Pope St. John Paul II on abortion politics

As the Pope makes clear in Evangelium Vitae, the pro-life imperative also entails political responsibilities. This is most evident in the case of public officials—legislators, judges, and others charged to shape and apply our laws. Public officials are bound to act in conformity with the great truth of our Declaration of Independence that all human beings are “created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” including, in the very first place, the “right to life.” “As far as the right to life is concerned,” Pope John Paul II writes, “every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others” (no. 57). Thus, it is a scandal for those in public office—particularly those Catholics in public office—to deny, or fail to protect, the right to life of the unborn child on the pretext that abortion is a purely “private” matter, or a “religious” question, or an evil to be addressed only by “cultural transformation” and not by legal protection as well.

The basic right of the unborn child and every other member of the human family to the equal protection of the laws is no sectarian teaching. It is, rather, a principle of natural law—an objective moral truth, recognizable in the light of natural reason by all men and women of good will. In fact, this principle of natural justice is formally enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment to our Constitution—ironically, the very Amendment invoked by the Supreme Court when it denied the right to life of the unborn in the 1973 cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. It is therefore not enough for a public official whose jurisdiction in any way extends to the question of abortion to be merely “personally opposed” to the taking of unborn human life; his or her obligation is to secure the legal protection of the unborn against abortion as a matter of strict justice.

Some politicians claim to be “anti-abortion” yet “pro-choice.” This is a classic example of trying to have it both ways. In acting to provide or protect a woman’s “choice” to have an abortion, the politician who adopts this stance necessarily acts to render the innocent and defenseless unborn vulnerable to violent death at the will of others. A politician’s subjective “hope” that no woman will ever resort to abortion cannot relieve him or her of culpability for this grave injustice. It is a simple matter of applying the Golden Rule: Would the politician vote to protect “choice” if it were he, or someone dear to him, who was thereby subjected to the possibility of being killed for the convenience or welfare of others? Obviously not. Thus, it is mere prejudice—and, as the Pope affirms, grave injustice—to place the unborn, or the terminally ill, or anyone else in such a position of vulnerability based upon age, size, location, stage of development, or condition of dependency.

The imperative to be “unconditionally pro-life” applies, as the Holy Father says, to all of us, and not merely to those in public life. In a democracy, even private citizens play a significant political role. As such, we too are involved in the political dimension of the struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death. —from “Political Action and Legal Reform in Evangelium Vitae