St. John’s Seminary, Boston
It is our moral obligation to vote. Yet there are no perfect candidates. So, how do we decide? We must be guided by the bedrock principles of social responsibility. In the language of Catholic social doctrine, we must always make a preferential option for the poor. (Remember the decisive criterion at the Last Judgment: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me” [Mt 25:40].)
The preferential option for the poor demands that in every vote we cast we always have as our formal object to advance the cause of bringing about the restoration in law of the right to life of the innocent, because the unborn child threatened by the regime of legal abortion is surely the “least of these.” If this is not always our motivating criterion, all our talk of “social justice” is airy nothing. Precisely to the extent that someone is weak and vulnerable, that person should be the focus of our moral responsibility. The more powerless the human life, the more we owe that person. This means that the unborn have the first claim on us, being the most powerless, most vulnerable, most innocent human life of all.
Very few have served the materially poor as completely as did Blessed (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta, and out of the clarity of her holiness, she dispelled the fog of the ideology of death: “I find the unborn child to be the poorest of the poor today—the most unloved—the most unwanted, the throwaway of the society.” If we are serious about solidarity, we must start with the weakest. (The disabled and the elderly face similar challenges to having their right to life respected in law; euthanasia is being fueled by a eugenic “quality of life” mindset.)
The preferential option for the poor makes clear that integral and solidary humanism begins with the “life issues.” These must take priority over all else in political life. If we are serious about making the preferential option for the poorest of the poor in our lives, we must be seriously, intelligently, politically (not just “personally”) pro-life. The preferential option for the poor begins with the unborn—else it’s being twisted into a socialist slogan.
We know without a doubt, as a matter of science, that the unborn child is human life. About a century and a half ago, embryology entered its modern phase precisely with the discovery that human life begins at conception: the union of a male gamete (sperm) and a female gamete (egg) produces a new, self-organizing individual of the human species, chromosomally identifiable as male or female. This is the scientific reality. The only question is, will we recognize the moral claim that powerless human life makes on us?
Solidarity with the poorest of the poor requires that we act prudently for the restoration in law of the right to life of the innocent. Generally, this means voting for the most pro-life of the major-party candidates. (A “protest” vote for a non-viable candidate is imprudent and thus lacking in the intelligence necessary for real solidarity.) No civilized society can long survive legalized private executions of the most powerless, a private war against the most innocent human lives. If our laws don’t recognize the right to life of the unborn, they fail in their first purpose: to be a bulwark against the depredations of the powerful.
Intrinsic to moral responsibility in a democracy is voting. That is, voting is a serious moral act. And one of the axioms of our freedom is that we have a moral obligation in each of our free acts not to act out of ignorance. To vote morally, we must intelligently distinguish between negotiable and non-negotiable issues. People of good will can disagree about how best to serve the common good when it comes to geopolitics, to tax and healthcare policy, etc. These are all debatable. But abortion is not. Yes, we must also work to reduce the actual incidence of abortion, especially by supporting pregnancy care centers. But changing the law is more fundamental: the law is a teacher; it is how we as a society communicate our sense of reality to the young. As long as abortion is “safe and legal,” it will never be “rare.”
So, to vote in a morally responsible fashion, it is crucial to know where the candidates stand on abortion. The best resource here is the National Right to Life Committee
In the name of social justice, we must ask ourselves, as we stand in the voting booth, which of the two major-party candidates will defend the most powerless. Which of the candidates would nominate pro-life judges? (We have fought so long to move a Supreme Court that was 7-2 against life to one that is just one vote shy of reversing Roe. It is now that we are supposed to give up?) Who would keep in place the Mexico City policy, which removed America from the pro-abortion population-control imperialism of the Clinton years that sought to “reduce” the numbers of babies of people of color? (42 million abortions are performed worldwide each year; this scale of deliberate destruction of human life has never been approached in the history of the world. In America alone, around 1.3 million children are aborted each year.)
There has never been a more consequential election concerning the right to life in history. Indeed, Mr. Obama has promised to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would roll back all of the hard fought incremental pro-life legislation of the last decades—which has saved tens of thousands of lives. FOCA would require taxpayer funding of abortion, decriminalize partial-birth abortion, eliminate parental notification laws, etc. Enshrining as it would a “fundamental right” to abortion, making it sacrosanct and legally untouchable, FOCA would very likely bring about a day, in the not too distant future, when the Catholic Church would have to relinquish her involvement in health care because the price of such involvement would be to perform abortions.
No pro-lifer should ever apologize for defending the most powerless human life, for being “single issue,” for standing up to fight in this, the greatest human rights struggle in the history of the world. And no pro-lifer should apologize for appealing to the consciences of every person, calling all to meet the demands of true love: there is something far more important than where you or I stand on the environment, on geopolitics, on economics. Indeed there is something far more important than where you and I stand on these prudential matters all put together: what social “progress” is worth being bought at the cost of even one little child killed—and killed legally?
The weakest deserve our first consideration—not our second, or third, or… Solidarity with the most vulnerable is the first requirement of true love and social justice.