Battle Not Lost
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
November 2008

Can partisan politics and ideologies lead to failures in reason? A person could certainly come to that conclusion after reviewing certain statements and materials appearing during this last campaign season, particularly when it concerns how to address abortion.

The problem became so prevalent that Cardinal Justin Rigali Chairman, Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Bishop William Murphy Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops felt compelled to issue a statement with the hope of setting people straight.

The opening paragraphs of the statement are worth repeating:

In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (2007), the Catholic bishops of the United States urged Catholic voters to form their consciences in accord with the Church’s moral teaching. We emphasized that: “Both opposing evil and doing good are essential obligations” (No. 24). Unfortunately, there seem to be efforts and voter education materials designed to persuade Catholics that they need only choose one approach: either opposing evil or doing good. This is not an authentically Catholic approach. Some argue that we should not focus on policies that provide help for pregnant women, but just focus on the essential task of establishing legal protections for children in the womb. Others argue that providing life- affirming support for pregnant women should be our only focus and this should take the place of efforts to establish legal protections for unborn children. We want to be clear that neither argument is consistent with Catholic teaching. Our faith requires us to oppose abortion on demand and to provide help to mothers facing challenging pregnancies.

The phenomenon of Catholics interested in legally restricting abortions, but not in providing help to pregnant women is not new. North Dakota’s alternatives to abortion program, which provides some assistance to pro-life pregnancy centers and maternity homes, failed to pass when first introduced. The state expressly excludes covering maternity care and legislators rejected including the unborn in the state children’s health insurance program. Our economic assistance program still discriminates against children conceived while a sibling was on the program. Although these measures failed for various reasons, in each case the opposition included legislators who opposed abortion, but rejected such assistance on ideological or partisan grounds.

The contention that we should focus only on reducing the number of abortions is also not new. Until now, however, usually only abortion supporters advocated this approach. Unfortunately, this approach is now advocated by some who claim to be pro-life Catholics.

Their argument, usually made in conjunction with a justification for voting for a particular party or candidate, begins with the premise that the legal battle to end abortion is lost.
we should focus, therefore, solely on helping women and reducing abortions.

Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy point out the logical and moral flaws in this argument. A Catholic must work for helping pregnant women and legal protections for the unborn. Proponents of the “lost cause” argument seem to think that the existence of abortion in society is the only intrinsic evil that we must oppose. The absence of legal protections for the unborn, however, is itself an intrinsic evil that we must oppose. Even if we managed to reduce the number of abortions to zero, we would still be obligated to work for legal protections for the unborn.

The “lost cause” argument also flies in the face of the facts. For one thing, Roe is hardly permanent law. Indeed, little remains of Roe’s original holding. Consequently, states and the federal government have had the ability to enact numerous laws restricting abortion. The so-called right to abortion - though still extreme - is not as expansive as it was thirty-five years ago. Moreover, studies show that these laws actually reduce abortions. At the same time, public opinion continues to move in the pro-life direction. An October 2008 Marist poll finds that 60% of Americans would ban all but 2-3% of abortions.

Perhaps the “lost cause” proponents are tired of fighting for legal protections for the unborn. After all, thirty-five years is thirty-five years too many. History tells us, however, that the fight for human and civil rights can take a long time.

Slavery was not abolished until 94 years after the founding of our nation. It took another 94 years before civil rights for African-Americans were secured by the civil rights acts. It took 144 years for women to get the right to vote, and that was 72 years after the first major push occurred at the Seneca Falls Convention. It took 42 years for blacks to see the end of apartheid in South Africa. The people of the Soviet Union were denied freedom for 74 years. It took over 100 years for Catholics to regain civil rights in England. Native Americans did not gain citizenship in the U.S. until 1924. The struggle for independence in India took 90 years. It took 58 years for the Supreme Court to correct its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate, but equal” was constitutional.

Now that the campaigns are over, let’s hope that Catholics can come and reason together and work for both legal protection for the unborn and policies to help mothers.