Guest Post by Pro-life Leader Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life
In their recently concluded semi-annual meeting, the United States Catholic bishops, by a vote of 225-11, reaffirmed the “pre-eminent” nature of the abortion issue for American voters.
The assertion was part of the guidance they have prepared for Catholics as the 2024 election cycle continues to intensify. The exact wording they adopted is,
“The threat of abortion remains our pre-eminent priority because it directly attacks our most vulnerable and voiceless brothers and sisters and destroys more than a million lives per year in our country alone.”
The first thing to note about this assertion is that it is by no means a new one for the Catholic hierarchy. In 1974, the year following the Roe v. Wade decision, the Vatican’s “Declaration on Procured Abortion” pointed out, “The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental – the condition of all the others.”
Such assertions continued in subsequent years, both from the Vatican and from the US Bishops.
For instance, in 1989 the US Bishops declared in their Resolution on Abortion that “At this particular time, abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will.”
This stance culminated in St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life, in which he pointed out that abortion has a particular gravity among actions taken against human life because:
- The right to life is the condition for all other rights
- The unborn are the most frail and defenseless human beings
- The evil of abortion is compounded by the fact that many governments consider this act of violence to be a legally protected “right;” and
- This violence occurs within the family, which is the “sanctuary of life.”
Along with these reasons, of course, as pointed out by the US bishops, nothing destroys more life than abortion. It’s numbers far surpass the leading causes of death, namely, heart disease (over 695,000 annually) and cancer (over 605,000 annually). Abortion destroys more than a million children each year in the United States.
The pre-eminence of abortion has been repeatedly stated in many Church documents to this day, including in the US Bishops’ official “Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities”, and in their recent plenary gatherings.
Even Pope Francis pointed out in his first Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us” (n. 213).
Now some will try to contrast this pre-eminence of abortion with other declarations of Pope Francis, such as his 2018 Apostolic Exhortation (“Gaudete et Exsultate”) in which he points out that the lives of those who are already born are “equally sacred.”
Well of course they are. Every human life is equal.
But not every attack on human life is equal. Some are more direct, some are more violent, and some claim more victims.
In the case of abortion, we have, as the Catholic bishops explained in their document “Living the Gospel of Life,” a situation analogous to attacking the very foundation of a house, and not just any individual part of it.
Nobody would say that the foundation is the only part of the house. At the same time, nobody would deny that absent a foundation, all the rest of the house collapses.
Similarly, nobody would say that abortion is the only issue. But abortion denies and attacks the heart and core of every issue, namely, the right to life.
That right is what makes any issue an issue to begin with. We care about poverty, for instance, because the poor have a right to live. So do the unemployed. So do those who lack health care. And so do those threatened by war or terrorism.
Remove the right to life, and you remove the reason to care about any issue.
Abortion directly denies and attacks that human right to life. The unborn are being destroyed not primarily because of any characteristic they have, and certainly not because of anything they have said or done (they have not yet exercised a single free act or spoken a single word), but simply because they exist. Their very lives – and nothing more – are the obstacle that somebody else wants to remove.
Now we have both understanding and compassion for all who feel they must have an abortion, and we help them to find life-giving alternatives. On that we must never waver.
But none of that changes the compelling consideration, the “self-evident truth” as our Declaration states, that the right to life is inalienable. In other words, we cannot dispense with it by our own choice, and nobody else’s choice – whether an individual or a government – can deprive us of it.
A human right is a right we possess precisely because we are human, not because a Court grants it or a law recognizes it. Nobody can make us non-human, and therefore nobody can deprive us of a human right.
This is why, going back to Church pronouncements, the US Bishops made this stunning assertion, worthy of the consideration of every voter:
“The failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community” (Living the Gospel of Life, n.23).
Why does it “render suspect” the claim, for instance, that one supports the right to education or health care?
Simple… Because saying you can kill a child before birth means that those other “rights” belong to some people but not to all… and hence they cannot be human rights.
And that opens up the Pandora’s box question which the other side seems to think is the answer: Who decides which people get that right?
The pro-life position, and the reason abortion is the pre-eminent issue, is that Nobody decides. It is beyond human authority to grant or deny someone’s right to life. Our only option – always – is to protect it.