking to protect human life and promote human dignity from the inception of life to its final moment.”9 Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages of life. But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” — the living house of God — then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. These directly and immediately violate the human person’s most fundamental right the right to life. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Such attacks cannot help but lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights” (n. 23)
Notice in this paragraph that consistent with John Paul II’s assertion about the “false and illusory” advocacy of human rights by pro-abortion politicians, they say that the claims of such politicians to the rightness of their positions on other issues is rendered “suspect.”
Pope Francis has also repeatedly reaffirmed the interconnectedness of human rights, for instance in his encyclical, Laudato Si, on the environment, pointing out that advocacy of abortion is inconsistent with advocacy of other human rights or global concerns.
And in Evangelium Vitae, Pope Saint John Paul II gave three simple reasons why abortion claims priority attention: it is carried out against the most defenseless human beings, it happens within the family, which is the sanctuary of life, and it is an act of violence that is not even recognized as violence, but instead is actually declared a “right” by many governments (see EV n.11).
The fundamental urgency of the abortion issue has not changed. The math, the logic, and the teaching are clear. Now it is up to the voters to take heed of all three of them.
LifeNews.com Note: Father Frank Pavone is the national director for Priests for Life.