The Catholic Church is at it again, trying to steer the election based on a single issue-abortion. The hierarchy claims they’re not really telling the faithful how to vote, just that one issue supersedes all others. But the clear implication is: If you don’t vote anti-abortion, you’re voting against church authority, your conscience and, quite possibly, your eternal salvation. Separation of church and state be damned.

A longtime friend of the family recently sent me a heartfelt plea about all this with a photocopy of an opinion piece written by Cardinal George. I respect my friend’s sincerity, but I reject his politics. Here’s why:

1) When you vote based on abortion, you aren’t voting pro-life. You’re voting for a legislative solution to abortion, and that’s the wrong approach. This battle should be fought on moral, not legal grounds. Legally preventing people from choosing abortion doesn’t promote a “culture of life” because it would be imposed on them. Catholics know full well from long years of religious education that God gave human beings free will because he wants us to choose good over evil. God doesn’t force the choice. Forcing people to have unwanted children doesn’t promote a healthy respect for life. Just the opposite. Respect for life is a worthy goal. Pursuing it legislatively is the wrong way to go about it.

2) Voting for “pro-life” candidates won’t produce a legislative victory anyway. The Republican Party has been using you to get your vote. If abortion ever became illegal, the political backlash would likely destroy the Republican Party. They wouldn’t win another election for 50 years. You can’t get away with legislating something so clearly opposed to the will of the people. Most Americans dislike abortion, but, like it or not, most want the choice. That includes Catholics. Conservatives will talk about being against abortion, but they’ll never do anything about it.

3) Telling people how to vote is wrong, period. The Catholic Church has a long tradition of saying that, ultimately, the individual’s conscience is the most important factor in deciding any moral issue. Attempting to influence voters contradicts that principle. Emphasizing one issue above all others is an attempt to influence their vote. It’s wrong. They shouldn’t be doing it.

4) As the last eight years have shown, you can vote for an anti-abortion president who is such a poor chief executive that he badly damages the country. There’s more involved here than conscience. There is also patriotism. What does it say about you if you willingly vote for someone who damages your country just because of a conscientious objection on a single theological issue? It says to me you don’t care very much about your country. It’s fine to challenge my conscience as a Catholic, but I also have the right to challenge your patriotism as an American. The separation of church and state is about finding the proper balance. Catholics who vote entirely or primarily on the abortion issue are out of balance.

5) The Catholic Church places all its emphasis on the issue at election time, but the rest of the time, they inadvertently serve as an enabler of abortion. By giving equal weight to opposing birth control and abortion, without intending it, they force many women who become pregnant into a terrible predicament. Responsible use of birth control (those that prevent conception) could eliminate many of those decisions. A good number of those decisions will end up in abortion. By opposing birth control, the Church unwittingly perpetuates abortion as a viable option.

Abortion is the most irresponsible form of birth control but the other, more responsible forms aren’t as readily available, thanks partly to Catholic opposition. The Church needs to become the champion of responsible birth control and the enemy of irresponsible birth control. Their refusal to make this distinction puts them on shaky moral ground (obstructing efforts to address the AIDS epidemic in
Africa, for instance). Birth control, even if you’re opposed to it, is nowhere near as great a moral wrong as abortion. Catholics, like everyone else, must choose their battles. Responsible birth control needs to be seen as an effective, preventive measure against abortion demand.

6) Voting for a candidate who opposes abortion does not make you “pro-life” if that candidate is a proponent of environmental policies that directly threaten the life of the entire planet. You can’t get more “anti-life” than that. You aren’t doing anything for the rights of the unborn if you’re an accomplice in the death of the bio-sphere. Pro-life, as Cardinal Bernardin noted, needs to be a seamless garment. Being “selectively” pro-life, particularly when you’re a “one-issue” voter, is moral relativism at its worst. If you want to be a one-issue, pro-life voter, protecting the environment should be your issue.

7) Voting for a pro-choice candidate doesn’t mean you’re compromising your convictions or surrendering the fight against abortion. It means you’re choosing to fight abortion in the arena where it should be fought: the court of public opinion.

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