In the lead-up to Friday’s momentous decision in our nation’s capital, a curious thing occurred, and is still occurring: some Catholics of prominence and influence have sounded not a celebratory trumpet, but an alarm. They seem distressed and even angry that abortion might be severely curtailed or even outlawed in some states. To phrase it another way, some Catholics are upset that each child in the womb may finally have the chance to be protected, by law, from being willfully murdered.
Every “born” person in America has a raft of laws protecting him from being premeditatedly targeted for murder, and there is not one single Catholic (or sane non-Christian) who has a beef with those no-brainer laws. It’s fundamental. The most basic role of government is the physical protection of its citizens from bodily attack and murder. (That is why every government has a police force and a military.)
So what on earth could be the objection to legal protection for all lives? This is where some Catholics leave the realm of natural law, right reason, and God’s created order, shifting to a secular, “social justice” ideology that is more political than Christian.
First, they tell us that federally protected legal abortion should not be overturned until women have “equity” and until all social safety nets are in place and working near perfectly. The assessment of when that occurs would be according to their own standards, and that usually means massive government programs, or, as St. John Paul II calls it, the “Social Assistance State.”
Their argument (not based in the numbers) is that women choose abortion because they are socially and financially disadvantaged. Until the “inequity” is rectified—until there is no more poverty, hardship, or need—we must not remove legal access to abortion.
The idea that a smooth life with no serious suffering is a prerequisite for ending child-killing is bizarre (and non-Christian). And not only that, but it’s a condition that these same folks would never apply to any other moral crime. Let’s try it out:
Child molestation is a crime often committed by folks who have themselves been victims of child molestation. Rape is often committed by those who did not have proper formation, perhaps not raised in a happy, two-parent home, and may be fueled by drug or alcohol addiction. Home invasions and robbery may be the result of poverty, lack of a good home life, addiction, etc.
Would any of the Roe-defenders use the “safety net” argument to decriminalize any of those other offenses? Of course not. There is nothing “special” about child-killing that makes it an exception among other crimes; in fact, premeditated murder of the most innocent and defenseless among us may be the worst crime of all.
I would be remiss if I didn’t pause here to clear up a real calumny against the countless selfless souls who have been in the pro-life trenches for over fifty years. “Progressive” Christians ignore or deny the reality of thousands of free and low-cost crisis pregnancy centers and clinics all over the nation, providing not just nine months, but years of ongoing material, financial, medical, emotional, and spiritual help to mothers in crisis. There are also the ubiquitous adoptions (including special needs and foster/adoptions) by pro-life families—I can name dozens just in my own inner circle. Anyone who denies these realities has either never been involved in the pro-life community or is, unfortunately, being dishonest.
Next, we come to a second argument we hear from Christians who are troubled by a reversal of Roe v. Wade. They argue that laws don’t work, that laws are not the route to go when it comes to abortion. They say we must “change hearts, not laws.” This is a false dichotomy. We do not have to choose between changing hearts and changing laws. It is not, and has never been, either/or. It has always been both/and. We must change hearts and laws.
Think about it: no reasonable person would argue that we should not have outlawed slavery until the hearts of the nation’s slaveowners had been changed, just as no reasonable person would argue that we must not outlaw assault, carjacking, and defrauding workers until the hearts of the perpetrators are moved and converted.
What is particularly ironic about the “change hearts, not laws” crowd is that, for every other social issue, they clamor and fight for laws, laws, and more laws, claiming that laws are the thing that will bring equity and justice. Think of feminist laws, employment laws, gun laws, health care laws, “LGBTQ” laws, “diversity, equity, and inclusion” laws, and on and on.
But suddenly, when it comes to the most basic right of a child to remain living and not be targeted for execution, we hear that “laws don’t work” and we must only “change hearts.” I hope we can all see the massive disconnect there.
At base, and despite not applying the same logic to any other violent crime, the “progressive” Christians’ arguments against overturning Roe are based on a misguided secular belief that we can create a kind of heaven on earth. But Utopia is a mythical idea. It does not exist. We live in a fallen world, where sin abounds. We know as Catholics that sin dulls the intellect and deadens the conscience, and that people commit crimes against others constantly. Until heaven, we will need earthly laws in place to protect the most innocent and vulnerable among us, and if there is one law that should be universal and obligatory across all eras, cultures, and nations, it is a law protecting all human beings from willful murder. The right to life is as basic and foundational as it gets. If that law is not in place, then the entire society will be disordered and fall apart.
We must beware of any Christian who is angered or distressed by the establishment of such protective laws. Such Christians are not pro-life, even if they couch their support for legal abortion in the nice-sounding arguments above. There is nothing—not one physical or economic condition—that supersedes a child’s right not to be murdered. To be lulled into these arguments, to believe that certain conditions must be met before a child’s life can be protected by law, is a deception of the devil. If we are on the wrong side of this foundational issue, we are at risk of losing our souls.
Faithful Christians must see the fall of Roe v. Wade as purely good, not as a mixed bag or something to be lamented. The next step for Christians and all people of goodwill is to bring the truth and the fight to the state level, where we must fight legal child murder with as much conviction as we fought to overturn Roe.