Last week, I argued that how Catholics respond to attacks on the lives of the unborn tests whether or not we believe the Lord’s words in Matthew 25. My comments were in response to the question of whether it is appropriate for American Catholics to prioritize the issue of abortion to the degree that they have. In today’s post, I will argue that for practical, as well as theological, reasons, it is right for Catholics to make abortion issue number one.
While opposition to abortion has been a part of Christian teaching since the Church first encountered the practice in the pagan world—as seen in the Didache, possibly the earliest non-Biblical source of Christian moral teaching, which states explicitly, “You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb”—the pro-life movement is by no means limited to Catholics, or even Christians.
The basic ethical insight I discussed in last week’s post—that human dignity does not depend on a person’s utility or how we feel about that person—has been adopted as the foundation of our modern system of human rights. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson—no lover of orthodox Christianity—declared the right to life to be “self-evident” and “unalienable” because it is derived directly from the Creator.
In this foundational insight, American ideals and Catholic social thought overlap, so it is appropriate that American Catholics have shown particular leadership on the right to life issue. As one prominent American archbishop put it, abortion is “the preeminent civil rights issue of our day.” Some, however, such as Commonweal’s George Dennis O’Brien or Newsweek’s Lisa Miller have lambasted bishops who have taken such a stand, often insinuating that they are either gullible Republican dupes or scheming partisans themselves.