Is it Morally Permissible to Vote for a Pro-Abortion Candidate?

Unborn Child

Every election cycle, the debate arises…

“Candidate ‘A’ opposes abortion, but I disagree with his other positions. Candidate ‘B’ promotes access to and advocates a legal right to abortion, but I feel that he is more correct on the other issues of the day. Is it morally permissible for me to vote for Candidate ‘B’”?

The question is often framed within the background of the Church’s proclamation of the Consistent Ethic of Life. So let’s begin by summarizing what this teaching says.

“Adopting a consistent ethic of life, the Catholic Church promotes a broad spectrum of issues ‘seeking to protect human life and promote human dignity from the inception of life to its final moment.’ Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages of life. But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, 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. If we understand the human person as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” — the living house of God — then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. These directly and immediately violate the human person’s most fundamental right — the right to life. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Such attacks cannot help but lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights. As Pope John Paul II reminds us, the command never to kill establishes a minimum which we must respect and from which we must start out ‘in order to say yes over and over again, a yes which will gradually embrace the entire horizon of the good’” (Living the Gospel of Life, # 23 [emphasis in the original]; U.S. Bishops, 1998).

In our opposition to abortion, we are not excused from caring about other moral wrongs; we may not be indifferent to them. But, abortion and euthanasia are not two of many morally equivalent attacks on human dignity and life; these two direct attacks are preeminent moral threats against life; they are of a greater moral weight. Blessed John Paul II wrote about abortion:

“Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an ‘unspeakable crime’… The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby’s cries and tears” (Gospel of Life, # 58; Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, 1995).

“Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops – who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine – I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium” (Gospel of Life, # 62 [emphasis added]; Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, 1995).

It should be noted that present medical technology in the area of embryonic stem cell research requires the direct killing of an innocent human life and is therefore unacceptable.

On another side note, it is sad and tragic to see Catholics and others of good will fail to recognize the need for a division of labor. Some are called to work in this field and others are called to work in other fields. Some are called to minister outside abortion mills while others are called to serve the impoverished, the hungry, the homeless or the disadvantaged. Some are called to work to raise awareness and education about abortion while others called to provide general education as missionaries. This is okay. We can and must work together, respecting the necessary division of labor, to promote human dignity. But, while none of us may be indifferent about any of these concerns for the human person, we must recognize abortion, euthanasia and infanticide as preeminent threats against life and thus more morally urgent.

So let’s now look at Candidate ‘A’. He opposes abortion, but in other areas, you do not agree with his policies for aiding the poor and marginalized. Perhaps you believe that more involvement is needed at the Federal level of government while Candidate ‘A’ believes that these concerns are better addressed at the State and Local level or the private sector. On the question of abortion, there is no judgment; abortion is always wrong, so that is always an objective test and there is no room for disagreement. Regarding the other concerns, each of you has arrived at a different solution using your prudential judgment and in these matters you can disagree. The same is true in the case of Candidate ‘B’.

So what is the solution?

Recently, Archbishop Chaput remarked when asked, in an interview with John Allen, about whether a Catholic can vote for a pro-abortion politician, “I can only speak in terms of my own personal views. I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion.”

Why is this?

“Man may never obey a law which is in itself, immoral and such is the case of a law which would admit in principle, the liceity of abortion. Nor can he take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law or vote for it. Moreover, he may not collaborate in its application” (Declaration on Procured Abortion, # 22; Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, 1974).

The politician who votes for or advocates for abortion is formally cooperating in an intrinsic evil. Those who vote for such politicians, while themselves opposing abortion, are cooperating remotely and materially. Is this remote, material cooperation permitted? Only if there exists a grave and proportionate reason to do so.

“A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons” (Cardinal Ratzinger, Memo to Cardinal McCarrick, 2004).

So what might be a proportionate reason? Remember, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia are preeminent and direct attacks against life. Other issues of our day do not rise to the same moral weight. Thus, reasons arising from the difference of opinion concerning the prudential judgment about addressing these other issues, based on what bishops, cardinals and popes have written,  do not seem to be proportionate.

In the case of two candidates whose pro-life positions are not perfect, to vote for the candidate whose support for abortion is far more limited than his opponent’s is permissible. Are there any other examples?  I am not formally trained in moral theology, but the only proportionate reason that I can imagine, would be other, greater direct attacks on the right to life of innocent human persons.  I don’t see anything like that in the current landscape, therefore, like Archbishop Chaput, in my judgment I cannot vote for a pro-abortion politician.

Into the deep…

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life™. A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplains to the St. Peter Chanel Business Association and co-founder of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

Looking for a Catholic Speaker?  Check out Deacon Mike’s speaker page and the rest of the ICL Speaker’s Bureau.

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About the Author

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff Editor-In-Chief, ICL

Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life.™ A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is also the Founder and President of Virtue@Work, where he provides Executive and Personal Coaching, Mentoring and Organizational Consulting. Deacon Mike has 30+ years management consulting experience in senior executive leadership positions providing organizational planning and implementation services with a focus on human resource strategy and tax qualified retirement plan design, administration and compliance.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplain of the St. Peter Chanel Faith at Work Business Association and co-founder and Chaplain of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

He and his wife have two married children and three grandchildren.

NB: The views I express on this site are my own. I am not an official spokesman for either my parish or diocese.

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  1. I think that we as Americans, having watched Republicans and Democrats alike preside over the massive transfer of wealth from the middle class workers’ families to the super-wealthy over the course of 30 years, need to vote against both these parties until our voice in government is restored. So far I’ve just found one third party candidate identifying as pro-life:

    “Thomas Conrad “Tom” Hoefling is an American political activist. He is the founder and national chairman of America’s Party[1] as well as the party’s 2012 presidential nominee.[2][3] Hoefling has also served as political director for Alan Keyes’ political group America’s Revival,[4] as well as a representative for the American Conservative Coalition.[5]

    In August 2012, the ballot-qualified American Independent Party nominated Hoefling for President.[6]

    Hoefling is now on the ballot in California, Colorado, and Florida. He has also filed as a qualified write-in candidate in Indiana, Texas, Illinois, West Virginia, Michigan, Montana, and Delaware. Efforts continue to qualify in other states.[7]”

    If there are other pro-life third party candidates running, I’d like to find out about them. The two party system is killing the middle class and we cannot put up with that any longer.

  2. Deacon, thank you for this article. Many Catholics have been erroneously led to believe that Romney is “more pro-life” or less “pro-abortion” than Obama, and that our only choice, therefore is to vote Romney as the “lesser of two evils”.

    The reality is that Romney is just as anti-life as Obama, and has no more respect for freedom of religion than Obama. Obamacare is based squarely on Romneycare, the program in MA, in which Romney, after his supposed conversion to pro-life, lied to the Church: just 24 hours after promising that the Catholic healthcare providers would not be forced to provide access to abortifacients, he did a 180 on that.

    Both Romney & Obama will continue our wars & so-called “intervention” which are responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocents and the inciting of “blowback” by our support of the dictator of the day who happens to be friendly to our oil interests at the time. This has been decried and condemned by Popes John Paul II & Benedict XVI, with Pope Benedict XVI reminding us that “pre-emptive war” is not in the Catechism as an example of “just war”. Our wars and foreign policy do no meet the criteria of “just war”, and they are just as anti-life as abortion.

    Both Romney & Obama will uphold NDAA and the rapidly accelerating pattern of isssuing “Executive Orders” eroding our freedoms. NDAA was condemned by the GA GOP as unconstitutional because it authorizes the President to order the arrest & indefinite detention of American citizens on American soil by the military without charges, lawyer, trial or jury. The President can order their overseas detention in unknown camps/prisons, and can even order their execution — without trial, etc.: all this based on the President’s determination that the person is cooperating with terrorists. Homeland Security includes pro-life activists, homeschool parents, veterans, and proponents of the Const/Bill of Rights as “potential domestic terrorists.” The HHS mandate is the tip of the iceburg of the attack on religious freedom we may soon see. And Romney supports NDAA and unconstitutional Executive Orders. He sees no need to consult Congress for a declaration of war, which shows clear disregard for the Constitution.

    Mormonism teaches anti-Christian/anti-Jewish and white supremacist theology. It is particularly anti-Catholic in its teaching. Furthermore, it has direct ties to Freemasonry, and Romney has taken the death-penalty oaths of fidelity to Mormonism (Mormonism’s rituals are very similar to Freemasonry’s). His allegiance is to the elders & “prophets” of Mormonism.

    From all this, it becomes clear that Obama & Romney are equal evils, and that we have arrived at this juncture because we have been led to believe in every election that we had no other choice besides the so-called “lesser of two evils” offered by the Repub or Dem Parties. This has been a strategy to force increasingly evil “evils” on us with each successive election.

    As Catholics, especially in America, we DO have other choices. JPII affirmed that choosing the lesser of two evils is morally acceptable —- when there is no other choice. We are repeatedly brainwashed into believing that the Repub & Dem Party offerings are our only viable choice, and thus thousands upon thousands of U.S. Catholics do not seek out or support the other choices: just like when Samuel went to look for a new King and Jesse didn’t even bother to mention David. The Lord had to remind Samuel that He does not judge by appearance, and that David, while not even his own dad’s choice, was in fact God’s choice.

    We have been conditioned to fulfill our civic duty based on apearances and our own reasoning instead of on unwavering fidelity to moral law and the kind of faith that Jesus wondered if He’d find on earth. Where is our faith? Where are the shepherds calling on us to act on faith in our civic duty, and to reject the ungodly forcing of evil upon by the two parties by seeking out the David’s in the fields elsewhere & supporting them….or, at this point, since the entire election process has been stolen from us by the people Pope Leo XIII warned about in Humanum Genus, a write-in vote for a candidate who does show a consistent respect for Natural Law — or by simply writing in the words, “Truth”, “Liberty”, “Natural Law”, etc.?

    Some will say I’m crazy and want me hung, drawn & qaurtered for this suggestion, because they’ll say, “such foolishness will guarantee that Obama wins!” It doesn’t matter whether Obama or Romney wins — they are equally evil, and it is because we have shirked our civic duty for decades by relying on the political parties and talking heads to feed us the info on whom we should support, rather than making the time to do the research ourselves! We have allowed our govt & elections to be stolen from us by an enemy within! When will our shepherds call on us to have faith, stand up, and say, “Enough! We will not be played any more! We will vote this year for truth & liberty and we will begin the process of fighting back here within our America’s own borders, within our own govt! We know that either Obama or Romney’s election is already rigged & makes no difference either way, and we will not lend our hands to this theft of our freedoms at the voting booths!!”

  3. Morally? No. You participate in each of 1.7 million infanticides when you vote for a pro-abortion candidate. Unless the only viable alternative candidate is engaged in something more evil than 1,700,000 murders. Then the moral obligation is to vote against that candidate.

    WIth over half of all Catholics voting for Mr. Obama, perhaps we are not teaching Catholic algebra very well anymore. Moral weighs and means? Clearly not.

  4. Deacon Mike- great article. Very relevant (again…). Do you have any updates for the 2016 presidential election? It seems that there is a shortage of pro-life candidates. Who can we trust with this (most important) issue?

  5. Hi. I have a question that there is a bit of a disagreement on. Is it a mortal sin on my soul as a Catholic to vote for a pro-abortion candidate? Not that I plan to, but I’m concerned with this matter and will solve a family dispute on the matter. I’m VERY anti-abortion, never had one, never would..but I was told it would be mortal sin on my soul if I vote for one that is pro-abortion. Please help! Thank you.

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