As the elections approach, abortion debates will once again heat up. And, near an election, all debates tend to be reduced to whom you should vote for.
While many commentators and political activists are just interested in getting your vote, it is beyond doubt that voting entails a moral responsibility for any citizen and certainly for any Catholic.
There is a political aspect to the abortion debate that can’t be minimized. One of the main goals of the pro-life movement for 40 years has been supporting pro-life presidential candidates that would, theoretically, name pro-life judges to the Supreme Court. The hope behind this is to revert the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that ruled abortion falls under the right to privacy and is protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
We should remember that Roe vs. Wade didn’t “legalize abortion,” as some people erroneously say. Abortion was legal in 20 states before the Supreme Court decision. This doesn’t change the importance of the fight against Roe vs. Wade for the pro-life movement — by recognizing a constitutional right to abortion, the Supreme Court changed centuries of traditional morals and the very nature of the debate. But the pro-life movement is much more than that.
Many pro-life activists have said, from the beginning, what anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson explained last year:
“Our end goal cannot be to simply make abortion illegal; our end goal must be to make abortion unthinkable.” Reversing Roe vs. Wade would change cultural perceptions and allow limiting abortion in states with a pro-life majority, but it won’t end abortion by any means. It would probably create a nation divided into states that allow abortion and those that forbid it. It would be another extension of the already-stark differences between red and blue states, coastal and heartland states.
Reversing Roe vs. Wade won’t make “abortion unthinkable,” and pro-lifers know it. The battle against abortion is fought in the heart of each person. Reducing the movement to a decision made by the Supreme Court is a dangerous mischaracterization. It is used by adversaries to present the movement as a group of religious extremists that want to impose their beliefs on the whole country.
You make abortion unthinkable by changing the heart of the people and the morals of a society. That’s where the real battle is won or lost. While it is fair for the pro-life movement to continue its political and legal efforts of the past decades, it can’t afford to be perceived or characterized as a mere political action committee.
The battle of the heart is won by initiatives like The Bridge to Life, a program dedicated to help and support pregnant women; or Rachel’s Helpers, a healing ministry for women who have had an abortion. The battle of the heart is won by showing people that being pro-life is not reduced to opposing abortion but defending the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.
The battle is won with genuine charity and a coherent defense of human dignity, by showing compassion for the downtrodden and excluded, and by opposing the abundant manifestations of the culture of death we confront every day.
The long-term goal of the pro-life movement is “to make abortion unthinkable.” Reducing the movement to specific or short-term goals could be detrimental to the achievement of the final, definite goal of building a culture of life where every baby is received into the world with joy and love.
The culture of life and the construction of the kingdom of God transcend political parties and agendas, nationalities, race, or cultural background.
In order to change the hearts of Americans and the paradigms of the culture of death, the pro-life movement always needs to show that its goals can sometimes be expressed in the polling booth, but that the defense of the dignity of a human life transcends politics.