Friday, March 13, 2009

Is "pro-choice Catholic" an oxymoron?

In a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter, Kate Childs Graham declared as her final argument for being pro-choice, “… my Catholic faith tells me I can be. The Catechism [of the Catholic Church] reads, ‘[Conscience] is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths’ [CCC 1776]. Even St. Thomas Aquinas said it would be better to be excommunicated than to neglect your individual conscience. So really, I am just following his lead. After years of research, discernment and prayer, my conscience has been well informed. Being a prochoice Catholic does not contradict my faith; rather, in following my well-informed conscience, I am adhering to the central tenet of Catholic teaching—the primacy of conscience.”

Um, no. Where she got the idea that the primacy of conscience is the central tenet of Catholic teaching, I couldn’t tell you, but it wasn’t from The Catechism of the Catholic Church. (If there is a single central tenet, it’s that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection set us free from sin.) Let’s look a little further, in paragraphs 1790-1792:
A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. … Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case where a man “takes little trouble to find out what is good and true, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin” (Gaudium et Spes, 16). In such cases, the person is culpable for the sins he commits.

Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching [emphasis mine], lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

One rule that applies in every case (see CCC 1789) is that a Catholic may never do evil for the sake of a good result (cf. Romans 3:8). “A good intention … does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered … good or just. The end does not justify the means” (CCC 1753). And, “[i]t is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environmental, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object …” (CCC 1756, emphasis mine).

In other words, primacy of conscience isn’t a magic wand which will turn an evil act into a blessing, a sin into a sacrament. A true Catholic, raised in the authentic tradition and well-formed in conscience, recognizes that the universe has an objective nature to which the individual’s subjective perspective must conform as far as humanly possible. To use the primacy of conscience to wave away sin as a “human construct” is to engage in wishful thinking.

“Where abortion is prohibited or stigmatized,” Ms Graham writes, “women do not all of the sudden decide to carry pregnancies to term. Decisions pertaining to family are greater than law or custom. Instead, women seek out abortion where it is available. Where it is illegal, more often than not abortions are unsafe.”

With these words, she introduces the ever-popular “people are gonna do it anyway” argument, which sounds open-minded and tolerant when it comes to adult consensual sex (but which loses its appeal when applied to other, less popular forms of human behavior: child molestation, drive-by shootings, spouse abuse, etc.). She looks at the 70,000 women in the world who die as a result of over 19 million “unsafe” (read: illegal) abortions, and says in effect, “Let’s forgive them, make abortion safer for them, and throw pills and condoms at them until the problem goes away.”

Utter, incalculable asininity. When you start out from the premise that the unborn child is a living human being, you realize that, while the mortality rate for the mothers who have illegal abortions is about 0.37%,[*] the mortality rate for the real victims is 100%. Making abortion safer for the women makes as much moral sense as putting ejection seats in Boeing 767 cockpits so terrorists can survive flying them into skyscrapers. You don’t “forgive” evil by making it less risky to commit.

(Besides, illegal abortions are unsafe because abortions, even when performed by skilled and conscientious surgeons, are inherently unsafe; Ms. Graham is, in this matter, an innocent retailer of a long-standing NARAL lie.)

Moreover, the problem is not that these women are ignorant of birth control. Consider that in the United States, where different forms of contraceptives have been not only available to almost everybody since 1966 but have been touted, praised and advocated in the mass media for the last thirty years, there are still over 1.5 million unwanted children dying under the knife every year. Despite Planned Parenthood’s refusal to accept reality, this strategy clearly doesn’t work, even with supposedly well-educated people. The problem is inverted and distorted sexual values which place physical gratification on top and treats pregnancy as a distasteful occasional side-effect, child-rearing as slavery—a distortion which is as unhealthy and unrealistic as it is wrong. You do not get rid of this funhouse-mirror view of sexuality by throwing pills and condoms at it.

But if there’s anyone to blame for Ms. Graham’s intellectual laziness and moral myopia, it can be laid at the doors of the weak bishops who allowed Catholic religious formation in America to slide and suffer. I’m not calling for a return to the rote memorization of the Baltimore Catechism but rather to a religious training that helps children learn not only what we believe but how to understand and defend what we believe. The best hope we have for the coming generations of Catholics are the new wave of apologists: voices such as Karl Keating, Patrick Madrid, Sr. Rosalind Moss, Jeff Cavins, Tim Staples, Steve Ray and many others.

It comes down to this: The Catholic Church teaches, and has always taught, that abortion is a sin, a violation of the Fifth Commandment: “You shall not kill” (Leviticus 5:17; cf. Exodus 20:13). If you choose not to accept this as the Truth, that is your right. But keep in mind that God is under no compulsion to respect your choice. Forgiveness is wasted on the unrepentant.

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[*] Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League and now a pro-life lecturer, recently admitted that the NARAL deliberately inflated the mortality rate of illegal abortions in the years prior to Roe v. Wade.