The Church and Abortion: Can a Politician Be Anti-Abortion and Pro-Choice
I think that what has largely been missing from this discussion is that one can still be profoundly pro-life, and believe that abortion is a tragic event, while still also believing that criminal sanctions will be counter-productive for a variety of reasons. I therefore found the following commentary by Father Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center, to be very interesting:
While traveling to Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI responded to a question about Mexican politicians who voted to legalize abortion. From his answer, reporters inferred that he endorsed comments by Mexican churchmen that the politicians should be excommunicated. The pope’s press spokesman later issued a statement approved by the pope that said the pope did not intend to excommunicate anyone. In response to questions, AP reports that the spokesman said, “Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist. ... Politicians exclude themselves from Communion.''
As Governor Romney eloquently said during the Republican presidential candidates’ debate, each church has the constitutional right to determine its internal policies, for example, who can go to Communion and who cannot. This is not a violation of the separation of church and state. The Quakers, for example, would have every right to excommunicate a member who voted in favor of war. Whether they should or should not is an issue to be debated and decided by the church.
In talking about abortion, it is important to distinguish a person’s position on the morality of abortion from a person’s position on whether the state should criminalize abortion. A person who feels that there is nothing wrong with abortion is clearly taking a position contrary to the position of the Catholic Church. But it is a separate question whether abortions should be criminalized.
Many canon lawyers and moralists believe that a politician could be against abortions and still oppose criminalizing it for prudential reasons, for example, because he believes such laws would be unenforceable, divisive and politically unrealistic. He may believe that a more realistic approach is to enact programs (healthcare, childcare, welfare, employment) that will reduce the number of abortions by giving women a real choice, by empowering them to say yes to life. These politicians point to the fact that there were fewer abortions during the Clinton Administration than during the Bush Administration. Raising the minimum wage, for example, would reduce more abortions than outlawing partial birth abortions. Such a politician could say, “I am opposed to abortion and will do everything possible to reduce the number of abortions short of putting women and doctors in jail.”
So far, the vast majority of the U.S. Catholic bishops oppose denying Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians and voters. During the 2004 presidential election, only about 10 to 12 bishops of the approximately 190 diocesan bishops spoke out in favor of denying Communion. When the bishops meet in Baltimore this November, the question of denying Communion to pro-choice politicians will once again be debated when they vote on a new statement on “Faithful Citizenship.”
Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
Found on the Dallas News Religion Blog.
When I was an elected official, I found that the pro-life/pro-choice debate often had more to do with political campaign fundraising rather than any genuine action that would have any hope of reducing the number of abortions. Indeed, the real successful efforts to reduce the number of abortions (such as adoption tax credits) often go unnoticed by both sides in this debate.
Unlike many people who talk about abortion, my wife and I had to confront the issue head on in making difficult decisions about the fertility treatments that we would, and would not, undergo. When it became clear that the only options available to us would destroy a potential life, we instead decided to adopt. The Pope would have been proud. We made a profoundly pro-life decision that arose out of our religious convictions, and it was an easy call. And remember--I am the father of an adopted child. I am profoundly grateful that my son's birth mother decided to give birth to my son.
I believe that abortion is almost always the wrong moral choice, and indeed, the position of the Episcopal Church is the same. The position of the Church is that "[w]hile we acknowledge that in this country it is the legal right of every woman to have a medically safe abortion, as Christians we believe strongly that if this right is exercised, it should be used only in extreme situations. We emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience."