If you have been involved in the pro-life movement long enough, chances are you came across this dilemma pertaining to ethical voting:
Is it moral to support a law (or a lawmaker who supports a law) that merely places restrictions on abortions?
Examples of such restrictions would be the outlaw of partial birth abortions, pain-capable abortion restrictions, or a 20-week abortion ban.
By voting for or supporting the passage of legislation that puts such restrictions, such actions are helping to reduce the number of babies killed to abortion. This is a laudable goal, right?
NOT SO FAST, SOME SAY
Some point out that to pass a law that limits abortions is tantamount to endorsing child murder, so long as those restrictions are met.
For instance, in the case of a 20-week abortion ban. The law says any baby 20 weeks or older cannot be murdered. So, does that mean it is morally licit to murder babies 19 weeks old or younger?
Their solution would be to pass laws that make abortion illegal (as it ought to be). Anything less, to them, appears to be cooperation with evil.
This group has a point that every pro-lifer should confront in the question of ethical voting.
POPE SAINT JOHN PAUL THE GREAT ADDRESSED THIS VERY QUESTION
On the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1995, Pope Saint John Paul the Great released his papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae_en.html) Part 73 is what I want us to focus on today. He writes this:
“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. Such cases are not infrequent.
“It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations—particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation—there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter.
“In a case like the one just mentioned, 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.
“This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.”
MY MIND IS NOT MADE UP ENTIRELY
I read the Pope’s words and I understand the argument he is making. He makes a compelling argument, in my mind.
I think he makes a key distinction: “when it I not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law,” only then would ethical voting allow votes and support for a law restricting abortions.
Yet, still, I get a queasy feeling over celebrating small legislative victories. What does that say to the thousands of children dying every day, despite the restrictive laws passed? Are their lives not just as valuable and worth protecting?
Then again, if we wait for a time when all abortion will be outlawed by a bill passed in both houses of Congress and signed into law by a President—and certainly not this one, we will be waiting a long time.
I lean towards the Polish Pontiff, but I know this debate has good arguments on both sides.
Please, please weigh in here, readers.
Where do you stand on this question of ethical voting?
What arguments do you find most compelling?
I value your input and look forward to hearing from you below!