Sed Contra: Unavoidable Hostility

You’ve got to be careful about whom you invite to dinner these days. Arguments over abortion are apt to break out quickly and spread dark moods around the table. Some good-hearted soul, to save the occasion, will inevitably suggest, “Abortion should just be taken out of politics.”

This would be a terrible mistake, of course. Much more terrible than a few people getting red-faced over their Caesar salad.

The Republican Party is doing all it can to avoid provoking public hostilities over the abortion issue in 1996. The leading candidates are trying to steer a course that satisfies pro-life supporters while not turning off everybody else. All of them have refused to support a constitutional amendment protecting unborn human life. In spite of this position, Bob Dole is trying to convince us that he is ardently pro-life. Other prominent public figures friendly with the pro-life movement have also backed away from the proposed amendment. Why?

A constitutional amendment may not be the only way to make all abortion illegal. But once again Catholics who accept the Church’s clear and unambiguous teaching on abortion, and the American bishops’ equally clear rejection of Roe v. Wade, are left scratching their heads. Again they are asked to juggle the evanescence of practical politics and the weightiness of unquestionable moral principle.

The incremental approach to the abortion issue is not at stake in this debate. In Evangelium Vitae John Paul II declared his support of a legislative agenda that chips away at the culture of death with measures such as the partial-birth abortion ban. Clinton, in vetoing the partial-birth abortion bill, will reveal once again his true intentions, as well as his lie to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” The issue before us now is the ultimate intentions of the “pro-life” candidates.

I don’t understand those candidates and their advisers who refuse to declare their intent to make all abortions illegal. Is it a problem of moral reasoning? Do they, for example, lack a kind of fundamental intuition of life that makes it impossible for others to compromise on this issue? Or is such a declaration deemed political suicide? If it is, waffling on the abortion issue won’t make much difference. It is clear that support for any restriction on abortion will earn candidates the same chorus of disapproval from the abortion faction as would support for a total ban.

Embracing the incremental approach for political reasons while not expressing the intention to make all abortion illegal leaves everyone dissatisfied. The abortionists view any restrictions as a slippery slope to overturning Roe v. Wade, and the pro-life supporters are left wondering if any real principle is involved.

A clear intuition of life speaks through the message of politicians like Keyes, Buchanan, Hyde, and Casey. Plainly some moral principle, based upon a vision of human life, dominates their political reasoning so heavily that it cannot be ignored for the sake of more votes. Again, this does not rule out working laboriously through state and federal legislatures to save lives. But it does rule out fudging on the ultimate political aim that all abortion be outlawed. How can we intend any less?

Such comments outrage the abortion faction. They fear that religious conservatives will rise up and impose their values on the rest of society. You would have thought that this kind of argument, this type of sophomoric and predictable sound bite, was discredited long ago. But you still hear it. When the abortion faction gets its legislation passed, the will of the people is said to be served. When advocates of life start to turn the tables, their religious values are being imposed on the rest of society.

The point is, we should not really distinguish, as some of the presidential candidates are trying to do, between a cultural and a legislative approach to the abortion question. The cultural approach merely puts off the legislative question into the future, and the abortion faction knows this. The laws of this country regarding the protection of the unborn will reflect the values of the electorate. Success at the cultural level will bring about legislation and judicial change. Why not be honest about the ultimate aim?

Long ago St. Augustine wrote, “My love is my weight,” meaning that in the midst of life’s tempests his love of God constantly pulled him in the right direction. Augustine is correct: whatever love we have provides us a fundamental orientation toward life, a love that tugs like gravity through all our thought and action. We must hope that the very love of life will eventually pull more of the presidential candidates away from those in-between stances that really fool neither friend nor foe. This coming election is about more than the economic future.


  • Deal W. Hudson

    Deal W. Hudson is ​publisher and editor of The Christian Review and the host of "Church and Culture," a weekly two-hour radio show on the Ave Maria Radio Network.​ He is the former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.

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