We probably all agree this is one of the most exhausting election campaigns we have ever had, and not without reason. And although the economy is the burning issue of our day (literally). We shall survive, a bit poorer but with God's help we'll recover in time. But abortion and same-sex marriage are the issues of the moment more than ever before (Connecticut just went for same sex but don't get discouraged we have a chance to reverse the Supreme Court in California).
How should we look at abortion, and marriage, as we enter the home stretch of this election. If abortion and marriage are the compelling issues of our day, how do I stack them up against the other compelling issues of the day? How do I distinguish what is morally compelling from what is opinion or preference. Being privileged with working with some very intelligent, dedicated and knowledgeable people, I want to share some thoughts that may be of some help to you as you deliberate and converse with friends and relatives.
For starters, let me remind you that we are not electing God but only the president of the United States. Presidents make mistakes and they will make mistakes. And presidential candidates are also humans, and they spin things to their advantage. Don't we all? And so our challenge is to shift through the lies (or half-lies), or the spin, to figure out what is critically relevant, or could be, from what is nothing more than the business of political spin (or any other kind of spin). So, I'll try to stick to areas where evidence seems to me unquestionable.
As for the question of abortion: is this election different from other elections? I believe it is. As never before in recent history, this election matters when it comes to my vote translating into reducing the number of abortions. No, I am not suggesting we have direct cooperation (to use a technical term used in Catholic moral theology) in performing an evil (abortion) like the doctor or the nurse performing the abortion do if we vote for Obama. But rather, that in the wide-ranging realm of indirect cooperation (because a voter is not a direct participant therefore he or she is an indirect player) a voter in this election stands to have a greater influence (cooperation) than in other recent elections. And given the gravity of the evil--the direct killing of innocent lives--it is more compelling for a Catholic to vote pro-life this time than in other times.
Two issues arise from my previous paragraph: 1) why makes this election different, and 2) why is abortion an evil that is more compelling to eradicate than, say, poverty or torture.
1) Why is this election different. Because for the first time in recent history, the elected president stands to appoint at least one, or even two, Supreme Court Justice that will either move the majority of the Supreme Court towards overturning "Roe vs Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court decision prohibiting restrictions on abortion, or leave things as they are.
We never know for certain what Supreme Court Justices will do when they rule. The commandment not to steal is addressed to each one, it is an injunction directed to me, as an actor. Here it is different we are making a decision about other actors, the President who in turn appoints the Justices (if there is a vacancy), and even then we don't know for sure how the Justices will act. Nevertheless, even with those ifs, we can be reasonably confident the judges McCain selects are more likely to be pro-life and the judges Obama selects are more likely to be pro-choice. Please note that I ground this claim on the prudential judment of numerous trustworthy individuals
and the views of both Obama and McCain supporters: both McCain and Obama supporters and staff agree on what their candidate, and the opposition candidate, has said he will do with regards to abortion. We ought to take them at their word. We have no good reasons not to take Obama seriously.
To determine the extent to which overturning Roe vs Wade matters in regards to abortion, we have to deal with the claim that the law plays a role in forming how we behave. In other words, do I avoid an abortion because I know it is wrong or because it is forbidden? The answer seems to be both. And there is evidence for this in many areas of our lives including abortion. This a fact: Comparing prior to 1973 to after 1973, there was a very significant increase in abortions. Some say that the number of abortions increased by the millions. Others dispute the numbers as exaggerated. We can quibble as to the number, but the evidence is clear that the number increased, and since nothing else changed but the law, we can prudently conclude the law teaches (one could argue the culture was changing but that would not explain the dramatic increase in such short time, cultural changes normally occur gradually). And here again, we need to distinguish between the proposition the law teaches and the infractions. We will always find examples of people breaking the law. That does not annul the claim the law teaches.
So, that much for the law as a teacher, and what one candidate may mean for the law of the land. Do I have to make my decision based on the presumption that Supreme Court Justices will retire? No we don't. We have the record of what each one of the candidates has done, and what he has said he will do, if elected president. There are many credible sources out there, I need not repeat them here, about Obama's and McCain's records. The case is compelling that Obama's policies would be the most permissive ever with regards to abortion. But don't take it from me, inform yourself.
2) Now we come to what in my view is the most political issue regarding abortion: that abortion is one of many sins. You hear various forms of these arguments mostly from (regrettably) Catholic or ex-Catholic public intellectuals or theologians--at least those are the voices I hear. Don't let them confuse you. The overwhelming and consistent teaching of the Catholic Tradition is that abortion stands apart as an evil because it is the innocent and it is direct (that is intended). This makes sense if you think about it: the fetus is entirely innocent; killing during (just) war or self-defense is not direct and necessarily intended (but to protect oneself or others in the community or country), not so with the fetus who has done nothing wrong and is not an aggressor. The good news is that Catholic leaders and others are clarifying this important argument that allows us to make the moral distinction between abortion and other evils (without saying other evils ought not be confronted). Inform yourself. I promise to send you more information on this topic as I get my hands on the appropriate documents. And as you do get your hands on the arguments, pass them to others: this has been the source of moral confusion and inaction. The reverse can be true: clarity may compel people to act.
Why had the Bishops not spoken as clearly before regarding voting pro-life? Maybe they have. Maybe they do now think--as I argue--this election is more important than others, and that is why we hear them more clearly.
One word about defending traditional marriage or promoting same-sex marriage. I hear from some friends: both candidates are about the same with respect to marriage. Not true. Let me use the example of defending marriage in California. First a bit of history. In January of this year, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) spearheaded the effort of collecting over one million signatures to qualify for a proposition to go on the ballot this November to let the people of California decide whether marriage should be reserved to one man and one woman, or not (if not then it would allow same-sex marriage). No one at the time expected the effort to collect signatures and the requisite money (over one million dollars) would succeed given that the effort was started in January and it had to be completed by early Spring, and the general mood the fight for marriage was over (we had lost). It is important for you to know this because given the circumstances and prevailing mood, Obama and his colleagues said they were in favor of letting the people of California decide, giving the impression by this that they supported protecting traditional marriage. The pro-marriage effort gained unexpected momentum and force, perceptions began to shift, and as the effort was indeed succeeding, the Supreme Court of California decided to act to impose same-sax marriage in the Spring with disregard for the democratic profess that was underway. Two things were happening in the Spring, the grass roots effort to place the petition on the ballot to protect marriage by constitutional amendment was succeeding and the Supreme Court of California unilaterally imposed same sex marriage by fiat. Clearly people were upset. The major of San Francisco was quoted at one point as saying: "you will have gay marriage whether you like it or not," (you can see the Protect Marriage add now). What does Obama do? Comes out publicly to say the decision of the Supreme Court ought to be respected, irrespective of the 1.1 milliion signatures that had already been collected (and filed). This appears as a giving a new meaning to the words "being in favor of letting the people decide."
You also have to know that a pro-traditional marriage win in California is a very significant victory, just as a same-sex marriage win would be (to learn more about the California marriage effort go to Protect Marriage, they are the organization in charge of Proposition 8 that constitutionally protect traditional marriage) given the size of California, its gay community, etc.
A number of us think the leadership of the democratic party has been co opted by forces that make it pro-gay marriage and pro-choice to the extreme. This is a matter of opinion not without foundation. I only wish to remind those of you that are democrats or independents with strong Democratic leanings that if you agree with some of us on abortion and marriage, you should work for change. But I would respectfully submit to you that by going along with the democratic party you will not bring about change. For you, I offer this advice. Most of us need to be hit in the head from time to time to "get it." We get fixated with one idea, sometimes a very bad idea. I am convinced the prospects for a pro-life pro-traditional democratic party lie in refusing to go along with party (figuratively no riots please) by voting for the more pro-life pro-traditional candidate. They'll get it eventually, they are like the rest of us--but only if we act courageously. Human nature does not improve on its own.
I hope this helps.
PS And by the way, have you noticed how the abortion and marriage issue have been left out of the debates so far. Let's have our voices heard on this. It is not too late.