Those who claim it is impermissible for a Catholic to vote for Obama based on his pro-abortion advocacy make a number of errors. The first is that the voter is complicit in the formal cooperation with evilthat goes along with such advocacy. Such is the implicit assumption behind the erroneous Catholic Answers voter guide that sets out five non-negotiable issues, also conveniently bypassing equally grave intrinsically evil acts like torture. But the more sophisticated argument recognizes clearly that any cooperation is material, and very probably remote, as long as there is no intent to support the intrinsically evil position. The USCCB makes this point pellucidly clear. Thus the decision boils down to what constitutes a grave moral reason that would allow a Catholic to invoke the proportionality reason to vote for a person who supports an intrinsically evil action. As this argument goes, given the moral gravity of abortion, with more than a million unborn lives snuffed out each year, it is simply not conceivable to conjure up a proportionate reason that is sufficiently grave to justify supporting a pro-abortion advocate. Case closed…but not really.
What is the problem here? It is quite simple. For while a well-formed conscience must recognize that intrinsically evil issues stand apart, what matters is less the rhetoric than the ability to influence the intended outcome. As the USCCB’s Faithful Citizenship document puts it: “These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.” In other words, those who say that a Catholic cannot find a proportionate reason to vote for Obama because of the number of abortions that take place each year fail to understand that the election of either Barack Obama or John McCain would have very little effect on the incidence of abortion. Under such circumstances, there are plenty of grave moral reasons to support Obama that come to mind. One can believe, as I do wholeheartedly, that he is the candidate likely to do the least harm and to promote the common good.
Let’s be honest: his executive power could support abortion and ESCR through public funding (although McCain has an identical position on the latter). But given that abortion is deeply rooted in poverty, his economic, social, and health care policies might lead to a diminution in abortion– as happened under the Clinton administration. None of this we know for sure, but that is exactly the point when it comes to weighing up proportionate reasons in this particular exercise in decision making: it is inherently probabilistic. Do I believe Obama really desires to pass the Freedom of Choice Act, and if it did, that it would stand a chance of succeeding? No I do not, for the same reasons that I believe a constitutional pro-life amendment is off the political radar: because it is simply too far removed from mainstream opinion.So, focusing on the abortion issue alone, we need to look at these two candidates not only in terms of rhetoric, but in terms of the ability to influence the outcome. The difference is straightforward. McCain rightly opposes Roe v. Wade and wrongly refuses to provide support to families in terms of encouraging the bearing and rearing of children. Obama wrongly supports the “right” under Roe v. Wade, but rightly has latched onto the need to provide material support. As noted by the authoritative Declartion on Procured Abortion, “One can never approve of abortion; but it is above all necessary to combat its causes. This includes political action, which will be in particular the task of the law. But it is necessary at the same time to influence morality and to do everything possible to help families, mothers and children.” The approaches are simply inseparable, and no true pro-lifer can choose one without the other.
Even on the issue of legal protection, it is not so clear. A true pro-life approach says that the right to life of the unborn child warrants some protection under the law. It does not invoke a kind of warped subsidiarity to claim that the decision should be made by lower levels of government, as has been argued by John McCain and Sarah Palin. And let’s face it, the day Roe v. Wade is history is the day that these “rights” are codified in the largest and most populous states. So no, on the abortion issue alone (abstracting even from the consistent ethic of life), these candidates cannot be seen as pro-life. Then again, neither can Barack Obama. Since this is clear, feel free to bring your various proportionate reasons (on both sides) to the table. But stop trying to obfuscate the issue by drawing false distinctions.