Abortion: The Sacred Idol of Our Throwaway Society

COMMENTARY: The Catholic pro-life cause is extremist, but not in the way abortion advocates assume.

Pope St. John Paul II greets a child Sept. 16, 1998.
Pope St. John Paul II greets a child Sept. 16, 1998. (photo: Vatican Media / National Catholic Register)

Abortion advocates and pro-abortion politicians have long been real extremists on the issue. Any discussion of limiting abortion in legislation has been vociferously condemned as an attempt to curb the so-called “right to abortion.” Unrestricted and unlimited access to abortion has become a sacred idol to many people in the throwaway culture of death we live in. 

We know it and abortion advocates know it.

This was on full display some months ago when Catherine Glenn Foster, from Americans United for Life, testified during a session of the House Committee on the Judiciary. The committee revealed their agenda with the session’s title: “Revoking Your Rights: The Ongoing Crisis in Abortion Care Access.” Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland confronted Foster on “calling for a nationwide ban on abortion with no exception for rape or incest.” Foster replied, “If we added rape and incest exceptions, would you vote for it?” Raskin had no answer but to reclaim his time, pretend his question wasn’t answered, and that Foster’s question wasn’t asked. 

After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion advocates and politicians are claiming that the pro-life cause is extremist. They make false accusations that pregnancy is inherently dangerous and that the Dobbs decision will lead to more women’s deaths, even though there is no reliable or consistent collection of data on maternal mortality in the United States to prove such claims. However, multiple studies in other countries, with better data and reporting, have shown a fourfold increased risk of premature death from abortion than from childbirth. They accuse pro-lifers of endangering women who have ectopic pregnancies, even though no OB-GYN doctor would use induced abortion to treat such a dangerous condition. 

To be clear, the Catholic pro-life cause is extremist, but not in the way abortion advocates assume. In fact, abortion is a binary for us; a black and white issue. There is no gray. The unborn are living children: human persons made in the image of God with an intrinsic dignity and an inalienable right to live. In a world gone mad, where self-expression is the only “truth” many people recognize and acceptance the only virtue, it is inevitable that anyone who makes a claim for an objective reality—that the unborn are alive and have a right to life—will be labeled an extremist. 

In the spirit of this sort of extremism, Pope Francis has gone on record that abortion is an “absolute evil.” In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life), St. John Paul II noted that the right to life is the fundamental right on which every society and every other right is based. The unborn are voiceless, the sainted Pope noted, “even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defense consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby’s cries and tears.” When their lives are trampled and discarded, the rights and dignity of all persons are less easily defended—this is particularly the case for the vulnerable and marginalized. 

While we recognize that some evil will exist in the world until the Lord Jesus Christ puts all evil down definitively, this doesn’t abrogate our responsibility to fight against evil and mitigate its power to the extent we are able to do so by talent and with grace. The Lord once told his disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Yes, be wise as serpents—never fighting evil with evil, and moving through the narrow chinks of evil’s armor to limit its power and, dare I say, to bring about good.

This brings us back to politicians and the politics of abortion legislation. Even though pro-lifers might be described as “extremists,” St. John Paul recognized that pro-life politicians would be confronted with difficult choices in order to mitigate evil. This requires them to be wise as serpents. 

He noted in Evangelium Vitae:

“A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on” (73). 

He knew, as do we, that such cases are not infrequent. He concluded:

“When it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality.” 

Of course, it’s up to politicians to determine the merit of any piece of legislation or initiative, and the optics of their own support for certain agendas. However, pro-life politicians aren’t meant to be and shouldn’t be extremists on the other side of extremist pro-abortion politicians. All things being equal, legislation that limits abortion, even if it still allows for abortion, can be supported, provided that the politician’s opposition to abortion is fully known. This is not to encourage the evil of abortion. On the contrary, St. John Paul noted that rather than representing cooperation with an evil law, such support can be “a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.”

The same is true of statewide referendums. While an outright ban of abortion is preferable, given that even Planned Parenthood admits most abortions are for elective reasons and are not chosen because of rape or incest, a ban of abortion except in these limited instances would have the desired effect of drastically reducing the number of children who are murdered. Voters should consider the merit of supporting limited bans if a complete ban is not yet possible. We can not make the good the enemy of the perfect.

In the meantime, we will continue to pray and to work for the conversion of hearts and minds to the plight of voiceless unborn, hoping to save as many as we can, until the evil of abortion in our country comes to an end and children are welcomed and loved for who they are: persons made in the image of God and called to eternal union with him.