War and Abortion

There’s some fuzzy thinking among Catholics on the issue of abortion and war. The argument goes like this: “Vote Democrat and innocent babies get killed through abortion. Vote Republican and innocent people get killed in an unjust war. Since you’re going to end up with killing either way, let’s ignore those issues and focus on the economy.” The subtext is, “I’m going to vote Democrat even if their candidate does support partial birth abortion.”

This is a total cop out. It is actually possible to think these things through. All it takes is a little bit of time and a little bit of thought. It is actually possible, therefore, to make a sensible moral decision in these matters.
First you have the question of proportion. How many people are being killed through abortion and how many people are being killed in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan? I don’t have the precise statistics, but the deaths from the wars are in the thousands and the deaths from abortion in our country alone are in the millions. Because of the difference in the number of deaths these two issues are not morally equivalent.
Second, we must consider the ‘innocence’ of the deaths. The death of one totally innocent, vulnerable unborn child who is incapable of self defense must be more morally outrageous than the killing of an armed opponent in war. With abortion the child killed in the womb is attacked totally and has not even the idea of proper self defense or intentional involvement. An opposing combatant has chosen (at least partially) to take up arms and be involved in a possible killing himself.
Third, we must consider who perpetrates the killing and their knowing involvement and participation. A soldier who goes into combat is trained to kill, however, he is also trained to kill only as a last resort. He is first trained to avoid killing and to take the enemy prisoner if at all possible, and he is supposed to treat the prisoner humanely. In war this does not always happen, but consider the abortionist or one who procures an abortion: in every case they set out intentionally to kill and to do nothing but kill an innocent human being. Politicians who support abortion therefore enable those who wish to kill an innocent and defenseless child. Even if the particular war is unjust, the soldiers and politicians who instigated the war were doing so (even if in a debased way) not to promote killing, but to promote a final goal of justice and peace. 
Fourth we must consider the possibility of self defense. An enemy combatant can arm himself and fight back. An unborn child is attacked while totally defenseless and is unable to defend himself in any way.
Fifth, we must consider the innocent deaths of those who have died in the Iraq war. The largest numbers of those killed have been killed by fellow Iraqi terrorists, not by American soldiers. Along with this we must consider the intention of the American soldiers. They have not intended to kill innocent civilians, even if some have been killed. Furthermore, they have been trained not to promote the terrorist attacks that have killed so many, but to stop them–even at the expense of their own lives and through their military operations.
Notice that the arguments above are not concerned with the justice of this particular war or the injustice of it. I happen to think it is an unjust war and I wish we were not involved in it. This is a separate argument altogether, and one that can be properly put by those who wish to argue one way or another.
However, to say that involvement in an unjust war in which people are killed is the moral equivalent to abortion is lazy, dumb, or willfully rebellious against simple truth.
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  • Dan

    My vote is for lazy & dumb.

  • John Paul II and Benedict XVI have both condemned the invasion of Iraq as an unjust war. Why do you attempt to obfuscate that basic fact or play ‘which sin is worse’ between an unjust war and abortion? Seems silly to me, sorry. You can fantasize if you want to that McCain/Palin are some sort of catholic dream team but you are deluding yourself and ignoring your pope to do so. It’s just another form of cafeteria catholicism.

  • Marcus, do me the courtesy of not putting words in my mouth. I never suggested that McCain and Palin are a ‘Catholic dream team.’ Neither of them are Catholic, but their pro life stance is more consistent with Catholic moral teaching than Biden’s pro abortion record.Also, please read what I have written in the post. I have agreed that the war is unjust, and I wish we weren’t in it. I also said clearly that this is another argument which is quite different from whether or not killing in war is equivalent to abortion.For the reasons I stated, the war in Iraq (just or unjust) is not morally equivalent to abortion.

  • Roe vs. Wade. You are arguing that nothing matters in this election from a catholic perspective other than overturning Roe Vs. Wade. Why not come right out and make that argument? You’re not really talking about criminalizing abortion, or stopping abortion, because that won’t happen with overturning Roe V. Wade. That’ll need a lot of additional work. You are the one judging which that:Unjust warEconomyCapital PunishmentAnd several other uncatholic issues of the Republican party are less important than overturning Roe V. Wade. Millions for abortion, hundreds of thousands for Iraq. Is Jesus so Machiavellian? Surely the decimation of the Iraqi Catholic community is enough of a dissapointment to Jesus that he isn’t acting as if McCain-Palin are the best thing to happen to Catholics since sliced bread.

  • Your friend Palin says our involvement in Iraq is “God’s work.” The one track mind here is getting a bit old.

  • Marcus, The argument is not that the only thing that matters is the overturning of Roe v. Wade for Catholics in this election. I believe the real issue is that of preventing the extension of abortion on demand. This is something that Obama is purportedly going to do if elected to office and is therefore what should be most important to Catholics at this point in time. While a Republican president would nominate more conservative judges who could one day rid us of such a barbaric practice, the immediate threat represented by an Obama Biden administration is of greater concern. It is unfortunate that we must make a choice among abortion and your list of perceived Catholic issues but this is the choice we face. (Unjust War being the only real one on your list. Being against capital punishment was a personal issue for JPII, not meant to bind the consciences of all Catholics. As for the economy…as an economist, It is my strong belief that the democrats would do a much worse job than the alternative choice offered by a McCain Palin administration) Wars will end in their own time, hopefully sooner rather than later, but abortion will not cease without our insistence through the ballot box. To vote otherwise knowing this is to be complicit in the act itself. (by the way this is something that Catholics should worry about)

  • Marcus, you keep assuming arguments that I am never making.Deal with the post as it is. The post is simply about whether an unjust war is the moral equivalent of abortion. It is not, either on the individual level of the soldier on the ground, or the country that is involved in the war.The repeal of Roe v Wade is another issue that can be dealt argued. My own view is that the repeal of Roe v. Wade is just one issue in the abortion debate among many, and I personally would campaign first for other anti abortion and abortion reducing measures.

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  • Amen Father, and God Bless you for saying so.

  • Thank you, Father for this entry. None of the candidates are perfect, just as no man or woman is perfect. Since Jesus Christ is not a politician and is not running for office, my husband and I plan to vote for the candidate that will do the least harm to human life. The clear fact is, the war is underway. The incoming president will not be starting a war – he will be dealing with what has already been cast. The blood of 50 million babies sure adds up and I cannot in good conscience vote for someone who thinks that an unplanned pregnancy can be a ‘punishment’, that late term abortions are acceptable and that John and Joe should be able to marry. This is contrary to what Jesus taught and the Holy Spirit continues to teach us through our Church.Peace be with youKelly

  • Jeffrey Smith,Misrepresenting and misquoting what Governor Palin said is getting very old.Can we at least agree to not engage in rash judgment and calumny, whether directed toward one candidate or another.Moreover, spirited debate over issues of abortion, just war, and capital punishment is anything but “old”. Imagine a citizen of 19th Century America complaining about the country’s obsession with slavery.“Get over it! What about the economy!”

  • Fr. L:What on earth are you talking about? Of course abortion, the Rwanda genocide, the Tuskegee Experiment, and the Iraq war are not morally equivalent. But I don’t buy that you have a leg to stand on to say that one is more evil than the other either. You are the one playing judge of sin magnitude here.I don’t have time to review my comments; you are welcome to, but I don’t think I ever implied there is equivalency between any two sinful acts that cause death and destruction on a mass scale. I don’t claim to know how the scales of justice balance. I feel that you are leaning that way by being so sure that abortion is so much more grave, and so much more of a priority than the war. Even the story of recovering the one lost sheep can underscore that God’s sense of justice is not always quantitative and does not always mesh with our own.When you say that you happen to have decided that the war is unjust… Well, welcome aboard! With all due respect to your ministry and writing, this isn’t the most logical thing you’ve thrown out over the years. You just finished quoting all these parts of the catechism to me regarding the unassailable fact that the CCC demands our government and politicians criminalize abortion post haste. Most of the time you write as an obedient, even an ultra-montane catholic. Have you reviewed the statements of the Holy Father and the CCC regarding warfare and just war? And of course with this particular war we have the statements of the Holy Father specifically on this war.I take issue with you, then, that you ‘happen’ to have deigned to agree that the war was unjust when the Vicar of Christ, the CCC, and the authority structure you revere has already told you that it is unjust. Given your writings, I fail to see how you would countenance the idea that this decision is a personal choice on your part. You’re either a cafeteria catholic, or you realize that this war was an unjust war and a mistake – not based on your own judgement, but by the command of your church.In light of that clear and firm teaching, this frenetic and uncritical McCain-Palin worship is troubling. I would say the same thing if you were some left leaning social justice type catholic who worships Obama. It is the left leaning Obama-worshiping catholic or the right-leaning Palin-worshiping Catholic who I feel are in error here; not simple blokes like me. I refuse to publicly announce a candidate more appealing to catholics unless they comply with all of the major tenants of the faith. As I have said previously, only the long-shot candidate Ron Paul fit the bill of coming close to being a credible catholic candidate and he was practically laughed off the stage. Any political catholic who failed to even notice or recognize that fact was probably evaluating the candidates with something other than the catechism.Typical political catholics are the ones ‘judging’ which sin is worse, and which sin cries out to the lord loudest based on the number of deaths, or social justice, or by whatever yardstick they deem appropriate.Heck you might be right. But frankly it would take instruction from Cardinal Sean or the Pope to convince me that I should vote based on the death toll incurred by the bad positions of one of these two candidates. That’s just way to utilitarian to me. Aren’t you the one always decrying utilitarian logic?Beyond that, the fact that Palin refused to meet the press following the convention leaves me deeply concerned. I was watching her convention speech rebroadcast on C-Span. On C-Span the camera panned in from behind and guess what, the teleprompter is huge. Tell me why I should be impressed by a teleprompter-using former sportscaster? They all use teleprompters, so I am not saying that’s a negative. I’m saying that I’m not buying her until I hear from her unscripted, and the Grand ‘ol Party thinks she needs several weeks of reprogramming before she can talk to Tom Brokaw.The fact that McCain was such a hawk for this war while Obama was so much wiser also leaves me concerned. The fact that the Republicans are so gung-ho to trade with the abortion mega state of the world, China, leaves me even more concerned. At least the democrats have the trade unions fussing at them over the Clintons’ love affair with China.No why sir, when there is no Roe V. Wade to stop them, didn’t McCain or the Republicans cut off trade to China over human rights? Obviously it is because they are a bunch of phonies, like all politicians. They certainly aren’t in line to be my catholic heroes any time soon.I don’t know about South Carolina, but here in Massachusetts we actually have communities of displaced Iraqi Catholics trying to put the pieces back together.At the end of this rant am I even decided on who I’m going to vote for? No! But don’t tell me the catholic decision is Palin either, because I don’t buy it. Or someone has a lot of convincing to do before I’ll even consider it.At least in Massachusetts, I am pretty right wing. I’ve never voted for a Democrat in my life. But I am so disenchanted with this party, its debt, its lies, its human rights record, its unjust wars, its capital punishment – it you’ve lost me believe me, you’ve lost the middle. And this ‘only Roe v. Wade matters because abortion kills so many people’ rhetoric isn’t going to cut it because over turning Roe v. Wade, even if we can trust the republicans to do so, isn’t going to stop abortion.

  • For all those who keep spouting that Democrats will do better for the economy than the Republicans need look no further than Europe to see the failure of this argument. Europe is the dream for many of our Democratic politicians but according to results from Belgiums own Dept. of Economic Development they believe that Europe is closer to recession than the U.S. The socialist idea of a shorter work week creating more jobs has been deemed a failure and the Govt repealed that law in France. Despite all their programs to assist the poor they still have plenty of them along with a high rate of abortion. The Democratic Party is not the friend of Catholics as so many proclaim and I have written in detail on my blog why this is the case.

  • I am just pointing out a memory of the Pope saying that the war is unjust but to pull out without concern of what we did is also immoral as we now have a whole set of problems that because we inserted ourselves there we now have to address in the best manner possible. So I think the issue of unjust war is valid in learning when or when not to go to war but the real issue now is how to deal with a very complicated situation in which pulling out would actually be the immoral thing to do if it causes a worse situation – – isn’t that what we have to look at with the war – OK totally off topic and did MA read what the post was about??a watcher that has gotten annoyed Jenn

  • re: “I don’t have time to review my comments;”Marcus, if you don’t have time to review your comments, why waste your time to add 14 more paragraphs to an already lengthy, sometimes befuddling lack of Catholic understanding?! Fr. L. has tried his best to catechize at a pivotal time in our history –would that more of our priests were willing take on this thankless task! You owe him (and us) the courtesy of a thoughtful, discerning ear without knee-jerk intellectualizing of moral teaching. We are mandated by examination of conscience to choose the better course between conflicting political platforms. The Church militant guides us in this process–listen to her trustworthy magisterial teaching for she loves your soul more than you can imagine…

  • Ben Compton; I missed your comment through the melee. Well said, and intelligently put. That is the one thing that has me pondering a vote for McCain right now. Overturning Row v. Wade is indeed a long term issue is at the heart of what is motivating Fr. L over the course of the last 5 or so Palin/Pelosi posts whether he wants to admit it or not.Fr. L: Capital punishment, social justice, and just war policy all have to be weighed if we are to vote with a catholic conscience. This utilitiarian argument attempting to weigh the body count and intentions of the actors doesn't hold water. Bush and McCain knew the cost of the 'collateral damage' that would unfold in the 'theater' of Iraq. And they did it for a base in the middle east. Yuck. And what did they do in Darfur (Bush) or Rwanda(Clinton)? Nothing of course. We've been motivated by economic interests. I am at least *hopeful* that Obama might be different in that regard.Yes I agree with you that the CCC does call for criminalization on life issues. But that is easier said than done, I think that Biden and Obama have a valid point that social programs *helping* rather than *punishing* people could make an impact. As I have said before on this blog I think that free English daycare and other such programs would have a massive impact on decreasing abortions and our nation's linguistic unity. I have no idea how the working poor can afford daycare in expensive urban areas (about $100 per day in Boston). That cost has to drive the abortion numbers up. But the conservative outlook is always nothing but preach & prison; abstinence and jail cells. When has that ever worked? And when did Jesus say 'send a centurion among them to arrest and smite them until they conform to my teachings?' We're supposed to be a faith of love and forgiveness, winning hearts and minds. I don't see a whole lot of that out of the Republican side right now. I hear negative rhetoric from the Republicans who failed to balance our budget or make good on their fiscal promises, who don't seem to have much positive to say.I agree that overturning Row v. Wade is masively important and a very serious consideration. But Palin's dissapearing act following the convention has me pretty worried that she is another Dan Quayle pro-life posterchild and not a serious candidate. The teleprompter convention speech doesn't impress me. I need debates and unscripted interviews, preferably with no ear piece for advisers to whisper helpful hints into.To me a better argument would look something like what Ben Compton said:"Ill-chosen wars will come and go; inspired and less-than-inspired social programs will come and go; but Roe v. Wade is a permanent stumbling block that has blocked all pro-life reform in the USA for 30 years. Overturning it will have consequence that could last a century. Thus given the high cost of abortion relative to the unjust wars and ill funded social programs, McCain is a better choice for the presidency."That being said I think that a lady like Christine Todd Whitman would have been about a 1000X better choice for McCain than this unvetted young woman from Alaska. And I am still pissed at the Republicans for unfettered trade with China, fiscal irresponsibility and corruption, and an unjust war. I'm not about to go cheerleading for them on catholic grounds.

  • You forgot one big practical matter. The innocent babies killed can’t attack anyone or get nuclear weapons and kill the rest of us. Many people really do think of the unborn as sort of “theoretical people,” or maybe the correct philosophical term would be “posited” or “positive” people, and adult people as “actual” people. They spend a lot more time thinking about the “actual” people for very practical reasons, such as fear of their lives.Arguments about both the morality of the Iraq war and/or abortion tend to stay on the cerebral side. And, whether we like it or not, many people think it best to put off thinking about the “theoretical” people until they are done dealing with the “actual” people. Of course, no one is ever done dealing with the “actual” people. But that’s how they think, and to them it makes perfect sense to think that way. The question is how best to frame the argument so it makes sense to them, not to us.

  • I’m getting really tired of Catholics settling for scraps from the table of the Protestant establishment. Yeah, Catholic teaching on life “issues” gets some support from some Protestants and we act like it’s a cause for celebration. Let’s face it: neither political party is founded on Catholic principles of polity. Both ultimately favor a Protestant interpretation of the “rights” of the individual and definition of a “state.” Catholics just try to fit in where they can. It’s a con job and we should recognize it.

  • Father, thank you. Very helpful. It can be hard to think clearly when dealing with such charged topics. Thank you for laying out the arguments so neatly.

  • Plexie,Thanks for capturing in two paragraphs what seems to have taken me several to say.

  • Am I supposed to accept THIS just because the Republican Party pays lip service to being pro-life? The though is enough to make me sick. Who’s to choose whether these children are less worthy than the others? Is it a numbers game? Well, the Republicans are only responsible for the death of ten children. That’s fine with me? Neither side is in full accord with Catholic principles and it’s time for everyone to admit that and stop the sin of attacking everyone who disagrees.

  • Jeffrey,Thanks for chiming in. I’ve been feeling like a voice in the wilderness here lately. Afghanistan probably meets Just War criteria for harboring the Taliban and Bin Laden, who actually did attack us though, and the Republicans are probably not soley accountable as a politcal party for the death of those children. It sounds like the Afghan generals might have had a lot to do with it.But I agree that this is not a matter of weighing the number of unjust deaths against one another. I am sure that conservative catholics would not be praising McCain-Palin if they sacrificed even one 5 year old to Baal, even if that is only one 5 year old and abortion (which they promise to curtail) has killed 40 Million.In my mind you can make such compromises in the voting booth but you don’t run around singing the praises of such flawed candidates, at least not from a catholic perspective.

  • All of you who disagree with Father here have a problem. You’re more averse to war deaths than abortion deaths because war deaths are tangeable… you can see them, those people had personalities, they have personal stories that can be told. However, just because babies who aren’t yet born go unnoticed by the mainstream media and possibly unknown except to the mother and the doctor, doesn’t make them any less human. They don’t have stories, but they are living beings slaughtered (in the millions) for the sake of convenience. Can we really compare that holocaust to a morally questionable war? Has society blinded us that much?One is morally questionable, while the other is objectively evil. Millions of deaths of unknown babies trumps a war. Sorry, there’s not much you can convince me otherwise.

  • Father did not comment on the sixth point – and that is the mother and father in the US who has been told that an abortion will solve everything and after the abortion, they find out that the abortion did nothing but to terminate the life of their child and to injure them in ways they could never have foreseen or imagined.Further more, tax dollars go to Planned Parent(death)hood – by the millions of dollars to keep the abortion industry happy. Make no mistake about it – abortion is evil and it has cost the United States oh, about 50 million citizens. I reckon that is war…Why in the world would anyone not think that abortion is the number one issue in politics? The deliberate, pre-meditated day in day out termination of life on citizens of this country is wrong.You can dance all around the issue, you can equate it to the wars throughout the world. You can throw in the death penalty, you can complain that so and so is doing such and such and in the end? In the end, the United States and her citizens will be answerable to the question:WHY DID YOU KILL SO MANY MILLIONS OF CHILDREN?If you are not against abortion in all forms, you are for abortion and you are answerable to a higher, much higher power than I. You will not be able to change the subject – you will be held accountable.

  • Jennifer,I’m not sure that anyone here is arguing that abortion isn’t horrible. I think there’s some argument that:1-We should be all gaga lovey dovey towards Palin-McCain when, if anything, they are the least of two evils2-That God plays some utilitarian game when evaluating moral good based on number of deaths and so forth.At the end of the analysis I think I can agree that overturning Roe v. Wade might be a trump card in this election. I would still hold my nose at the ballot box. I would have been far less dissapointed with Christine Todd Whitman or someone like her as the choice for VP. Someone experienced, mature, and vetted.And I certainly wouldn’t pretend catholics who choose Obama are sinners, murderers, or bad catholics; all of which has been implied in the course of these discussions.Mr. Biden reminds me of a lot of liberal catholics I’ve shared a pew with, catholics who trend towards an emphasis on social justice issues rather than life issues. That doesn’t mean they’d ever condone abortion, they’re just not sure criminalization, or what sort of criminalization might be appropriate in a pluralistic society, as Mr. Biden stated.I might decide I disagree with him when we’re one justice short of overturning Roe v. Wade. That really hasn’t happened before. That’s really unique. All of a sudden a presidential election is, in part, a vote on Roe v. Wade. I am still reeling with that and reconciling myself with the consequences.I don’t see why Fr. L and other catholic leaders don’t come right out and address the issue in that fashion.

  • “Mr. Biden reminds me of a lot of liberal catholics I’ve shared a pew with, catholics who trend towards an emphasis on social justice issues rather than life issues. That doesn’t mean they’d ever condone abortion, they’re just not sure criminalization, or what sort of criminalization might be appropriate in a pluralistic society, as Mr. Biden stated.”GAG!!! Biden does condone abortion as do all of those who are in the democrat party – it is in their party line. I do not think that this ‘criminalization’ thing that fear mongers put forth has any merit. There is a fear, unfounded, that those who performed abortions or that those who had abortions will be jailed. Nope – not gonna happen.WHEN abortion is outlawed, then it will be a crime to perform an abortion or assist in anyway – and rightly so. Biden and his ilk irritate me – the “so – called” Catholic in the pew next to you – . You cannot be Catholic and pro-abortion . . .

  • Unjust warEconomyCapital PunishmentAnd several other uncatholic issues of the Republican partyThere is nothing necessarily Catholic or un-Catholic about the Republican Party’s (or Democrat Party’s) stance on the economy. I’m not aware of any candidates for national office in either major party who advocate economic policies whose intent is out of line with Catholic principles. Yes, the two parties do have significantly different ideas on economics. But the intended ends are the same. For example, Republicans are more likely to believe that lowering taxes will stimulate the economy, thus leaving all economic classes better off economically, including the poor. They are more likely to believe that all economic classes (including the poor) are better off by having government get out of their way, in terms of taxes, over-regulation, etc. Democrats on the other hand are more likely to believe that raising taxes and then spending that money directly on programs for the poor is the best way to help the poor. Both of these ideas have the same end in mind, namely advancing the most effective economic policy in order to increase the general welfare of as many people as possible. The difference is that one way works better than the other. But exactly which one works better is a question for economists to answer, not theologians.

  • Paul,I am particularly vexed by unfettered trade with China, which I see as a giant, abortion-crazed gulag that represses the catholic faith. I suppose that is partly foreign policy and partly economic.

  • It’s not just this blog’s comment box that’s divided!http://www.thebostonpilot.com/article.asp?ID=6823

  • I just heard McCain is attacking Obama for voting for a bill that would teach kindergartners about touching. McCain made it out to be explicit sex ed. Well that pisses me off. My parish has touching education for kids. Is my priest some kind of pervert for protecting the safety of kids? No!This election is about more than abortion, folks. It’s also about integrity, which the Republicans don’t seem to have right now.Even if McCain gets to nominate an anti-RvW justice, the senate won’t confirm them. This is simply not a single-issue election. This is about yes, war, energy, torture, integrity, and everything in between. I don’t want anymore C students in the white house at the moment, thank you. C students who don’t know their own assets like # of houses and don’t know the difference between Sunni and Shia. Been there done that for 8 years. I’m sorry, but this election is about more than abortion.

  • Hi again Father!I appreciate so much what you have to say on this issue. The war in Iraq makes me very sad, especially considering that my love is in the Army…but I know that’s a choice he made and I support him. Wars come and wars go–if not this one, there would be another. But babies are a precious gift from God, and I believe we must stand for morality before social decisions. There are so many moral issues at stake with each presidential election, and I agree with you that we must stand for what is right before what makes us comfortable.Elizabeth