A spokeswoman with Texas Right to Life said a federal appeals court ruling upholding the…
Abortion is a war; Are we fighting it well?
Let’s remember, it’s a kind of war.
Born of Cain, repeated daily, these “attacks,” as Pope St. John Paul II called them, belong to the broader, darker culture of death. The front lines of this war have been drawn down the middle of families; it’s a war of the powerful against the weak, the rich against the poor, the state against the vulnerable.
Deaths millions of times over; make no mistake, it’s indeed a war. Act accordingly. Don’t temper your rage. Don’t get comfortable. Don’t tire of the battle. For Catholics there is no question here, no doubt. We are to “respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life!” (Evangelium Vitae, No. 5). On this, St. John Paul II was Petrine, passionate and clear. This, undoubtedly, is the right and Catholic view of things in this vale of tears. Abortion is evil. It must end. Such is and will be our endless “evangelical cry.”
But what of the Texas abortion law? That it significantly limits abortions can only be celebrated; again, what we know of abortion, it’s erasure from our society is clearly good. But that still doesn’t answer the question: What of the Texas law itself? That’s where some Catholics, albeit agreed in everything else, may differ. Is this particular law just? Is it the right way to end abortions in America? Given the war we’re fighting, does this question even apply? Do the ends justify the means?
You see, it’s the legal peculiarity of law that gives some pause, the mechanism of enforcement pitting not the state against citizens but citizens against citizens. It’s Orwellian. It recalls “1984,” Mr. and Mrs. Parsons’ children belonging, as they did, to the “Youth League and the Spies.” “You’re a thought-criminal!” they yelled to anyone in earshot; they eventually turned their own parents in. Much about this untested part of the law remains, of course, ambiguous, but that’s the frightening feel of it, the fear of prying vexatious, vigilante litigation, welcoming other evils. If this is war, if it’s to be just, our weapons must not cause “evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2309). Such is our own measure, and such is the question.
But the problem is that we can’t really talk about it. We can’t, many of us, hold reasonable conversations about masks or vaccines, so how can we expect to talk about this rationally? As a parish priest, I don’t really have conversations about things like abortion or President Joe Biden; rather, I’m constantly measured by various parishioners and Mass-goers against a gallery of talking heads, from Altman to Marshall to Martin. Where do I stand, most people want to know; conversation is precisely what’s unwanted. To question the prudence of Texas’ law is to suffer the zeal of the righteous; to suggest society, indeed truly, ought to eliminate abortion is to be canceled, deplatformed and cornered alongside the same people who yelled at me moments ago. If you want to know how many parish priests feel — priests who are just trying to get their people to pray and go to Mass — there you go. That’s what it’s like on the ground.
So, what can we say about the Texas law? Well, nothing yet. Only time will tell. One, because the daily and legal drama has only begun. And two, because we have yet to prove we’re people capable of holding the conversations such grave subjects require. The state of our discourse remains incommensurate noise; too many of us are not yet quiet enough to see and live the entire truth.
Which is, I think, my only good advice: Get quiet, listen to the Church, fully. Whether you’re left, right or center to the question, get quiet and listen. Not to politicians, to lobbyists, to Twitter; rather, hear the Church, for she is the teacher of the truth. In Evangelium Vitae, in the fullness of the magisterium, she teaches truth. Indeed, it’s war. Indeed, abortion is an evil to be eliminated. The Church teaches this, works for it. The question is just whether we’ve learned fully this Gospel of Life. The question is whether we’re fighting this war well.
Father Joshua J. Whitfield is pastoral administrator at St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas, Texas.