Can We Patronize Businesses That Support Planned Parenthood?

DIFFICULT MORAL QUESTIONS: It is good if these things bother you. They should bother all of us.

Patrons take part in a shopping event Sept. 26, 2017, to support Planned Parenthood at the Milly pop-up shop in New York City.
Patrons take part in a shopping event Sept. 26, 2017, to support Planned Parenthood at the Milly pop-up shop in New York City. (photo: Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images)

Q. I’m 16 years old and I recently learned about moral theology and it’s been driving me crazy. I have all sorts of moral questions. Here are some.

1. Is it okay to buy from stores that donate directly to Planned Parenthood or that support abortions in other ways? If we do, are we excommunicated?

2. Is it okay to purchase goods from a store that uses slave labor? 

3. I go to a Catholic high school and we are sponsored by Nike, which donates to Planned Parenthood. Is it okay to go to this school? 

4. Do I have a duty to speak with school leadership urging them to change their sponsorship and be more cautious? 

5. Do I also have a moral duty to tell people I know, like my religion teacher, that they shouldn't buy from stores that donate to abortions? 

6. My parents are in real estate, and they take out a lot of loans. They use Chase Bank and Bank of America both of which I've heard support Planned Parenthood. Is this okay? How do I tell my parents about all this? 

Any help would be kind. — Mathews, California 

A. It is good that these things bother you. They should bother all of us. In coming to a decision on how to respond to the situations you explain, pray and ask Jesus whether he wants you to go beyond what’s required of all of us, what the moral law requires.

Each question deserves an entire article. But I will try to give you concise accurate replies.

Reply to Question 1: Yes, you can shop at a store that supports Planned Parenthood (PP). But because doing so benefits PP indirectly, however minimally, it’s not a matter of indifference. You should have a good reason for doing so. You should ask yourself if you can get what you’re after easily elsewhere, or whether going without it is not a burden; if either of these is the case, it would be better to avoid all stores that support PP. 

If you frequented such a store knowing of its support, and had alternatives readily available, and made no effort at all to seek them out, then I think you would do wrong. Your knowledgeable albeit unintentional support for PP would be grounded in laziness and indifference, which are not reasons to tolerate benefiting PP even a tiny bit. It also could desensitize you to the evils that PP commits relying on funds from stores like the one you patronize. 

But it would not result in your excommunication. It would be a case of wrongful cooperation (see my earlier article). The remedy for wrongful cooperation is repentance.

Reply to Question 2: This is like Question 1, but now we’re not dealing with a business that supports a corrupt company, we’re talking about a company that itself is the primary agent of wrongdoing. 

If by “slave labor” you are referring to chattel slavery where workers are considered property, coercively forced to work for the benefit of their “owners”, and prohibited from quitting their service, then you shouldn’t patronize a store that uses such labor. 

If you mean people working in sweat shops without any good employment alternatives, then we’d have to make our assessment on a case-by-case basis. If withholding my patronage would not benefit the workers and would provide negligible benefit to the offending business; and if the work, however adverse its conditions, provides some remuneration without which workers would be in a worse state, then patronizing the offending business need not be unfair to the workers. 

So, like above, you would have to have good reasons for shopping there: going without the product that the store supplies would be burdensome; you cannot secure it easily elsewhere; the offending business sells it at the best price and you cannot otherwise afford it. But if these are not factors, then you should avoid the store. 

But simply choosing not to patronize offending businesses may do nothing to assist exploited workers. Conscientious people will prayerfully ask themselves if there is anything they can do to assist these workers. They might choose to draw public attention to the company’s exploitation of workers; or educate themselves on Fairtrade practices and encourage the company to purchase only certified products and patrons to patronize only businesses that sell Fairtrade-certified products; or initiate or join a boycott against the company. 

Reply to Question 3: Schools do or tolerate many things they shouldn’t and fail to do and express many things they should. Nike’s policies conflict with Catholic teaching in several ways: It has been accused of worker exploitation; it contributes to PP and gives large sums of money to LGBT causes. Conscientious school administrators should know these things and avoid accepting sponsorships from or sponsoring such companies. If they don’t it causes scandal, confuses the faithful, contributes to the wrongdoer’s wrongdoing, and encourages further wrongdoing; and worst of all, it impedes the school from offering a credible Catholic witness to the Gospel. 

You ask if it’s okay to go to this school. Yes, since there are many other positive things you can gain from the school, you can accept its wrongful sponsorship as part of the cross of attending a secularized Catholic school. If on the other hand you know of a faithfully Catholic school that you could attend, you might speak with your parents about transferring to it.

Reply to Question 4: Should you speak with the school leaders? If you think doing so would do some good, then, yes, speak with them. If you think it won’t, and that perhaps the school leaders will begin to treat you like a trouble-maker which could stymie your path to graduation, then I don’t think you have an obligation. You may choose to do so anyway simply to witness to the truth. But if you foresee harmful consequences to yourself, be sure that suffering those consequences is compatible with carrying out your already existing duties. Anyway, Catholic parents who send their children to the school should be the first to protest this sort of thing.

Reply to Question 5: Should you let your associates and teachers know that stores they shop at do bad things such as financially support businesses like PP? Yes, if you think it will do some good. But realize that many if not most of the large chain stores in the U.S. sponsor or advertise bad things, suppress good things, and are not defenders of Christian morality. Catholic teaching does not require us to boycott all companies that are engaged in evildoing. It calls us to engage in moral reasoning like we did in the prior questions, to prudently manage our finances, to give freely to the poor, not to put our faith under a bushel basket and do the good we can when the opportunity arises.

A last thought. As a young man I frequently drew to the attention of friends and family the kinds of things you’re talking about, and I don’t recall many salutary results; I do remember unpleasant confrontations that seemed to cause more disunity than good. So always keep in mind the maxim: veritas in caritate (truth in love).

Reply to Question 6: If multinational banks, such as Chase or Bank of America, offer your parents the best rates and service, then putting in loan applications to them is ordinarily licit. This is because a single citizen’s use of their resources does not significantly contribute to banks’ evildoing, nor would the citizen’s refusal impede the evildoing. These banks frequently can offer resources that smaller banks and credit unions cannot, which may benefit a family’s financial wellbeing. 

When good people borrow from such institutions, they intend the benefits the institutions offer, while tolerating the fact that the companies do other wrongful things.

At the same time, if you thought that informing your parents of these banks’ darker side would do some good, then, yes, inform them. But parent-child relationships can be delicate. Raising controversial moral issues with our parents may lead to conflict. Yet it may also lead to a valuable conversation — one where you can witness to your faith in Christ and moral concerns that you believe they should consider. Say a prayer to the Holy Spirit to assist you in choosing your words and ask your guardian angel to smooth the way before you.

Pope Francis and other participants attend the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions at the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation in Nur-Sultan on Sept. 15.

Kazakhstan, German Synodal Way and Planned Parenthood’s New Business (Sept. 17)

Pope Francis went to Kazakhstan this week to visit the small Catholic community there as well as attend a congress for leaders of world religions. AC Wimmer, an editor and journalist for EWTN News, joins us on Register Radio to discuss the papal trip as well the latest news of the German ‘synodal path.’ Then we turn to Register national reporter Lauretta Brown to look at Planned Parenthood’s thriving ‘transgender services’ business and how a growing number of people are speaking out against the adverse effects of so-called gender transition.