Dialogue on Conservative vs. Liberal Pro-Life Voting

Dialogue on Conservative vs. Liberal Pro-Life Voting February 9, 2019

Nathaniel Sperling is a good Facebook friend, with whom I always have cordial and constructive dialogues. He calls himself a “progressive conservative” on his Facebook page, and I think he would also self-identify as a democratic socialist. He’s a Bernie Sanders supporter and a pro-life Catholic.

That makes for a good opportunity to discuss informed, thoughtful reasons for voting Democrat or Republican: specifically with regard to the abortion issue. Such a dialogue recently occurred spontaneously on my Facebook page. Since I am always seeking to build bridges between the self-labeled “new” (leftish / usually Democrat) and so-called “old” (conservative / usually Republican) wings of the pro-life movement (and it seems to be difficult to do), I really appreciated this chance to do that.

We can get along and learn from each other if we will simply talk and listen to each other. Nathaniel’s words will be in blue.


On a lot of the actual issues, I probably agree with Mark Shea’s view, especially as it relates to voting and how to best promote the pro-life cause.

Even though, say, Sen. Bernie Sanders is vocally pro-choice, I firmly believe his actual policies would reduce the number of abortions (by making health care more affordable and accessible for expecting mother and their newborns, offering greater economic and educational opportunity for single mothers [and all families], reducing the cost of child care and other ancillary expenses related to raising children, etc.), and the Cardinal Ratzinger Caveat (no disrespect intended to the Pope-emeritus, but he made this statement while still a Cardinal) protects those who vote for a pro-choice politician, in spite of (not due to) their pro-choice views, and because the politician supports perceived good/better policies in other areas.

My complaint with Mark, and others, is that, even as they vote based on the Cardinal Ratzinger Caveat, they refuse to recognize that that same Caveat applies to the other side as well. In other words, someone supporting Trump, in spite of his immoral policies, but because they believe he has perceived good/better policies in other areas, is just as protected by the Caveat as the pro-life Sen. Sanders supporter.

I like you, Nathaniel, and respect your thinking processes and integrity, but you couldn’t be more wrong than you are in this respect. I totally agree with your third paragraph; utterly disagree with your second.

To think that voting Democrat (the exact same way that all the pro-aborts vote, to achieve their nefarious and evil ends) will in any way, matter, shape, or form reduce abortion is to live in an alternate universe. It makes less than no sense at all. I don’t see any evidence for it.

I agree with you that if someone is just voting Democrat (or, for that matter, Republican) for little other reason than just partisanship, then a good argument could be made that that is not protected by the Caveat.

After all, to quote part of the Caveat, “When a Catholic does not share the candidate’s stance in favor of abortion or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.” I think most sensible people would agree that partisanship for its own sake is not a “proportionate reason”.

Certainly, there can be disagreements on what amounts to a “proportionate reason”, and we may well disagree (and I appreciate your compliment, and I respect your integrity and intelligence as well, and I am glad we can have positive and thoughtful discussions, even on topics we disagree on).

The reason I think it preferable to apply a more lenient definition of “proportionate reason” comes down to, one, avoiding the risk of what Mark’s post exemplifies (a leniency for me, but not for thee, construct); two, keeping the discussion to a matter of prudential disagreement; and, three, because of the idea that the measure by which I judge is the measure that will be used against me (hence, leniency, so long as it’s reasonable, is always preferable to me than stringency), whether in temporal interpersonal relationships, or before the Judgment Seat of God.

Sorry if I offended you, Dave. I meant what I said that I appreciate we can disagree, yet still have positive or friendly conversations, but I want to make sure I don’t cross a line, so-to-speak.

No offense whatsoever!

You are going beyond voting for a Democrat despite their pro-abortion stance. You and new pro-lifers claim that voting for them actually is the better pro-life choice. That position I find utterly inexplicable and baffling and counter to reality, as I perceive it to be, as a political junkie and pro-life activist since 1982.

The rabid pro-abort votes Democrat because they know that this furthers their cause (free access to abortion; in effect, more abortion). Then the new pro-lifer comes along and also votes Democrat because they think it furthers their cause (less abortion, and less need for abortion, too).

Both things can’t be correct in outcome and eventual political action. Someone is deluding themselves. I really don’t think it’s plausible to argue that committed abortion advocates don’t know which party better upholds their dreadful and evil cause. Hillary Clinton was named Planned Parenthood’s Champion of the Century for a reason. Yet Mark Shea claimed it was more pro-life to vote for her than for Trump: which in my opinion, is literally outside of reality and not only irrational but anti-rational.

And if the pro-abort Democrats-to-a-person are correct, then the new pro-lifer is tragically wrong, no matter how well-meaning and well-intentioned.

I’d like to hear your answers to my latest questions and comments because I truly don’t understand the reasoning involved among new pro-lifers. If anyone can explain it to me (agree or disagree), it’s you. So please continue.

It seems like the Cardinal Ratzinger Caveat allows, except in the most extreme situations, politics to revert to a conversation of prudence than morals.

Once the political conversation devolves to, “Politician A supports such-and-such, which is an immoral policy, and, thus, you sin by supporting them,” that ends any constructive conversation, and opens the door for a retort of, “Oh yeah, well Politician B, who you support, has this immoral policy, and, hence, you sin by supporting them.” Again, that’s not a constructive conversation and is unlikely to genuinely change anyone’s views.

The Caveat only works, though, if all sides are willing to extend the same charitable and reasonable interpretation to each other.

For me, abortion is by far the leading moral issue of our time. It’s quite clear to me that voting GOP is the way to lessen abortions, since only the GOP is legislating to do so. Therefore, I vote for them, just as I would have voted for Lincoln and the infant GOP to oppose and end slavery.

It’s as if you are arguing (analogously) that the Democrats of 1860 were the party to vote for in order to have a better chance to end (or even lessen) slavery.

While I do believe that the policies of some pro-choice Democrats, such as the economic populism of Sen. Bernie Sanders, helps to reduce the demand for abortion, I also recognize that is a debatable claim, and a matter of prudential disagreement.

Sorry if I have ever made it seem like, either out of error or in a too vehement response to other pro-lifers, that it is objectively better, or more pro-life, to vote for a pro-choice candidate with certain other policies. It comes down to a matter of prudential ideas and subjective views, which is why I disagree when Mark [Shea], or others, tries to condemn those who support Trump, in spite of (as opposed to because of) the policies of his that are unjust, since that’s applying a highly stringent, not to mention double-standardized, interpretation of the Caveat.

My chief intellectual complaint with those who are pro-life and morally condemn (as opposed to merely prudentially disagreeing with) supporting Trump, but then defend voting for a pro-choice candidate, in spite of said candidate’s pro-choice views, is because that is applying a double-standard version of the Caveat.

Disagree with voting for a given candidate all one wants, but how can one morally condemn someone who supports Candidate A, in spite of Candidate A’s immoral policies on an issue, but then claim it is okay to support Candidate B, despite Candidate B’s immoral policies on an issue? If voting for Trump, in spite of his immoral policies, is morally wrong, then voting for Sen. Sanders (or any other pro-choice candidate), in spite of their immoral policies, is morally wrong, too.

You argue that voting for Sanders would reduce abortions (presumably more so than a GOP vote). Or am I missing something there? You stated above: “Even though, say, Sen. Bernie Sanders is vocally pro-choice, I firmly believe his actual policies would reduce the number of abortions . . .”

But it’s a subjective opinion, one that anyone is free to disagree with. One reason I used the words, ‘I firmly believe’ is because I know it’s an opinion. I think there is evidence that can be interpreted to support such an opinion, but my understanding is there is also evidence which can be interpreted to disagree with such an opinion (which is why there is so much debate among pro-lifers on the subject: the problem is when it goes from being a prudential debate to a bitter and acrimonious argument).

Yes, I totally agree with your reasoning about consistent application of the Caveat, and have often thought the same myself.

Thanks for your latest comments. I am still trying to understand how both the pro-abort voting for Democrats and the pro-lifer voting for Democrats can both simultaneously achieve their goals (pro-abortion or pro-life).

They can’t both be right. It hasn’t been demonstrated that a vote for those who proudly proclaim their pro-abortion views actually reduces abortion. The rate has gone down roughly by the same amount under Presidents of both parties. I have argued (with evidence) that this is because of abortion restrictions in states. And we know that those came from virtually all Republican legislators.

I don’t think there is any “proportionate” reasons to vote for a pro-abort if a pro-lifer is on the ticket. I think Cdl. Ratzinger was talking about situations where there are two pro-abort candidates and we have to choose the lesser of two evils. There is no question that we are permitted by the Church to do that.

This may be an area [referring to Cdl. Ratzinger’s remark] where we’ll just have to agree to disagree. You make valid points, and if that’s what you believe and feel, then you should vote accordingly, and I respect that.

Based on my interactions with people who are pro-choice, and my reading of the mainstream pro-choice viewpoint, most people who are pro-choice are not really pro-abortion, but they believe a woman in such a situation should be able to make a decision in conference with her doctor, etc. (and many people who are pro-choice are uncomfortable with the topic, and are certainly opposed to “partial birth abortion”), and are motivated by genuine and noble love and compassion for the woman in question. I, of course, disagree with their view, but I recognize that they are motivated by positive intentions and that being pro-choice is not the same as being pro-abortion.

In most cases, the pro-choice person who supports a pro-choice politician wants to ensure that women have a choice in such a situation, while the pro-life person who supports a pro-choice politician, because of other policies said politician supports, believes that those other policies will reduce the demand for abortion. The pro-choice person is motivated to ensure options for the expectant mother (not a desire to increase abortion for its own sake), while the pro-life person in this situation is trying to reduce the demand for abortion. These are not contrary goals.

Reduced demand for abortion (which the pro-lifer wants) through policies designed to help expectant mothers, children, families, etc. would, hopefully, mean fewer and fewer women choose to abort, and if this happens, then, while the choice is still there (which the person who is pro-choice wants), the number of abortions will decrease and it will become a less used choice.

Thanks for the explanation (articulate as always).

Where is the hard statistical evidence that freer availability of abortion (per the standard policy position of virtually all Democrats today) makes the rate of abortion go down?

If that were true, wouldn’t it follow that the states with the most liberal and extreme abortion laws (New York, Vermont, etc.: basically east and west coasts) would show a lowering of abortion rates, because of all that supposed superior and singular liberal compassion for women and indeed, all who are down and out? Can you show that such permissive laws have in fact lowered the rates in those states?

I would contend that it seems very likely (before examining hard evidence) that more availability of abortion, just as in the case of contraceptives and sex education in schools, will make the abortion rate go up, not down.

We have to support our speculations with hard evidence at some point. If abortion rates go down when more restrictions are available, would they not go up when less restrictions apply? Seems to just be common sense to me.

Ideally, Dave, there’d be economic/reform populist politicians who, at the same time as they implement policies to reduce the demand for abortion, they would also implement policies to reduce supply (i.e. restrict access) to abortions.

Certainly, on its own, freer availability abortions on its own will, at best, have no effect on the abortion rate, and, most likely, actually increase the rate. On this, we’re agreed.

The question comes down to what happens when, on the one hand, there is greater and easier availability of abortions, but, on the other hand, family- and child-friendly policies (such as those articulated by many of the economic/reform populists: paid maternity and paternity leave, quality low-cost health care for mothers and their children, quality low-cost child care, etc.) are implemented. The latter would seem to reduce the demand for abortions, regardless of accessibility and availability of abortions.

The evidence for all this is that abortion rates have been on the decrease in the US since the 1980s, and they decrease regardless of who is President, and by looking at other countries’ experiences. Many Western European countries have fairly loose abortion laws, but they also have strong social and economic support systems for expectant women, children, and families, and they have lower abortion rates than the US.

The abortion rates have decreased since 1989: precisely because of the Webster decision, that allowed restrictions. Restrictions on abortion in states cause the rate to go down. Hence, there are about a million abortions a year now compared to 1.5 million for many years.

It’s 99% Republicans who passed those restrictions. Any pro-lifer would have to agree that restrictions on abortion are good, since they lower abortion rates, and we like that because we think abortion is wrong (murder, according to Catholic social teaching).

So how is it that we should vote for politicians who want legal abortion with no restrictions, as opposed to ones who will allow more limitations? How is that furthering the pro-life cause?

And how can the pro-lifer vote for a President who will appoint pro-abortion judges: especially to the Supreme Court?

You make very good points, Dave, and do an excellent job arguing for why, regardless of other policies that might reduce the demand for abortions, policies which would restrict abortions are more important.

As this election gears up, if the Democrats continue to obsess about abortion, especially promoting “partial-birth abortion”, I’ll have to at least consider the unthinkable (voting for Trump), but I certainly won’t be happy about it, either way. It’s a terrible spot the Democrats have a put a lot of pro-lifers in: either support a pro-choice Democrat in the hopes their other policies will reduce the demand for abortion, or vote for a vocally pro-life Republican whose other policies may actually hurt families and children (especially of the lower-, working-, and middle-class).

Lowest unemployment ever for blacks, Hispanics, and women and a booming economy: the best in the world: all since Obama. How that is “hurt[ing] families and children (especially of the lower-, working-, and middle-class)” is, I confess, a puzzling mystery to me. If that is a bad economy and hurts these people, I’d like to see what a good economy looks like. We sure didn’t have it during Obama.

I still think that there is room for supporting pro-choice politicians, in spite of their pro-choice views, in the hopes that their other policies would reduce the demand for it, but I think it only applies to certain Democrats, the true economic/reform populists (such as Sen. Sanders or Rep. Gabbard). I’m certainly no partisan Democrat (I’m still registered Republican, in fact).

Also, regardless of who I end up voting for for President, I tend to vote Republican when it comes to the legislature. If we have a pro-choice President, there does need to be a check on their power so that they can’t run roughshod over restrictions (which tend to be at the state level and based on state legislatures and courts).

Again, you probably do one of the best jobs I’ve seen arguing for a traditional Pro-Life voting pattern, and I do read/listen to what you say, and I do keep it in mind.

I appreciate your kind words. I think you do a good job, too, but I remain unconvinced of your position. I don’t think that’s due to your ability in articulating it (which is the best I’ve seen as well); rather, it’s because I think it is a very difficult case to make, and “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

But it’s gratifying to at least be able to talk about it with mutual respect and minus any rancor whatever. That itself is rare as hen’s teeth these days. Yet if we hope to have any cultural unity at all we must keep trying to talk to each other, based on what we do have in common.

Same here. I always enjoy, and learn a lot, from our conversations, even when we disagree.

We are in an age of postmodern subjective mush. Most people can’t reason anymore, much less engage in intelligent dialogue. We’re beyond all that. Now people only yell at and despise each other.

Sadly, the Democrats seem intent on making it more difficult. I think Mark Shea gets absolutely correct is when he has pointed out that if Democrats went back to the first President Clinton’s notion of “safe, legal, and rare”, they’d rarely lose another election. By adopting an extreme position on abortion (even most pro-choice people believe their should be some restrictions, especially in the last trimester), they basically hand the GOP an easy cause celebre.

Still, I think there is some hope for a sort of detente on social and cultural matters, but it would require a candidate such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (remember, he was well-received at Liberty University [link] ), or Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, both of whom seem willing to be more tolerant/less obsessive on social/cultural issues.

On the other hand, the negative partisanship and polarization on both sides make such a thawing difficult. For instance, President Obama tried to be open to disagreement on issues such as abortion, and even nominated a relatively moderate individual (Judge Garland) for SCOTUS, but the GOP refused to meet the President halfway, which meant he had to rely more and more on his base.


For many more of my own writings on pro-life issues (including a lot of respectful critique of the New Pro-Life Movement), see my Life Issues web page.


Photo credit: geralt (6-6-15) [PixabayPixabay License]

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