What Does It Mean To Be “Personally” Pro-Life?

Tim Kaine, vice presidential candidate, has been in the spotlight lately for claiming to be personally pro-life (as a Roman Catholic) yet publicly pro-choice (as a Democrat). His voting record in the Senate, with a 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood, is a clear indication that his “public” self is the one who comes to work everyday. In making this kind of distinction, Kaine is continuing the tradition that a number of Roman Catholic Democrats have been carrying on for decades now. Here is why the distinction simply doesn’t work.

I understand there is a difference between sins and crimes. Not everything that is a sin should be a crime. So, for example, there are any number of issues that I am “personally” opposed to, yet would not advocate that the government impose criminal sanctions for such actions. To take just one example, I am personally opposed to the construction of mosques for the purpose of worshiping Allah instead of the triune God of Scripture. But I will defend the right of others to do so without government interference because of my understanding of the powers God has and has not granted to human governments. Is it possible that abortion is in a similar category?

No, absolutely not. Here I would ask Senator Kaine and all Roman Catholic Democrats who have made a similar claim: Why are you “personally” pro-life? What is it about your personal view of the nature of abortion that causes you to say that, according to your own conscience, you cannot give approval to the practice? The most natural answer to that question would be a personal conviction that an unborn child is a human person worthy of protection, and thus the killing of such a child in the womb constitutes murder. But everyone agrees that the prohibition of murder is one of the central responsibilities of government. We may not all agree on what the government should be doing with respect to healthcare or education (if anything), but we do all agree that the government’s central task is to protect the lives of all innocent human persons who are under its jurisdiction. So it rings a bit hollow to say, “I have a personal conviction against abortion, but I can’t impose that publicly.” That would be on par with a German politician giving full public support to Nazi policies in the 1940’s, yet claiming to be personally against the killing of Jews. It is a futile attempt to have it both ways on a controversial issue.

I could envision two possible responses to what I have argued here, both of which do not work either:

  1. One could argue that he personally opposes abortion as a Roman Catholic in the same sense that he personally opposes contraception, namely, because of Catholic moral teaching. But since it is not the government’s role to enforce Catholic moral teaching on sexual practices, therefore he cannot seek to impose Catholic convictions with respect to abortion. But this response would blur a very distinct line in Catholic teaching. Yes, it is true that the Roman Catholic Church opposes all forms of contraception and birth control except for natural family planning, which would necessarily include opposition to abortion. As a practice, abortion represents the closing off of the sexual union to the gift of children, which therefore subverts the purpose of sexual intercourse revealed in nature and Scripture. But let’s be clear: that is not the only reason the Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion. Catholic teaching shares the conviction argued above that the unborn child is a human person worthy of protection. One cannot, by definition, claim to be “personally” in support of Catholic teaching while publicly opposed to any government restrictions on abortion. Catholic teaching itself includes support for government restrictions on abortion because the Roman Catholic Church identifies abortion, not merely as an unacceptable form of birth control, but also as murder. Therefore, if Tim Kaine merely opposes abortion personally as part of a larger personal conviction against birth control, he is not standing in line with the teachings of his church.
  2. On the other hand, one could claim full agreement with Catholic teaching, not only about birth control, but also regarding abortion as murder, and yet claim that the conviction that abortion is murder is a conviction based on one’s religious faith, not science, and thus one must seek to avoid imposing personal religious convictions on the public. Let science be the authority for public policy decisions, and religion the authority for personal convictions. This bifurcation between the public realm of science and the private realm of faith is one of the pillars of Western liberalism, but it simply will not do. I could argue this case a number of different ways, but here I think I will limit myself to one argument, namely, that science does not make moral pronouncements at all. It is meaningless to claim that one will consult “science” on whether or not abortion should be allowed or disallowed by the government, because science makes no claim to be able to answer that question, anymore than it claims to offer a moral evaluation of adultery. Science can provide us with empirical data that we may consider as factors in drawing moral conclusions, but those moral conclusions must be derived from larger philosophical commitments that we bring to the table, which will inevitably be informed by our religious faith. In other words, thorough scientific observation of an unborn child could provide me with a lot of information, but one thing it will never tell me is whether or not this child is a human person who ought to be protected. That conclusion is one that I will have to draw ultimately from other considerations. Having said all of that, I do wish to point out here that, insofar as the philosophical battle has been waged over the personhood of the unborn, the pro-life movement has made a very strong case that incorporates empirical, scientific data. We now know that the chromosomes of an unborn child align shortly after fertilization, creating the unique DNA sequence that provides the instructions for all subsequent growth of the organism. If you want to pinpoint one particular time when the unborn child “becomes what it is,” it is extremely difficult to make a case for any point other than conception, which is the point at which two distinct things (sperm and egg) join to form something that is neither one nor the other, but a new entity with a DNA blueprint that will never change. These considerations alone do not make a moral pronouncement, but informed by wider philosophical considerations regarding personhood and the necessity of protecting the life of innocent human persons, scientific data contribute to a very compelling case for government restrictions on abortion. Setting “faith” on one side and “science” on the other is simply reductionism. It pretends that all human thinking is not simultaneously informed by both, and it therefore ends up privileging one particular faith commitment (Western liberalism) over all others.

Tim Kaine and other Roman Catholic Democrats may use the “personally pro-life” line to soothe their consciences in light of their utterly reprehensible public behavior on abortion, but in the end, they will answer to God for their support of the murderous and barbaric assault against unborn children made in his image. It is long past time for the Roman Catholic Church to make abundantly clear to Roman Catholic Democrats that they cannot have it both ways. If you publicly support the “right” of abortion, you should be denied access to the Eucharist, period, because one thing you are not is a faithful Roman Catholic.

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One thought on “What Does It Mean To Be “Personally” Pro-Life?

  1. What these people are really saying is that “I would not kill my child through abortion, but I am okay with the mother next door killing her child through abortion.”

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