The National Catholic Review
Germain Grisez

Members of the United States Congress never are in a position to support the legalization of abortion, because in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it by raw judicial power. The Supreme Court’s imposition does not, however, require those measures conducive to abortion that many members of Congress support. For example, the Supreme Court did not require that public funding be provided for abortions, but members of Congress regularly are in a position to support or oppose such funding.

Forty-eight Catholic members of Congress addressed a widely publicized letter on May 10 to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., arguing that those of them who vote for legislation consistent with that mandate [the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion decisions] are not acting contrary to our positions as faithful members of the Catholic Church.

Supporting abortion funding is supporting legislation consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decisions. But supporting abortion funding ought to be recognized as incompatible with being a faithful member of the Catholic Church. Of course, not everyone who votes for a bill that includes abortion funding along with many other things supports funding for abortions. But when the issue in committee or on the floor of the House or Senate is whether to include or exclude such funding among other appropriations, those who vote to include the funding or vote against excluding it do support funding for abortions.

In Reflections on Catholics in Political Life and the Reception of Holy Communion, Archbishop William J. Levada of San Fransisco wrote on June 13, 2004:

 

Can a politician be guilty of formal cooperation in evil? If the person intends to promote the killing of innocent life, s/he would be guilty of such sinful cooperation. If such an intention were present, even a voter could be guilty of such cooperation. But this seems unlikely as a general rule. Should every Catholic politician who has voted for an unjust law favoring abortion be judged to have this intention? I hope not. The public nature of such votes raises the question perforce. But this is the point of a pastor’s solicitude for this member of his flock. He will need to inquire of his fellow Catholics about their intentions, about their understanding of their faith obligations, about their concept of their role in living out their faith in political life, about how they recognize their duty to uphold the law of nature and of nature’s God through the legislation of just laws, and the avoidance of unjust ones.

 

If Catholic politicians who support funding for abortions were asked about their intentions, as Archbishop Levada suggests, they almost certainly would say that they do not intend to promote the killing of innocent life. If honest, they probably would say that they intend to please elements of their constituency without whose support their rivals may well be nominated to run in their place. They may claim that they do not intend to promote abortions but only to see to it that the women for whose abortions they support funding will not be disadvantaged by comparison with more prosperous women, or women who have health insurance to pay for their abortions.

Such statements could be truthful. One can and usually does intend many ends whenever one chooses to do anything as complex as voting in a legislative assembly. And most if not all the ends Catholic politicians are likely to admit intending would not need to involve killing the innocent.

But choosing to support abortion funding also has a built-in intention. Whoever engages and pays someone to do something intends that it be done. Thus, when Mr. M’s wife or girlfriend or secretary tells him that she is pregnant with his child, and he offers to take her to an abortionist and pay for the abortion, Mr. M intends that the woman get an abortion. If she took his money and used it to buy diapers and a crib for the baby she meant to have, keep and raisein part with the help of Mr. M’s regular child support paymentshis intention in providing the funds would be frustrated.

Similarly, when the U.S. government engages and pays abortionists to do abortions, the U.S. government intends that abortions be done. The government’s act of engaging and paying abortionists to do abortions is complex. Part of that actnot some extrinsic act that only cooperates with itis the legislating that includes abortion among services to be supplied; part of it is the legislating that appropriates the funds. Other parts of it are actions by members of the executive branch and, in some cases, by various officials at the state level.

Imagine a situation in which the officials of some state accept federal funds offered under an act of Congress that provides them for abortions, but after receiving the grant, those state officials do not fund abortions. Instead, they set up a program to counsel pregnant women not to get abortions, and if the women agree to carry their babies to term, the officials use the available funds to pay for diapers, cribs and so forth. Lawsuits surely would be filed in the federal courts, and most federal judges surely would hold that those state officials were violating the intent of Congress by not paying for abortions with the money appropriated for abortions.

Moreover, if Congress entirely forbade the use of federal funds for abortion, no office of the executive branch and no state agency expending federal funds would be able to engage and pay any abortionist to do an abortion. And, surely, some abortions that would be funded with federal funds would never be done if they were not funded. So, members of Congress who support abortion funding not only intend to engage and pay abortionists to do abortions, but their participation is a necessary condition, a sine qua non, for the killing of some unborn babies.

In sum, legislators who support abortion funding ipso facto intend that abortions be done. Archbishop Levada is badly mistaken. As a general rule, Catholic politicians who support abortion fundingas well as some other measures consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion decisionsintend to promote the killing of the innocent.

For other articles on Catholics politicians, click here.

Germain Grisez is professor of Christian ethics at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Md.

Comments

Charles Miller | 9/3/2004 - 11:26am
I am old enough to remember the debate when John F. Kennedy sought the US presidency. It was said that if a Catholic was elected President then the White House would be commanded from the Vatican. We Catholics confidently responded that our Pope would never try such a thing. He understood that Catholics who hold public office in this country must demonstrate that they accept the principal of separation of church and state. A Catholic American who does not accept this principal fails in the central aspects of Citizenship.

Current events prove that our Protestant critics knew us better than we knew ourselves. Some of our bishops, with the support of Rome, are attempting to force Catholic Politicians to "vote the party line". The clear message to Americans is, "Catholics can't be trusted in public office. They have to vote as their Bishops tell them not according to the needs of the nation, or the dictates of their own conscience."

I will vote for John Kerry. I would vote for anyone who had a chance against Bush. Any sacrifice is justified to get the "butcher of Bagdad" out of the Whitehouse. But in general I will now have to think twice before voting for a Catholic in any election.

Accepting the principal of separation of church and state is part of accepting the constitution of the United States. A citizen who rejects the constitution is renoucing their citzenship. Perhaps these Bishops should be barred from the poles as persons who have renounced their citizenship. Maybe they should be required to register as agents of a foreign power. It even might be logical to disenfranchise any person who could be shown to have given them finanacial support. Do you think that there might possibly be some persons who would be glad of a reason to remove great blocs of thousands of Catholics from the voter roles?

I am trying to make the point that the behavior of these Bishops is profoundly perilous to Catholic political power in the US.

Ruth M. Mahr | 9/9/2004 - 12:32pm
Enough already!

Catholics have a fine tradition of confirming life, peace, and justice in all of their many manifestations. Though some Catholic bishops might have us believe otherwise, these are not limited to rights of the unborn fetus, but are all embracing and involve policy issues that include, among others, the environment, gun control, the death penalty, income distribution and poverty.

By focusing on the single issue of abortion, these Catholic bishops, some Catholics, and now, I fear, the editors of America are succumbing to the single-issue stance of the religious right, thereby helping to elect a president who lied to the American public, who took us into a preemptive war in which thousands of innocent people have been killed and maimed, whose energy and environmental policies are a setback to the more protective policies of previous administrations, who has presided over a massive shift in income distribution in this country and increased the ranks of those in poverty, wno is opposed to gun control, who supports the death penalty, and who has squandered fiscal responsibility, making it less likley that we will fund initiatives (including "no child left behind") that would contribute to a more just society. Where is the "right to life" in all this? Where are Catholics? Where is your magazine?

Joseph Kash | 9/5/2004 - 4:32pm
The "principle of the separation of church and state" is no where to be found in the constitution! At the time of the ratification of the constitution by the states, all states had laws respecting the establishment of religion. Someone has done a good job in brainwashing Americans into believing that there is some clause in the constitution that says there is a separation of church and state. My belief is that the media and Hollywood are the "someone".

Todays Gospel (9/5/04) says "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sister, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." As a Catholic we must put God first. We must bring God into the political arena.

Rev. Kenneth Hein, O.S.B. | 8/28/2004 - 12:08pm
Germain Grisez argues logically enough that support for abortion funding includes the intention "to promote the killing of the innocent." However, the article does not adequately discuss the fact that elected politicians are supposed to represent the will of their constituents in addition to upholding the Constitution and the decisions of the Supreme Court. Perhaps a good way to deal with the issue of public funding for abortion services is to adopt and adapt the way some European countries allow a taxpayer to apply a portion of his/her taxes to the support of a religious denomination by checking off the appropriate box. This does not reduce one's tax burden; but it does respect the individual's choice and conscience. This procedure, when applied to the abortion issue, would "depoliticize" the issue and allow Congress to get gracefully out of bed with Planned Parenthood while respecting the will and conscience of the electorate.
Marion Ragsdale | 2/19/2007 - 6:24pm
I found it interesting that not one letter you printed (Letters, 10/18) in response to Congressman David Obey’s essay, “My Conscience, My Vote” (8/16), and Germain Grisez’s “Catholic Politicians and Abortion Funding” (8/30) was written by a woman.

But that small detail aside, I have to admit that while the writers by no means agree with one another, each letter was so well written, presenting differing views so skillfully and thoughtfully, that I am even more conflicted than ever about the issue of denying Communion to a public official who disagrees with us on matters of morality, such as abortion.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of these particular letters is their overall charitable tone, their lack of what the editorial, “The Catholic Mind,” in the same issue, decries as “petty name-calling, ad hominem arguments and a ‘gotcha’ politics of denunciation.”

Talk about studying a complex problem from all angles without rancor; only a Jesuit journal could create this cerebral dilemma! Thanks—I think.

Dennis O’Brien | 2/19/2007 - 5:35pm
I have become increasingly confused by the demand of Catholic thinkers like Germain Grisez (“Catholic Politicians and Abortion Funding,” 8/30) that we should be steadfastly “opposed to abortion.” I am appalled at the widespread practice of abortion in the United States, but I find Grisez’s arguments, like those of many church officials, abstract to the point of emptiness.

Does being “opposed to abortion” mean that they wish to re-criminalize abortion? If, as Grisez suggests, abortion was wrongly made legal by an act of “raw judicial power,” I assume he would wish it made illegal by reversing that decision. But a simple reversal of Roe v. Wade would not have the effect of making abortion illegal. Roe undercut state legislation on abortion by claiming a constitutionally protected privacy right. Absent the constitutional ruling, the issue would be back with the states who have primary jurisdiction over criminal law. It is almost certain that in the absence of Roe, some state legislatures would establish laws legalizing abortion.

Specific legislation might range from highly restrictive to more permissive. In short, the realistic outcome of reversing Roe would not be the abolition of abortion as a legal option within the United States. Women seeking permissive abortion conditions would choose a particular state. Easy access to abortion would be as it was in the good/bad old days, when couples went to Reno for a quick divorce.

To make abortion illegal in the United States in an effective way, one would need a constitutional amendment banning the procedure, an act akin to the Prohibition amendment. There are those who opt for such an amendment. All one can say is that it is quite improbable that any such amendment could be approved, given the general if troubled support for some sort of legal abortions within the United States.

But let us suppose that somehow abortion would be made illegal. What would the legal penalty be for violating the prohibition? One would think, judging from the rhetoric about “the killing of the innocent” (Grisez), that abortion must be tantamount to murder, or at least voluntary manslaughter. Would the normal, severe penalties be exacted in that case? Against the abortion provider? Against the woman? If the death penalty or long prison sentences seem too severe and one settled for fines or limited jail terms, what does that say about the moral/legal status of abortion? If not murder, what? Do circumstances count?

Proclaiming “opposition to abortion” without examining the very real and difficult problems of specific legislation that are presumed to follow from that stance may warm the moral sensibility, but it remains a posture, not a policy.

Charles Miller | 9/3/2004 - 11:26am
I am old enough to remember the debate when John F. Kennedy sought the US presidency. It was said that if a Catholic was elected President then the White House would be commanded from the Vatican. We Catholics confidently responded that our Pope would never try such a thing. He understood that Catholics who hold public office in this country must demonstrate that they accept the principal of separation of church and state. A Catholic American who does not accept this principal fails in the central aspects of Citizenship.

Current events prove that our Protestant critics knew us better than we knew ourselves. Some of our bishops, with the support of Rome, are attempting to force Catholic Politicians to "vote the party line". The clear message to Americans is, "Catholics can't be trusted in public office. They have to vote as their Bishops tell them not according to the needs of the nation, or the dictates of their own conscience."

I will vote for John Kerry. I would vote for anyone who had a chance against Bush. Any sacrifice is justified to get the "butcher of Bagdad" out of the Whitehouse. But in general I will now have to think twice before voting for a Catholic in any election.

Accepting the principal of separation of church and state is part of accepting the constitution of the United States. A citizen who rejects the constitution is renoucing their citzenship. Perhaps these Bishops should be barred from the poles as persons who have renounced their citizenship. Maybe they should be required to register as agents of a foreign power. It even might be logical to disenfranchise any person who could be shown to have given them finanacial support. Do you think that there might possibly be some persons who would be glad of a reason to remove great blocs of thousands of Catholics from the voter roles?

I am trying to make the point that the behavior of these Bishops is profoundly perilous to Catholic political power in the US.

Ruth M. Mahr | 9/9/2004 - 12:32pm
Enough already!

Catholics have a fine tradition of confirming life, peace, and justice in all of their many manifestations. Though some Catholic bishops might have us believe otherwise, these are not limited to rights of the unborn fetus, but are all embracing and involve policy issues that include, among others, the environment, gun control, the death penalty, income distribution and poverty.

By focusing on the single issue of abortion, these Catholic bishops, some Catholics, and now, I fear, the editors of America are succumbing to the single-issue stance of the religious right, thereby helping to elect a president who lied to the American public, who took us into a preemptive war in which thousands of innocent people have been killed and maimed, whose energy and environmental policies are a setback to the more protective policies of previous administrations, who has presided over a massive shift in income distribution in this country and increased the ranks of those in poverty, wno is opposed to gun control, who supports the death penalty, and who has squandered fiscal responsibility, making it less likley that we will fund initiatives (including "no child left behind") that would contribute to a more just society. Where is the "right to life" in all this? Where are Catholics? Where is your magazine?

Joseph Kash | 9/5/2004 - 4:32pm
The "principle of the separation of church and state" is no where to be found in the constitution! At the time of the ratification of the constitution by the states, all states had laws respecting the establishment of religion. Someone has done a good job in brainwashing Americans into believing that there is some clause in the constitution that says there is a separation of church and state. My belief is that the media and Hollywood are the "someone".

Todays Gospel (9/5/04) says "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sister, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." As a Catholic we must put God first. We must bring God into the political arena.

Rev. Kenneth Hein, O.S.B. | 8/28/2004 - 12:08pm
Germain Grisez argues logically enough that support for abortion funding includes the intention "to promote the killing of the innocent." However, the article does not adequately discuss the fact that elected politicians are supposed to represent the will of their constituents in addition to upholding the Constitution and the decisions of the Supreme Court. Perhaps a good way to deal with the issue of public funding for abortion services is to adopt and adapt the way some European countries allow a taxpayer to apply a portion of his/her taxes to the support of a religious denomination by checking off the appropriate box. This does not reduce one's tax burden; but it does respect the individual's choice and conscience. This procedure, when applied to the abortion issue, would "depoliticize" the issue and allow Congress to get gracefully out of bed with Planned Parenthood while respecting the will and conscience of the electorate.