I am not a person who is comfortable saying who is and isn’t really Catholic. As a very imperfect member of the Catholic Church, such questions are vastly above my theological pay grade. But with Joe Biden, a Roman Catholic vying to be the next president, his pro-abortion stances have raised familiar questions about Catholic politicians and the killing of the unborn.
Some bishops say Biden should not take communion, a holy sacrament, and others disagree. That is inside ecumenical baseball, but there is a broader question: can a practicing Catholic support legal abortion?
My personal, lay answer is a qualified yes. Catholics live in every corner of the globe, some in places with laws that hew closely to Judeo-Christian ideals, some not so much. Beyond the borders of the Vatican, Catholics do not tend to expect the government to obey church teaching — well, maybe with the exception of some dear friends of mine. But even the staunchest American Trad-Cath embraces a line between church and state.
But here is where I begin to draw a distinction. I can understand a Catholic politician, or voter for that matter, believing that the government should not ban abortion while maintaining a personal belief that it is the immoral killing of a human being. This is true, just as a Catholic can believe that homosexuality is immoral but should not be illegal. The cases are vastly different in terms of the harm they do, but the principle is simple enough to grasp. After all, a Catholic can barely walk three blocks without committing some venial sin or other; they can’t all be illegal.
So yes, I do think that a Catholic politician can advocate keeping abortion legal. But if they do they also have a responsibility to make clear that it is immoral, and that even if legal it should be discouraged at every turn. There used to be a phrase that a lot of Catholic Democrats used to describe abortion: “Safe, legal, and rare.” When was the last time you heard that? You haven’t recently because it is no longer the position of the left or the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Rare was the key term here. It was the one that admitted abortion is wrong.
Progressives now argue that abortion is a social good. In 2014 author Katha Pollitt penned a book called “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.” It is a celebration of baby killing, not as a needed but tragic reality, but as something to celebrate. This is increasingly the position of the left. Viral videos of spunky young women killing the life within them, even parties to celebrate the event, now exist. These are things a Catholic politician must reject, even if he does believe abortion should be legal.
We have seen none of this from presidential candidate Joe Biden. He is very fond of cherry-picking Catholic theology to support his social justice agenda, and yes, it can be used to do that, but to do so while refusing to even acknowledge a far deeper teaching of our faith, the belief in the right to life, is disingenuous at best. I can accept Biden deciding that abortion should be legal is in keeping with our faith, but I cannot accept him saying nothing to discourage the practice even as it remains legal.
Biden needs to be pressed on his actual beliefs and feelings on this issue, assuming he has any beyond what the polls tell him. That may sound harsh, but this is a man who has “evolved” on abortion over his career like one of those the “stages of man” T-shirts. He appears now to stand fully erect in celebration of abortion as a good thing in the world that the government must not only protect but expand and pay for. That is a problem.
Is Biden pro-choice, or is he pro-abortion? Some would argue it is a distinction without a difference, but I disagree, and I think history tells us otherwise. The goal of a Catholic must be to save every life in the womb we can. Most believe making abortion illegal is the best way to do so, some believe that it cannot be legislated, but people must be convinced of its immoral nature and when that happens the practice will die on the vine.
I find the latter position naïve, but not inconsistent with being a Catholic. But it is not clear that this is Biden’s position. We don’t know if he is pro-choice or pro-abortion. It is time that we did.