Catholics Say the Darndest Things

Catholics say the darndest things.  Take, for instance, the Catholic physician who has sacrificed and worked hard to promote Catholic teaching on birth control and a natural approach to women's health, but who then says in public: "What we need to do is stop worrying about social justice.  If there's no babies, there's no social justice!"


I hope you can see the problems with such a statement, but if not... let me explain why I'm angry and disappointed that an educated Catholic physician who intends to be faithful to the Church would say something like this.  On a very basic level, he shows ignorance of the fact that the lack of social justice is one of the primary causes of abortion.


First, usually when we are talking about "social justice" we mean the "poor," so let's begin with them.  With respect to abortion... where are the clinics that we protest?  Who are they directed towards?  Here in St. Louis the two clinics I think of immediately that provide abortions are in low-income areas, near large immigrant populations, near shelters and stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.   There's an obvious population to which they intend to cater.  Not to mention, if a young poor woman, without insurance, wanted to practice a natural form of family planning (i.e., no artificial contraceptives, no abortion), what are the chances that she could afford that kind of care?  Is NFP available to those who are in most need of it, those who are most vulnerable to abortion, sexual abuses in marriage, the lies of the contraceptive mentality?  Where are these few doctors anyway?––are they mostly in the suburbs, catering to the wealthy?  Are they available to the poor?  Can the poor afford them?  Do the poor know about them?  These same poor... are the ones who are getting a large number of the abortions in this country.  The Guttmacher Institute reports that: 

Women with family incomes below the federal poverty level ($18,530 for a family of three) account for more than 40% of all abortions. They also have one of the country’s highest abortion rates (52 per 1,000 women). In contrast, higher-income women (with family incomes at or above 200% of the poverty line) have a rate of nine abortions per 1,000, which is about half the national rate.

Yet we continue to insist that abortion has nothing to do with social justice!  That it has nothing to do with the care for the poor and underprivileged!  One of the main reasons why women claim they need an abortion is because they do not have the resources to care for a child.  Over the years pro-life groups have recognized that they cannot be concerned only with saving unborn children, but that they must provide direct and real support to the mothers whom they are trying to convince to have their babies.   They now focus not only on the pregnancy, but also the quality of life after birth.  However, what about the quality of life even before conception?  Without social justice, there can be no true end to abortion, an end that not only makes it illegal, but makes it undesirable.


So, no true Christian should honestly be able to separate the importance of fighting for the rights of the unborn person from those other responsibilities of the Christian toward the family and society in which that child is born.  It is simply not enough to say that we must fight for their right to be born because if they are not born, there's no reason to be concerned about their other rights after birth.  This is especially so because prior even to a child's conception there are factors influencing his or her future: the emotional and physical health of the mother, her economic status, her marital status, her educational level, her skills and her ability––quite simply––to love.  If these things are not 'in place' even before conception, if these values have not been with her since her own childhood, she is already at a disadvantage as a mother (let alone as a human being who has a right to dignity and health and education!).  Is she not then more likely to believe that abortion is the solution to her problem of an unwanted pregnancy?  A child must not only feel welcome in her mother's womb, she must also be welcomed into the world, into society!  A society that is inhospitable to her, to her mother, to her father, because of their race, because of their economic status or 'value', because of their religion, or because of her sex... would naturally promote the idea that she is better off dead, better off aborted.  How can we be so naive as to not see these things interwoven, intrinsically linked, bound up in the struggle for human dignity and justice?!


Lastly, it is important to say explicitly that abortion is a social justice issue.  There simply is no way to separate abortion from the whole of Catholic teaching on justice in society.  Of the seven principles of Catholic social doctrine (which is not some "niche" of Catholic theology, but derives from Scripture and the very heart of the Catholic spirit), principal among them are the dignity of the human person and the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.  The care and protection of and advocacy for the unborn is a basic component of this teaching, but it is not the only aspect.  From the Vatican directly:

It must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. —Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, no. 4

I hold the Church's teaching on the sanctity of human life to be foundational, and it must be upheld and promoted in the public square.  It constitutes an important part of the truth about human life.  And I also know that the Truth concerns the Gospel of the One who came to proclaim that truth––Him whose prophet once said, "Come, buy wine and milk, without money, without price" (Isaiah 55:1), and whose apostle once wrote that he preached the Gospel free of charge, without price (1 Corinthians 9:18).  The Gospel, and the truth about human sexuality and dignity that it contains, is especially for the poor ("I have come to proclaim glad tidings to the poor," Luke 4:18).  The Gospel belongs to them.  They have every right to hear it, and to be served by it.  They have a right to know and live according to the Truth, the Truth that we are often only willing to preach to the middle class, to the wealthy, to our own kind.  If the rich, even rich Catholics, continue to pronounce judgment but fail to lift a finger to aid those who often sin out of ignorance... how are they any different from the Pharisees of Jesus' time?