This weekend, hundreds of thousands of people will attend the March for Life to peacefully protest legalized abortion in the United States. The reason people march, the reason people oppose abortion, is rooted in the belief that all persons are radically equal, that every individual human being is infinitely valuable.
Legal abortions in the United States have killed nearly 60 million individual human beings in the past 44 years since the Roe v. Wade decision. This number is incomprehensibly high, so high that it’s almost meaningless. One life lost is a tragedy, a million lives lost is a statistic. Yet the reality of abortion is that tens of millions of individual persons with infinite value, and almost as infinite potential, have been killed.
Abortion is, without a doubt, the greatest moral tragedy this country has ever faced.
Yet I find myself at times, and many other Catholics and pro-lifers, getting caught up in how terrible the reality of abortion is that we lose our moral bearings. By simply “crunching the numbers” one can easily concluded that abortion is the evil of evils, the linchpin of every decision, the issue that trumps all others – but this would be a mistake.
As easy as it is to use death tolls to determine the moral weight of an issue, this kind of utilitarian reasoning will not do for Christians or pro-lifers. If every individual human life is infinitely valuable then we cannot say that one life is worth less than ten or one million lives worth more than one hundred.
Cardinal Ratzinger, before he became pope, wrote, “The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine.” As Catholics we cannot sacrifice the whole of Catholic Social Teaching for one cause – no matter how great or how urgent that cause may seem. Every social and economic issue is interconnected because every human being is radically dependent on his or her community. The dehumanization of one life encourages the dehumanization of all life, while the respect of one life promotes the respect of all life.
Thus, it is right to say that abortion is connected to all other social justice issues. It’s also right to say that abortion directly contributes to a culture of death. However, we cannot say that abortion is the single issues that trumps all of the rest. We cannot say that abortion is the root of this culture of death.
Rather, utilitarianism is the root of such a culture, that is, the using of persons as things, as mere means to some other end. The dehumanization of infinitely valuable beings so that they are no better than tools to be used, prizes to be won, or simply cogs in a machine is the root of the culture of death.
We use persons for sexual gratification. We use persons for profit. We use persons for political power. Abortion is a direct consequence of this culture of use, but not the cause of it. Does it perpetuate this culture? You bet…but it is not the cause.
The demand for abortion is partially caused by the use of persons for profit that causes inadequate financial support for mothers and children. So if we want to end abortion we need to address an unjust economy.
The demand for abortion is partially caused by the use of persons for sex. So if we want to end abortion we need to witness with our lives, words, and laws the true purpose of sex.
The supply of abortion is partially caused by the use of unborn lives for political power. Politicians and parties take money from organizations like Planned Parenthood in order to get elected, or stay elected, and in turn pass laws that allow and promote abortion.
The beauty of Catholic Social Teaching is that it sees the interconnectedness of all of these things and shows us what a truly just society looks like. To end abortion, to be truly pro-life, we cannot make abortion the issues that trumps all others. Rather we must take Catholic Social Teaching as a whole and fully get behind all of the social and economic issues the Church urges us to be concerned about.
Some people are called to invest more time and energy in certain issues, and this is great. However, the Church expressly warns against focusing on one issue so much that the rest of Catholic Social Teaching is ignored or undermined. We cannot make abortion such a priority that we forsake our values and principles, that we do evil because we think good may come of it. We cannot make abortion such a priority that we use it as a club to undermine or dismiss the other issues, other human lives.
As we remember the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, as we protest the legalized killing of defenseless human beings, let us not forget the the value of every human life. Let us not turn this great cause into a weapon.
Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.