Can We Stop Kidding Ourselves About “I’m Personally Opposed, But”?

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543), “Sir Thomas More”
Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543), “Sir Thomas More” (photo: Public Domain)

In 1984, after much interior laboring over the thorny issue of abortion, Catholic Governor Mario Cuomo delivered the speech that would free Catholics from being swaddled in Church teaching while liberating them to cuddle up to pro-abortion policy. The New York Governor conceived the hair-splitting notion that amounted to – “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but politically pro-choice.” Born of a desire to appear to be pro-life (and adhering to Catholic teaching), while also appeasing the pro-choice juggernaut that doesn’t allow for choice on the issue, Cuomo seemingly resolved the unresolvable. Catholic politicians and others have hung onto it for dear life ever since. 

This argument has been shown to have a real Achilles’ heel. Peter Kreeft, in his ever-insightful style, deftly refutes it based upon the reality that parsing phrases doesn’t hide that abortion is the deliberate taking of innocent human life. 

I want to ask one of these politicians, "Why are you personally opposed to abortion? Is it because you believe that abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent person? If not, why are you personally opposed to abortion? It's just…it's yucky? Like you're personally opposed to yogurt?" If abortion doesn't kill a human life, I agree with the pro-choicers: it is an intolerable oppression of women's freedom and women's bodies to tell them what to do. If that's their body and not somebody else's body, you have no right to tell them what to do. But if it's somebody else's body, they have no right to kill that other person.

There is an additional problem with the “personally opposed, but” position: it is completely illogical. Perhaps it can be seen more easily if we dilate the argument out to include other hot-button issues.

Imagine if one said:

I’m personally opposed to racism, but I insist we publicly fund people to be racists.

That politician would rightly be branded a racist.

I’m personally opposed to rape, but I will vote for laws that permit it. 

This politician would be called a misogynist, at best, if not an outright criminal.

I’m personally opposed to guns, but I will vote every time with the NRA lobby.

And this politician would be called a fraud.

But somehow, if one says, “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but…,” then you’re just known as a Catholic politician.

Kreeft addressed this issue as well. He point out to that to say "I'm personally opposed, but I wouldn't want to make it illegal," is akin to saying, "I'm personally opposed to slavery, but I'm pro-choice. If you want to have slaves, go ahead."

In the movie A Man for All Seasons St. Thomas More, explaining to his daughter why he can’t just go along with the king’s wishes, says, “When a man takes an oath, he's holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn't hope to find himself again.” The Profession of Faith that Catholics make is just as solemn as any oath, and to pretend that our public actions don’t affect it is just drivel. For these “opposed, but” politicians, their water has broken, and there is little hope that their faith – like the children in the womb they fail to defend -- will make it out alive. But we should hope and continue to pray that both will live.