Voting pro-life in a difficult election
As we approach another national election, the pro-life movement — based on logic, arithmetic and the evidence of experience — continues to proclaim that there is no issue more foundational in our choice of a candidate and a party than abortion.
From the declaration of Pope St. John Paul II that legalizing abortion turns the state into “a tyrant state,” to the assertion of St. Teresa of Calcutta that “the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion,” to the U.S. bishops’ teaching that the right to life is the foundation of the “house” of interrelated issues, to the sheer arithmetic showing that nothing takes more life than abortion, to the ongoing evidence that abortion — besides killing the child — harms mom, dad, grandparents, siblings, the whole family, friends, abortionists, and all society, the message is clear: If we don’t re-establish protection of the right to life, all our other efforts for the common good are built on quicksand.
No election gets us there in one step. But to keep moving toward that goal, all have to participate in each election. And in this one, many say they’re finding it hard to vote at all. Unless Jesus and the Blessed Mother are on the ballot, we are always going to be choosing imperfect candidates. In this life, everything is a messy mixture of good and evil.
At the same time, there are always differences between the candidates. We need to do our homework on the candidates’ positions, as well as the parties those candidates represent. Each party has its universe of philosophies and policy preferences. Each party is a whole army of people who are going to surround and advise the candidate, and fill many positions of influence if that candidate is elected.
For instance, what kind of people would a president nominate to serve on the Supreme Court and the other federal courts? In what direction do they and their party lean on the most fundamental issues of life, religious freedom, marriage and family? Remember, it’s not just that the candidate shapes the office — the office also shapes the candidate, as does the party. Who would this president, furthermore, appoint as surgeon general, attorney general, secretary of state, secretary of the department of Health and Human Services, and so many more?
We have to be patient with ourselves and with the process and carefully choose the person and party who are closest to our values, starting with the most important issues. Voting is a moral obligation; participation in the political process is a virtue. The U.S. bishops teach us that “every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts” (Living the Gospel of Life, #34).
If we conclude that no matter who wins, they will do damage, the analogy of the runaway train may help us. Imagine you’re at the controls of a runaway train and you cannot stop it. But you can change the track that it’s on. At the end of one track, the train will kill a large number of people, and at the end of the other track, a small number of people. What do you do?
Obviously, you don’t want it to kill anyone. But you cannot stop the train. You would, of course, change the train to the track where it’s going to do the least damage. In this case, you aren’t choosing evil; you are choosing to limit evil — and that choice is a good.
The guidance here is simple: It’s the difference between certainty and doubt. If you know one choice will definitely lead in the wrong direction and the other might lead in the right direction, you choose the possible good.
We have to remember, too, that our vote is not meant to make us feel good; it’s about advancing the common good. A vote is not an opinion poll about what we think about the candidate. It’s a transfer of power — and it’s a gamble.
The bottom line is that we must not skip an election; we should vote. Sometimes we may think that we’re doing wrong by voting for either candidate. But we have to consider the fact that we influence the election whether we like it or not. Skipping a vote also influences the election because it takes a vote away from the better of the two candidates.
So don’t sit out the election. Go and vote, and help change the train to the best available track!
FATHER FRANK PAVONE is Priests for Life’s national director.