“What does one do if one thinks that the candidate most likely to reduce the actual incidence of abortion is also the one more committed to keeping it legal?”
No such candidate exists. We all know that Sen. Obama supports the freedom of choice Act, which lifts all restrictions on abortion.
I think the line of reasoning is that a candidate may support the legality of choice while also supporting assistance programs for women and children that might make it easier for poor women or families expecting handicapped children to choose life.
Some on our blog (William C.) believe that Sen. Obama specifically has been all-too clear about his support for choice but has not sufficiently shown support for women and family programs in the offing to make this line of reasoning compelling in his case.
Others find the line of reasoning above uncompelling; they believe that women faced with unplanned, unwanted or life threatening pregnancies have sufficient alternatives without having to resort to abortion.
A few of those who support a ban on all abortion (Sean H.) accede that such a ban could result in a very small number of maternal deaths, which would be tragic, but that those deaths ought not to distract us from the much larger numbers of abortions that occur each year.
I have gone from being a complete and utter pro-choice nobody’s business abortion proponent to supporting bills that require informed consent, parental consent, outlaw late-term abortions and some abortion procedures.
I’m not a practicing Catholic, and I’m not square with Church teaching, but I do follow what people say closely, and I can tell you that absolutist pronouncements had nothing to do with my change of mind on this issue.
In the past I sometimes get ponderous and call things intrinsic evil. I will no longer just toss that term out without thinking about it first. This article by Cathleen Kaveny was wonderful and clear. I know a lot more about what intrinsic evil means than I did before. We have to be cautious with language. This article has certainly helped me to understand things better. I think one of the gravest evils this country continues to perpetrate is our violent immigration policy. About 14 million people live in bondage to it.
It’s not clear why reducing the number of abortions is necessarily a good thing according to Kaveny’s own reasoning. She writes that the fact that a large collection of grave evils that are not intrinsic evils is more often than not worse than a small collection of intrinsic evils that are not grave evils. Fair enough. But turn about is fair play. For one could argue that a reduction in abortions–intrinsic evils that are grave evils–that results from social programs that are intended ameliorate the burdens of childbearing and childrearing may actually nurture in persons a moral attitude that is antithetical to a culture of life.
For the culture of life position has never been merely about “reducing the number of abortions,” though that is certainly a consequence that all prolifers should welcome. Rather, the prolife position is the moral and political belief that all members of the human community are intrinsically valuable and thus are entitled to protection by the state. “Reducing the number of abortions” may occur in a regime in which this belief is denied, and that is the regime that Senator Obama wants to preserve. It is a regime in which the continued existence of the unborn is always at the absolute discretion of the postnatal. Reducing the number of these discretionary acts by trying to pacify and/or accommodate the needs of those who want to procure abortions–physicians, mothers, and fathers–only reinforces the idea that the unborn are objects whose value depends exclusively on our wanting them. So, ironically, there could be fewer abortions while the culture drifts further away from the prolife perspective.
Consider this illustration. Imagine if someone told you in 19th century America that he was not interested in giving slaves full citizenship, but merely reducing the number of slaves. But suppose another person told you that he too wanted to reduce the number of slaves by granting them the full citizenship to which they are entitled by nature. Which of the two is really “against slavery” in a full-orbed principled sense? The first wants to reduce slavery, but only while retaining a subhuman understanding of slaves as part of our juridical infrastructure. The second believes that the juridical infrastructure should reflect the truth about slaves, namely, that they are in fact human beings made in the image of their Maker.
Just as calling for the reduction of the slave population is not the same as believing that slaves are full members of the moral community and are entitled to protection by the state, calling for a reduction in the number of abortions is not the same as calling for the state to reflect in its laws and policies the true inclusiveness of the human family, that it consists of all those who share the same nature regardless of size, level of development, environment or dependency.
One of the things I admire most about Cathleen Kaveny is that she teaches us what she knows rather than just telling us what she thinks. It was an excellent article in and of itself, even setting aside the debate about voting.
Unfortunately, there’s probably not time before the election for it to be the first in a series. Intrinsic evil is just one of the concepts that needs clarifying, the others being material cooperation (or remote material cooperation) and proportionate reason.
Cardinal Ratzinger (in 2004) and the American bishops have presented American Catholic voters with a kind of equation into which one must plug the variables of intrinsic evil, remote material cooperation, and proportionate reason. There is a strong sense among many Catholics that the equation is mathematical and has only one correct answer, and some of the more outspoken bishops are promiting this notion and giving very strong hints at the answer. There is an implicit (sometimes explicit) argument that in “Faithful Citizenship,” when the bishops said, “In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote,” they meant it in the same way as winking and saying, “We can’t tell you how many feet are in a mile, but if you add 3000 and 2280, you can figure it out for yourself.”
Once the misunderstandings about intrinsic evil are cleared up (and it’s difficult to imagine it can be done better than Cathleen Kaveny has done it in her article), we’re still left with the notion that, by the principle of remote material cooperation with evil, you are personally responsible for all the abortions that may occur in America if you vote for a pro-choice candidate, somewhat in the same way as you would be just as responsible for someone’s death if you hired a hit man to kill him rather than pulled the trigger yourself. And we’re also left with the notion that a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-choice candidate requires coming up with a convincing argument that, if there are 1.3 million abortions a year, the pro-choice candidate will somehow save 1.3 million other lives a year somewhere else to balance out the abortions.
Based on the little I know, these arguments are gross distortions of the concepts involved, but they’re out there, and nobody seems to be refuting them. Two people writing on Vox Nova in the last couple of months have said they feel so pressured to vote against their own convictions that they are leaving the Catholic Church. I’ve been voting since 1968, and I have never seen anything like the pressure that is being put on Catholics over this upcoming vote. It’s unconscionable.
“I’ve been voting since 1968, and I have never seen anything like the pressure that is being put on Catholics over this upcoming vote. It’s unconscionable.”
But thank goodness it’s not an intrinsic or grave evil. :-)
All kidding aside, it seems to me that abortion cannot be isolated from the larger cluster of political positions. For example, in the case of Senator Obama, his views of abortion funding, the elimination of all state and federal restrictions on abortion, and the removal of all conscious clause legislation (all through FOCA) goes far beyond “prochoice” In addition, he voted against, and verbally opposed, legislation that would have protected babies that survived abortions.(I know his response in the debate. But, and there’s no nice way to say it, he lied.) Moreover, Obama’s 1996 support of gay marriage, his opposition to DOMA, and Biden’s debate claim that gay couples should be treated equally as married heterosexual couples as a matter of Constitutional Law does not portend well for the Church in America. Recall what happened in MA soon after the Goodridge decision: Catholic Charities had get out of the adoption business, since to continue would have required that it place children with gay couples. (Mark my words, Catholics and other Christians who will not cooperate with this revolution will be punished, guaranteed. )
So, the entire array of the senator’s positions–from FOCA, to embryonic stem-cell research, to his opposition to DOMA–clearly reveal a mistaken view of the human person according to Catholic theological anthropology. The fact that he wants to help the poor and reduce abortions does not come close to redeeming a false view of human beings that he wants to place at the center of our legal regime. In fact, it’s not clear that the policies he proposes will have the effect his Catholic supporters claim they will have. Does anyone seriously believe that if Obama’s policies–FOCA, embryonic stem-cell research, opposition to DOMA–were to remain the law of the land for the next 50 years that in 2058 America will be a country that has moved closer to embracing a true view of human beings and their nature? How does it help the poor to support and nurture a culture that has a mistaken view of human persons? Why would anyone want this taught to anyone, let alone poor people, who are more vulnerable and thus less likely to be able to resist the state’s mistaken view of the human person? The poor cannot afford private education. Thus, they and their children will be at the mercy of public schools that will indoctrinate their students into the state’s views of human sexuality, human persons, and family. As we’ve seen in MA when one parent objected to teaching his children about the marriage of “King and King,” he was told to shut up and go home, and his petition was rejected by the courts.
It seems to me that Archbishop Chaput is spot on. It’s not even a close call.
Just wish to add my appreciation to what has already been said here. Terrific article – well worth bookmarking for whenever and wherever this question arises (as it surely shall). I agree with David N. – let’s have a series – a primer on basics of Catholic morality.
“It seems to me that Archbishop Chaput is spot on. It’s not even a close call.”
Chaput will be listened to when he has the courage to correct Cardinal George for his cover-up of priests continuing to abuse children. It is hypocrisy to discount children, very much alive, who are abused while advocating for fetuses whose existence is still in question.
A very instructive article.
While the intrinsic nature and gravity of an evil aren’t directly related, in this case the evils are very grave.
Their intrinsic nature is important because it informs what the “trade space” is. On many other important issues, either side may or may not be right (from a Catholic perspective), but on these they can’t. If you apply the logic that is used by some Catholics to explain their support of pro-abortion politicians to any other intrinsically evil, and grave, acts you see how nonsensical it is. Francis’s slavery example is very apt.
Francis is also dead on about what this portends for the Church. I live in Massachusetts, and it is already happening here.
Their intrinsic nature is important because it informs what the “trade space” is. On many other important issues, either side may or may not be right (from a Catholic perspective), but on these they can’t.
I think most Catholics debating this issue don’t deny that abortion is a grave evil (although I guess some do). But the discussion that is ongoing is not about abortion per se, but about voting. According to the Catholic view, there can never be a proportionate reason for having an abortion, because there can be no reason for having an abortion. But there can be a proportionate reason for voting for a pro-choice candidate. As I said above, Cathleen Kaveny’s article is excellent on explaining what intrinsic evil is and is not, but the other key concepts are remote material cooperation with evil and proportionate reason. How exactly these are to be applied to voting is unclear.
If I understand it correctly one factor that must be weighed is exactly how remote the material cooperation is. Even if abortion is the gravest evil imaginable, how remote is the material cooperation when voting for Obama? If it is very remote, then a proportionate reason may be very easy to come up with. What is needed is not a proportionate reason for abortion. It is a proportionate reason for voting a certain way.
I suspect the most explicitly made cases so far about voting (that is, about the assertion that Catholics must vote against Obama) have distorted the concepts of remote material cooperation with evil and proportionate reason to the same degree they have fostered the idea that “intrinsic evil” is another way of saying “unspeakable evil.”
I am a lawyer and a moral theologian, in season and out–not merely in election year. The purpose of the America article was to give a “black letter” law account of what the term means as a technical term of moral theology.
To the extent the argument runs “Abortion is to be outlawed BECAUSE it is an intrinsic evil,” –and to the extent that intrinsic evil is used as a synonym for grave evil, or as a synonym for injustice, it is a misuse of a technical term of moral theology. That matters to me.
The fact that abortion is an intrinsic evil doesn’t, by itself, contribute much to the argument about what the status of the law should be regarding it.
So the argument has to be about abortion–straight up–not about the general category of
The bishops must address the intrinsic nature of the evil because of the way “Catholic” politicians have framed the issue.
Even if you posit that voting for a pro-abortion politician is only remote cooperation, what about the politicians themselves? Is their action remote cooperation?
They are not saying that they support abortion on demand because it is “not grave” since they always claim to support the Church’s teaching. Neither are they saying that they are only remotely cooperating with evil. Indeed, they claim that a woman has an absolute right to commit the act. What they are claiming is that reasonable minds – sometimes even reasonable Catholic minds ala Pelosi’s spurious comments – can differ. That goes directly to the intrinsic nature of the evil.
I don’t think the bishops are making the argument that abortion should be outlawed because it is an intrinsic evil. They say it should be outlawed because like every other violation of the 5th commandment, it is a grave evil and it inevitably victimizes the innocent. They make the point that it is an intrinsic evil because politicians seeking Catholic votes discuss abortion in a way the denies the intrinsic nature of the evil.
What they are saying is that the idea that abortion is wrong for me, but OK for someone else is not supportable by a Catholic. They must do this because that is exactly the bill of goods the politicians are selling.