Frequently Asked Questions
- What does “Voting Catholic” mean?
- What does “Voting with a Clear Conscience” mean?
- If we have two choices between the major party candidates where one candidate “flip flops” and is not really pro-life when he votes for funding embryonic stem cell research and he’s for allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest and life of the mother while the other candidate is no better but actually worse. How can I be a responsible Catholic and vote for either of these parties?
- It’s not just about abortion or euthanasia that I’m voting for. How about war, capital punishment, and the economy?
- Isn’t the Church violating the constitutional doctrine of “separation of church and state” when it gets involved in politics?
- There is a diversity of issues citizens are concerned about. Catholics are not single “religious issue” voters, are we?
- I’m against abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, pornography. But as Catholics we can’t impose our views on others and legislate morality, can we?
- Why is it morally wrong to permit and support government approval and funding for embryonic stem cell research when it will benefit society and provide cures for terrible diseases?
- “I’m pro-life but I support exceptions for abortion when the mother is the victim of rape or incest or her life and health are threatened by the pregnancy!”
“What does “Voting Catholic” mean?
Professed Catholics who are in union with the Church, who practice their faith and embrace the moral teachings of the Church should vote with the “mind of the Church”. To vote as a Catholic means to inform ourselves of the teachings of the Church, in this case, to learn the Catholic moral principles of voting responsibly and to act accordingly in the voting booth. We should seriously consider and study the positions and records of candidates and select those whose values as evidenced from their voting records or expressed opinions are closest to the moral teachings of the Church.
We have a moral obligation to vote and to vote based on principle. Our U.S. bishops rightly “urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest.” (U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life1, no. 34)
This informational website avails of the outstanding contributions of the authoritative shepherds of the Catholic Church – Popes, Bishops, and priests – who have provided a rich banquet for us to savor and digest, to inform ourselves, our families and loved ones, co-workers and friends so we may cooperate with the Church in promoting truth and justice, to be salt and light in our communities, and elect political leaders who will advance the common good, thereby securing and preserving our liberties and rights as American citizens under God Almighty. American Catholics have a rich history of active involvement in the political arena, in defending the principles our founding fathers struggled, fought, and died for. We are better citizens when we are better Catholics!
Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput, in his treatise on Catholics and politics, said it well, “The time for easy Christianity is over…We need to be more zealous in our faith, not more discreet; clearer in our convictions, not muddier; and more Catholic, not less.” (Archbishop Charles Chaput, Render Unto Caesar, p. 53)
What does “Voting with a Clear Conscience” mean?
Pope John Paul II, like other Popes before him, issued “encyclicals”, teaching letters or briefs given the highest significance and priority by our Supreme Pontiffs, drawing attention to serious issues of the day pertaining to Catholic doctrine. In 1995 Pope John Paul II published one of his most highly acclaimed encyclicals, The Gospel of Life2, regarding grave moral evils confronting our societies today, addressed to all Catholics in the clergy, religious life, laity, and all people of good will. For all Catholics, our Pope, the Vicar of Christ, speaks with the highest authority, and as with the collective teachings of the Church, helps guide our consciences to know and to embrace the truth.
He expressed clearly in this urgent encyclical that we as Christians cannot participate or cooperate in doing evil. Destroying innocent human lives through abortion is evil, morally wrong, detrimental to the common good. When we vote with full knowledge for politicians whose executive and legislative actions promote, support, and advance the cause of legalized abortion and other intrinsic moral evils, we share as voters in the immoral intention of the person (the abortionist and the politician) committing the act against innocent human life:
“Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law…Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae2 No. 74)
According to Fr. Frank Pavone, Director of Priests for Life3:
“Candidates are supposed to advocate policies that advance the common good and the dignity of the human person. A candidate who advocates policies that violate those fundamental principles should not be elected to public office, because he or she violates the purpose of public office.” There are political disputes that are not mere policy disputes, but disputes about principle.
“To allow abortion, which is the killing of a human child in the womb, is to break the principle that every human life is sacred and to deny the principle that life deserves protection. In fact, to allow abortion establishes a different kind of government, namely, one that claims authority to tamper with human rights.”
“Candidates who advocate these errors are embracing positions that transcend normal political disagreements, and hence carry far more weight than positions on other policies.”
a) the killing of tiny human beings through destructive embryonic stem cell research;
b) the killing of infants already partially born (through partial-birth abortion);
c) the killing of the disabled, like Terri Schiavo, and the advocacy of euthanasia and assisted suicide;
d) the denial of religious freedom, such as the freedom of doctors and institutions to refrain from actions they hold to be immoral;
e) the denial of the natural institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman;
f) the denial of the right to self-government. This denial occurs when candidates view judges and courts as the final arbiters of public policy, rather than the people themselves, acting through their duly elected legislators.
If we have two choices between the major party candidates where one candidate “flip flops” and is not really pro-life when he votes for funding embryonic stem cell research and he’s for allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest and life of the mother while the other candidate is no better but actually worse. How can I be a responsible Catholic and vote for either of these parties?
It is moral to vote for one of the candidates whose voting record and values based on his statements are closer to but not necessarily perfectly in line with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. The other candidate considered worse because he supports unrestricted abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriages, embryo-destructive research and other policies that are intrinsically evil and has vowed to advance anti-life, anti-family policies should not be supported.
As far as flip flops – we do our country a great disservice when we label as “flip-flops” occasions when political candidate have changed their minds. We all change our minds. Given better information and knowledge, we all can certainly change our minds on important issues. Changing our opinions, then, is not necessarily a negative reflection on a candidate. If his or her mind is sincerely changed for the good, in other words, the candidate who once supported an evil practice but changed his mind to denounce and condemn an evil practice once better informed, this politician should be commended. President Reagan as Governor of California was not always strongly pro-life but he became so and he acted so during his Presidential tenure.
One candidate who’s on the wrong side of the issue on human embryo-destructive stem cell research and experimentation but has a pro-life voting record may end up changing his mind about embryo destructive research. However let’s say the other candidate’s anti-life positions are extreme and hardened. If his or her support comes from pro-abortion and other activist organizations, and his party’s platform promotes immoral policies such as abortion and same sex marriage, he will be faced with serious difficulties in changing his positions and he risks losing the support of these major special interest organizations. It matters what the party’s platform supports. The Presidential candidate for the Party cannot reject the party’s platform without risking a major loss of party members’ support.
You stand on “terra firma”, on solid ground morally if you decide to vote for a candidate whose record and views may not be perfectly aligned with Catholic moral teachings, but, based on an objective analysis of the facts, your confidence has been raised that the candidate of your choice will LIMIT the evil compared to the candidate who will advance and promote immorality and an anti-life, anti-family agenda.
To gain greater clarity on this issue, please refer to the resources on this website, especially authoritative letters authored by Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop John Myers and Fr. Frank Pavone, Director of Priests for Life.
“It is morally acceptable to vote for the candidate who will do less harm. This is not choosing the lesser of two evils. We may never choose evil. But in the case described above, you would not be choosing evil. Why? Because in choosing to limit an evil, you are choosing a good.” (Fr. Frank Pavone, Priests for Life)
“We sin if we support ‘pro-choice’ candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so – that is, grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn.” (Archbishop Charles Chaput, Denver)
“Certainly policies on welfare, national security, the war in Iraq, Social Security or taxes, taken singly or in any combination, do not provide a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.” (Archbishop Myers of Newark)
Cardinal John O’Connor, in a special booklet on abortion, once wrote about this problem, “Suppose all candidates support ‘abortion rights’? … One could try to determine whether the position of one candidate is less supportive of abortion than that of another. Other things being equal, one might then morally vote for a less supportive position. If all candidates support “abortion rights” equally, one might vote for the candidate who seems best in regard to other issues”. (1990, “Abortion: Questions and Answers”)
Isn’t the Church violating the constitutional doctrine of “separation of church and state” when it gets involved in politics?
Addressed in their document published in 2007, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the United States Bishops declared:
“The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith.” (No. 9)
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia addressed this issue in his (2008) published book, Render Unto Caesar: “The church claims no right to dominate the secular realm. But she has every right- in fact an obligation- to engage secular authority and to challenge those wielding it to live the demands of justice. In this sense, the Catholic Church cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay ‘out of politics’… the well-being and destiny of the human person is very much the concern and the special competence, of the Christian community.” (pp. 217-218)
It’s not just about abortion or euthanasia that I’m voting for. How about war, capital punishment, and the economy?
Archbishop John Meyers, then Ordinary of Newark addressed this question very well in his Wall Street Journal article in 2004. He said in part: “Cardinal Ratzinger (elected Pope in 2005) stated that a ‘Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of a candidate’s permissive stand on abortion.’ But the question of the moment is whether a Catholic may vote for a pro-abortion candidate for other reasons. The cardinal’s next sentence answered that question: A Catholic may vote for a pro-abortion Catholic politician only ‘in the presence of proportionate reasons.’
“What are ‘proportionate reasons’? To consider that question, we must first repeat the teaching of the church: The direct killing of innocent human beings at any stage of development, including the embryonic and fetal, is homicidal, gravely sinful and always profoundly wrong. Then we must consider the scope of the evil of abortion today in our country. America suffers 1.3 million abortions each year–a tragedy of epic proportions. Moreover, many supporters of abortion propose making the situation even worse by creating a publicly funded industry in which tens of thousands of human lives are produced each year for the purpose of being “sacrificed” in biomedical research.
“Thus for a Catholic citizen to vote for a candidate who supports abortion and embryo-destructive research, one of the following circumstances would have to obtain: either (a) both candidates would have to be in favor of embryo killing on roughly an equal scale or (b) the candidate with the superior position on abortion and embryo-destructive research would have to be a supporter of objective evils of a gravity and magnitude beyond that of 1.3 million yearly abortions plus the killing that would take place if public funds were made available for embryo-destructive research…. Even those who support the death penalty for first-degree murderers are not advocating policies that result in more than a million killings annually.
“As Mother Teresa reminded us on all of her visits to the U.S., abortion tears at our national soul. It is a betrayal of our nation’s founding principle that recognizes all human beings as ‘created equal” and “endowed with unalienable rights.’ What evil could be so grave and widespread as to constitute a ‘proportionate reason’ to support candidates who would preserve and protect the abortion license and even extend it to publicly funded embryo-killing in our nation’s labs?
“Certainly policies on welfare, national security, the war in Iraq, Social Security or taxes, taken singly or in any combination, do not provide a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.”
Bishop Thomas Olmstedof Phoenix draws attention to non-negotiable issues Catholics cannot bargain away when voting:
Are there any “non-negotiable” issues for Catholics involved in politics?
“There are several issues that are “not negotiable” for Catholics in political life, because they involve matters that are intrinsically evil. In an address to European politicians on March 30, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI stated: “As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:
• Protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;
• Recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family – as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage – and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;
• The protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.”
“The issues mentioned by Pope Benedict are all “non-negotiable” and are some of the most contemporary issues in the political arena. I should note, however, that other issues, while not intrinsically evil, deserve prayerful consideration, such as questions of war and capital punishment, poverty issues and matters relating to illegal immigration.”
Our Catholic views on fundamental moral principles, the first and foremost, the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person, is not only a Catholic view. The American Declaration of Independence echoes the natural law in holding “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Our “Catholic views” are absolutely essential as leaven in society to help ensure our republic remains “one nation under God.” Charles Carroll of Maryland was Catholic and one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. To this day Catholics have played a vital role in advancing the common good. While there are less than exemplary Catholic jurists and legislators in the U.S. Congress, consider the Catholic justices on the Supreme Court and legislators who have staunchly defended our religious and civil liberties and consistently promoted a culture of life.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia responds directly to this question of the participation of the Catholic Church in the political life of the nation in his book, Render Unto Caesar:
“The church claims no right to dominate the secular realm. But she has every right- in fact an obligation- to engage secular authority and to challenge those wielding it to live the demands of justice. In this sense, the Catholic Church cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay ‘out of politics’… the well-being and destiny of the human person is very much the concern and the
special competence, of the Christian community.” (pp. 217-218)
“The U.S. Bishops point out that ‘our country’s founding principles’ and our Declaration of Independence are clear about the inherent value of human life… we are not calling for a ‘Catholic takeover of America.’ If anything we are calling for an American takeover of America, a return to principles that were put in place by our Founders but recently abandoned by many.” (Fr. Frank Pavone, A Study Guide – Living the Gospel of Life, p. 13.)
Are Catholics single issue voters?
Protecting the lives of innocent unborn children and the sanctity of marriage are battles we are faced with as a nation. These issues are fundamental to the survival of our nation and culture. All our other so-called rights, for example, the right to work, to earn a decent wage, to be protected from discrimination, false arrest, etc. are secondary to the fundamental right to be born and to live. Pope John Paul II described this “single issue” best when he wrote that “Above all, the common outcry… for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.” (Pope John Paul II, Christifidelis Laici, 1988)
According to Archbishop Chaput, “abortion is not mainly a religious issue but a matter of human rights – in this case, the conceived child’s right to life. Second, abortion is never a private matter. It always has social consequences because someone – the unborn child – always dies, often with mental and physical side effects for the mother.” (Archbishop Charles Chaput, Render Unto Caesar, p. 172)
In the late 18th century, British parliamentarian, William Wilberforce, was often a lonely voice in the British empire fighting for the abolition of slavery. This “single issue” consumed Wilberforce for over forty years but shortly before his death, the House of Commons passed the emancipation bill freeing all slaves in the British Empire in 1833. (32 years before the 13th amendment was ratified in the U.S.) Post-abortive Dr. Alveda King, Dr. Martin Luther King’s niece, sees abortion as a civil rights issue of today. “Every aborted baby is a like a slave in the womb of his or her mother.” (LifeNews.com, 08/18/08)
I’m against abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, pornography. But as Catholics we can’t impose our views on others and legislate morality, can we?
There is a moral component to the law. We can’t murder our neighbor or steal his property. Before the 13th amendment was ratified (1865), we were free to own slaves. Laws to protect the rights of the individual are enforced by the state but there is a (natural) law that governs our actions which is written in every man’s heart whether he’s Christian or not.
In whatever society of men, there are laws in common that protect against objectively evil acts such as blasphemy, perjury, murder, and adultery. When the natural law and civil laws are in harmony, our society is better for it.
Our founding fathers understood the source of our rights was not the state or some organization defining morality. It is Our Creator who endows man with unalienable rights according to the Declaration of Independence. Some citizens may not believe in God but citizens are governed by laws guided by universal moral principles. These principles are applied to our civil and criminal law statutes.
“Natural law is not a sectarian idea… it exists in every society. Natural law teaches that all creation has a ‘nature,’ an inherent order and purpose. By using their reason, men and women can know what conforms to their human nature and is therefore good… we all instinctively sense it. Murder, lying, cheating, stealing exploiting the poor…. these things are universally seen as evil whether a person is Jewish, Christian, Moslem, or agnostic… Abortion violates the universal natural law by abusing the inherent human rights of the unborn child.” (Archbishop Charles Chaput, Render Unto Caesar, p. 83)
Why is it morally wrong to permit and support government approval and funding for embryonic stem cell research when it will benefit society and provide cures for terrible diseases?
St. Paul answers this question directly in his Letter to the Romans (3:8) where he proclaims that “condemnation is just” when people do evil that good may come. Pope John Paul II warns in his 10th encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) in addressing fundamental moral teaching that the possible good consequences of committing an immoral, intrinsically evil act, in this case, embryo-destructive research, cannot be justified. “Consequently, no evil act with a good intention can be excused.” (Veritatis Splendor, 78.1) “If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain ‘irremediably’ evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person.” (VS, 80.1)
“Catholic teaching strongly opposes any procedure that willfully terminates innocent human life, from the time of conception until natural death. Jesus Christ taught that each human being is important to God, and each is responsible for his or her own actions. Individuals will be judged not by the goodness of those around them, but by how well they personally have lived according to God’s Word… This is the crux of our argument in the secular world–and one which coincides with the teachings of Jesus Christ–that the individual human being is the most sacred and inviolable entity in our society, and can never be seen simply as an object or as raw material to be used for the public good, even so demonstrable a good as another’s health or life.
“It is our duty as Americans to prevent the destruction of the Bill of Rights through trivializing the protection it affords all individuals, including embryos. It is our calling as Catholics to protect our smallest, most vulnerable treasures. As part of this calling, it is also our responsibility to find God’s Word in secular documents such as the United States Constitution–learn it, articulate it, and live it so as to conduct our lives consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
((United States Conference of Bishops, The Case Against Funding Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Dr. Anton-Lewis Usala, M.D.4)
“Up to now, no human being has ever been cured of a disease using human embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells, on the other hand, have already cured thousands. There is the example of the use of bone marrow cells from the hipbone to repair scar tissue on the heart after heart attacks. Research using adult cells is 20-30 years ahead of embryonic stem cells and holds greater promise. ” (Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, “The Ten Great Myths in the Debate Over Stem Cell Research“5)
“I’m pro-life but I support exceptions for abortion when the mother is the victim of rape or incest or her life and health are threatened by the pregnancy!
There are many politicians who are against abortion but believe it should be legal in cases where the mother is victimized by rape, incest, or her life is threatened if she continues the pregnancy.
Politicians who believe abortion is wrong may be sincere in believing abortion can be a morally acceptable when “hard cases” are involved but their opinion is directly opposed to Catholic moral doctrine. Abortion which is the taking of innocent life is never justifiable. Abortions performed on victims of rape and incest comprise perhaps 1.5% of all procured abortions in America. But abortion promoters and supporters raise the issue constantly to change the subject of the abortion debate where the real issue is about the vast majority of unborn children who are aborted for the sake of convenience.
Cardinal John O’Connor, the late eminent Archbishop of New York, wrote the following concerning abortion in cases of rape and incest:
“Some evils are what we call intrinsic evils, that is evil in themselves, so that no circumstances can justify them. Direct abortion is such an evil. For example, a mother of a pregnant teenager does not want her daughter to have an abortion because of the emotional and spiritual damage it will cause her daughter. At the same time the mother does not want her daughter to have a baby and perhaps have to give up her future dreams. Is there a legitimate choice here? Can abortion be considered a “lesser evil”? No, it is an intrinsic evil. It simply cannot be morally justified. This principle holds even in regard to rape or incest. An unborn baby is an innocent human being who has committed no crime, regardless of how conception came about. It is never morally right to destroy an innocent human being.
“Further on in his instruction, Cardinal O’Connor writes “the political reality may be that it is impossible to bring about legislation that prohibits all abortion. In such circumstances, moral theologians point out that it is better to achieve “imperfect” legislation that may save the lives of a great many unborn babies now, while continuing to work strenuously for “perfect” legislation that may save the life of every unborn baby at some future date.
“The conflict over imperfect law has definitely been divisive to the pro-life movement. It seems to me that our goal must always be to advance protection for the unborn child to the maximum degree possible.”
[Abortion: Questions and Answers By John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York. ]
Archbishop John Myers of Philadelphia wrote the following in a pastoral letter when he was the bishop of Peoria:
“As voters, Catholics are under an obligation to avoid implicating themselves in abortion. There can be no assurance that voters will invariably have a qualified pro-life candidate to choose. In such a case abstention is a permissible political response. There are also certain limited circumstances (as in an election between two pro-abortion candidates, one of whom is more extreme than the other) in which it is possible for a Catholic legitimately to vote for a pro-abortion candidate. However, a Catholic may never count an office-seeker’s advocacy of legal abortion or public funding of abortion as a reason to favor that person’s candidacy. Indeed, it is wrong not to count such advocacy as a very weighty reason against the candidacy. A Catholic may support the candidacy of someone who would permit unjust killing only when the real alternatives are candidates who would permit even more unjust killing.”
[The Obligations of Catholics and the Rights of Unborn Children. A Pastoral
Statement by The Most Reverend John J. Myers, Bishop of Peoria – June, 19906]
According to Judie Brown of American Life League, “Allowing abortion for cases of rape or incest effectively blames the preborn for another’s (i.e. the father) crime. Killing a preborn because his or her father is a rapist is no more justifiable than killing the rapist’s mother or father (perhaps even less so, in that, plausibly, a parent could have in some way influenced, caused or contributed to the son’s actions. The preborn child has not yet been created; no causal influence, and therefore culpability, is possible). The perpetrator alone should be punished; punishing the preborn makes him or her a scapegoat and the second victim.
“The circumstances of a preborn child’s conception should not modify, let alone negate, his or her right to life. In other words, the preborn baby has a right to life regardless of the circumstances under which he or she was conceived.”
[What about the hard cases – rape, incest or the life of the mother? Shouldn’t abortion be allowed under these circumstances?7 See complete article on the American Life League website. For a fuller treatment of the subject of rape and incest abortions, go to American Life League’s archives on rape and incest.8 ]
Rebecca Keissling is a popular pro-life speaker, attorney, and author whose personal testimony is inspirational and worthy of our attention. Rebecca is one of many who was conceived in rape. She has put up a powerful website which has compiled many life-affirming stories of men and women who were conceived in rape and/or incest:
“According to the research of Dr. David Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute, co-editor of the book Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting From Sexual Assault, and author of the article “Rape, Incest and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths9,” most women who become pregnant out of sexual assault do not want an abortion and are in fact worse-off after an abortion. So most people’s position on abortion in cases of rape is based upon faulty premises:
1) the rape victim would want an abortion,
2) she’d be better off with an abortion, and
3) that child’s life just isn’t worth having to put her through the pregnancy.
“I hope that my story, and the other stories posted on this site, will be able to help dispel that last myth.”
[Rebecca Keissling. Conceived in rape/Pro-life Speaker. Conceived in Rape Personal Stories and Pro-life Speakers.10]
“Studies show that incest victims rarely ever voluntarily agree to an abortion. Instead of viewing the pregnancy as unwanted, the incest victim is more likely to see the pregnancy as a way out of the incestuous relationship because the birth of her child will expose the sexual activity. She is also likely to see in her pregnancy the hope of bearing a child with whom she can establish a true loving relationship, one far different than the exploitive relationship in which she has been trapped.
“Julie Makimaa, conceived by an act of rape, works diligently against the perception that abortion is acceptable or even necessary in cases of sexual assault. While sympathetic to the suffering her mother endured at the hands of her attacker, Julie is also rightfully proud of her mother’s courage and generosity. Regarding her own view of her origin, Julie proclaims: ‘It doesn’t matter how I began. What matters is who I will become.'”
[Rape, Incest and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths by David C. Reardon, Ph.D.]
Life or Health of the Mother?
Rationalizing abortion for cases involving a woman whose life or health is supposedly threatened by her pregnancy is a red herring. There are no cases in today’s state of medical technology where an “either/or” choice has to be made between the life or health of the mother and the life of the unborn child.
“Is abortion ever medically necessary? Abortion is never necessary to save a mother’s life.
“It is important to distinguish between direct abortion, which is the intentional and willed destruction of a preborn child, and a legitimate treatment a pregnant mother may choose to save her life. Operations that are performed to save the life of the mother-such as the removal of a cancerous uterus or an ectopic pregnancy that poses the threat of imminent death-are considered indirect abortions.
“They are justified under a concept called the ‘principle of double effect11.’ Under this principle, the death of the child is an unintended effect of an operation independently justified by the necessity of saving the mother’s life.
“Essentially, both mother and child should be treated as patients. A doctor should try to protect both. However, in the course of treating a woman, if her child dies, that is not considered abortion.”
[Is abortion ever medically necessary12? American Life League]
According to the Association of Pro-Life Physicians, “When the life of the mother is truly threatened by her pregnancy, if both lives cannot simultaneously be saved, then saving the mother’s life must be the primary aim. If through our careful treatment of the mother’s illness the pre-born patient inadvertently dies or is injured, this is tragic and, if unintentional, is not unethical and is consistent with the pro-life ethic. But the intentional killing of an unborn baby by abortion is never necessary.
“Most of what passes as a therapeutic, or medically-necessary abortion, is not necessary at all to save the mother’s life. For example, if a mother has breast cancer and requires immediate chemotherapy to survive that can kill the baby, the physician will frequently recommend a therapeutic abortion. Another example: if a mother has life-threatening seizures that can only be controlled by medication that will kill or severely deform her unborn child, the physician will frequently prescribe a therapeutic abortion. In both of these cases, the abortion is not necessary to protect the mother’s health. The necessary medication may injure or kill the pre-born child, but this is no justification for intentionally killing the child. If the child is injured or dies from the medication prescribed to the mother to save her life, the injury was unintentional and, if truly medically necessary, not unethical.”
[Are There Rare Cases When an Abortion Is Justified?13 Association of Pro-life Physicians]
Bottom line – if a Catholic voter is faced with two choices:
(1) A candidate who is unabashedly pro-abortion (no difference from one who declares themselves “pro-choice”) or
(2) A candidate who is against abortion except for cases where there is rape or incest involved or the mother’s life or health is threatened by continuing the pregnancy:
The Catholic voter can apply the same answer to the third question of this FAQ:
It is morally permissible to vote for one of the candidates whose voting record and values based on his statements are closer to but not necessarily perfectly in line with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. The other candidate considered worse because he supports unrestricted abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriages, embryo-destructive research and other policies that are intrinsically evil and has vowed to advance anti-life, anti-family policies should not be supported.
Your conscience may dictate that you cannot support a candidate who believes some abortions are permissible morally. If at all possible, take the time to communicate with the candidate to express your reservations and let him know why you cannot support his candidacy.
1 U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life (1998)
2 Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, (The Gospel of Life) Evangelium Vitae (1995)
3 Fr. Frank Pavone, Director of Priests for Life, Ten Easy Steps to …Voting with a Clear Conscience
4 Dr.Anton-Lewis Usala, M.D., Pediatric Endocrinologist, Chief Scientific Officer and Medical Director of Encelle, Inc., The Case Against Funding Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research
5 Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., Director of Education and Ethicist, National Catholic Bioethics Center, The Ten Great Myths in the Debate Over Stem Cell Research
6 The Most Reverend John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark, N.J., A Pastoral Letter: The Obligations of Catholics and the Rights of Unborn Children, published when Bp. Myers was bishop of Peoria, Ill., (1990)
7 American Life League, Countering Pro-Abortion Arguments, What about the hard cases – rape, incest or the life of the mother? Shouldn’t abortion be allowed under these circumstances?, Released October 13, 2005,
8 For a fuller treatment of the subject of rape and incest abortions, go to American Life League’s archives on rape and incest.
9 David C. Reardon, Ph.D., Rape, Incest and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review 2(1) Winter 1994. Copyright 1994 Elliot Institute
10 Rebecca Kiessling is an author, lawyer, and public speaker who was conceived in rape and given up for adoption when she was born. She has compiled on her website compelling and inspirational stories of others who were conceived in rape.
11 Catholics United for the Faith, A monograph on the principle of “Double Effect”, the basis for the Catholic moral teaching regarding the treatment of pregnant mothers and their unborn child in cases where the life of the mother is threatened by the pregnancy.
12 American Life League, Abortion: How Much Do You Know? Is abortion ever medically necessary? Released October 13, 2005
13 The Association of Prolife Physicians, Are There Rare Cases When an Abortion is Justified?, Official Position Statement, APP, May 26, 2010.