Father Spitzer's Tips for Pro-Lifers

Popular theologian and author says the movement must focus on the heart, not religion or politics, to be most successful.

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Author and philosopher Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer defends the pro-life stance with secular principles and argues for a fresh approach to the abortion debate.

“The pro-life movement needs a comprehensive philosophy that makes a case, a very logical case, based on principles which are completely accepted by a secular society that shows that the pro-life position is correct and ethical and objectively true,” Father Spitzer told CNA.

His book, Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues was released in 2011.

Father Spitzer, former president of Washington’s Gonzaga University and founder of the California-based Magis Institute, said that he wanted the work to be “very accessible” and help everyday Catholics learn how to oppose issues such as abortion and euthanasia by using philosophy. 

In a recent interview, he said that despite secular media often associating the pro-life movement with illogical religious fanaticism, it’s actually those in favor of abortion who have poor reasoning. 

“Abortion,” he argued, “is based on objective falsities, logical errors, ethical problems, violations of ethical principals and a complete betrayal of the notion of rights.”

The 10 universal principles discussed in the book are broken down into four sections under the topics of reason, ethics, justice and natural rights and identity and culture.

Father Spitzer said that the sections outline basic concepts such as how objective truth can be known and how everyone can agree on principles like minimizing harm or guaranteeing essential human rights.

He said that using logical concepts everyone can assent to take the argument out of the religious or political spheres.

In the U.S. especially, the movement in favor of legalized abortion has “claimed the entire territory of vocabulary and concept,” the priest said. “And because of that, in a way, they look like they’re much more sophisticated than the pro-life people.”

However, he added, “all we have to do is reclaim the territory right back.”

“We need a vocabulary that neither the right nor the left will quibble with,” he emphasized. “We need a vocabulary that neither the religious nor the secular groups will quibble with.”

For instance, he noted, all people believe in things such as “inalienable rights,” despite the struggle often involved to ensure them.

The priest highlighted painful examples in the nation’s history, such as the 1857 Dred Scott decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court essentially ruled that black individuals were subhuman and had no constitutional rights.

“The wording of that decision, it just knocks you over,” he said, “but if you look between the lines, its the exact same logic as Roe v. Wade,” the landmark U.S. case that legalized abortion in 1973.

Although nearly 100 years apart, “both courts forgot about natural or inalienable rights. They never mentioned them.”

The second mistake both courts made, Father Spitzer said, is the illogical assumption that black people and the unborn needed to be proved human when the opposite process was required.

“Anyone who knows elementary ethics,” he said, knows “the principal of non-maleficence: Don’t do unnecessary harm.”

“If you’re not going to do unnecessary harm, and you are uncertain, the burden of proof is on you to prove that the being under consideration is not human.”

Despite the tragic outcome of both cases and their societal impact, Father Spitzer said he’s optimistic that a renewed effort to introduce basic philosophical arguments into the cultural debate will be successful.

He also said he believes that humanity ultimately wants to do the right thing.

“I think people honestly want to make an optimal, positive difference with their lives, their time, their talents and their energy,” he said.

“They want to make an optimal difference to family, to friends, to society, to their church if they have faith, to their local communities, to the little league, to the school board; whatever it may be, people are just generally exceedingly contributive.”

Father Spitzer also said the pro-life movement will continue to be effective, given that people need to view these issues not just from an intellectual standpoint.

“Don’t just look at them with your mind, but look at them with your heart.”

“Let’s come back to our senses and get out of the political rhetoric,” he urged. Let’s take “a good objective look from the vantage point of the mind and the heart, and just say, ‘Come on, what do you really think?’”

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.