Editor’s Note: In the weeks leading up to the inauguration of the country’s second Catholic president, the National Catholic Reporter asked Catholic politicians, activists and academics to offer advice to President-elect Joe Biden in a series that takes its title from the encyclical of Pope Francis. Fratelli Tutti: “Building a common future”.
As the second Catholic President of the United States, Joseph Biden comes under scrutiny for his practice of the faith. Nowhere is this scrutiny more intense than his position on abortion. While Biden’s abortion policy has always been nuanced, it has altered significantly in recent years. He did not retract his 2007 statement that he was personally opposed to abortion. But he seems to be more fully embracing the Democratic policy of legalizing abortion – which is also happening. align with majority voter preference in the United States.
You don’t have to be Catholic to understand that majority rule is not equal to law, of course. And Catholics are obliged to follow the masterly teaching on moral issues as a guide. So how should Catholics respond to the phenomenon of a president who practices his Catholicism publicly while at the same time appearing to flout one of his moral principles?
Many lay people and the hierarchy would like to see Biden publicly censored, or even refused communion. An answer to this might be to say that the president’s job is not to institute a Catholic theocracy. It is unconstitutional for a person of faith to impose his beliefs on others. Further, it violates the integrity of the experience of faith. Faith must be entered freely, not forced. What if a Muslim or Jewish president implemented Muslim or Jewish beliefs as part of his platform and banned the consumption of pork?
But this view is based on a category error in which moral beliefs and ritual practices are treated as the same. For Jews who keep kosher, banning pork is not an objective moral issue. It has to do with identity in the Jewish community. Jews don’t believe they should work for a pig-free world, while Catholics believe abortion is not just forbidden for them as Catholics, but still morally wrong. Furthermore, the teaching on abortion can be distinguished from other moral teachings, such as that on contraception, because it is not only concerned with the moral value of a personal choice, but also the objective violation of the rights of others. .
Another possible answer to those who want Biden censored: Church leaders routinely give a pass to Catholic policymakers who disobey the magistrate’s precepts on matters of life, when their position aligns with them. right-wing ideologies. Figures such as former Attorney General William Barr and Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett are even hailed as icons of Catholic identity despite their disdain for the moral teachings of the Church. So why single Biden for harassment?
But for cohesive life advocates who believe our laws should protect all lives, at all stages of life, what soutism is is not enough. Call them all, they say. Demand that Barr and Barrett do better – and Biden too.
So is this the message that the Catholic faithful should send to our Catholic President, in these first days of his administration? Should we ask Biden to legislate against abortion?
While I appreciate the perspective of my fellow lifelong advocates and appreciate their work very much, I have no intention of calling on the Biden-Harris administration to make abortion illegal. And it’s not because I’m in favor of abortion. This is because I don’t think the most prudent, ethical, or effective way to reduce abortion in our society is to withdraw the offer. Rather, we need to reduce the demand for abortion.
If I could talk to President Biden, one practicing Catholic to another, I would tell him about his vision for unity for the United States. Of course, unity is not a good in itself. There is no merit in uniting in evil or in compromising with evildoers. And many pro-lifers would characterize pro-choice supporters as evil. I think this is a mistake. I believe there is a way for pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates to work together.
Catholics who support masterful teachings on morality should find common cause with pro-choice advocates because of our many common goals of eradicating poverty, combating structural racism, working for peace and protecting of the environment. In addition, the Strategies promoted by the Democratic Party, it is proven to work to reduce abortion – as 48 years of culture war and misguided right-wing legislation have not. And it is a mistake for pro-life Catholics to treat pro-choice concerns about privacy and bodily autonomy as irrelevant. Yes, we want a culture in which women choose life. Do we want one in which they are forced to do it? What kind of moral landscape would that be?
I think Biden should articulate a cohesive living ethic recognizing the seriousness of the church’s teaching on abortion – which he personally accepts – while acknowledging the concerns of pro-choice leaders, such as the vice president. Kamala Harris, who are motivated by genuine moral seriousness as well. It should pursue proven policies, historically and globally, to reduce abortion, and call on citizens to support those policies that will ensure both the sanctity of life and the dignity of human choice. Rather than threatening women with punishment or placing them in impossible positions, we must work collectively for a truly just society in which women are not pressured to abort because of fear, poverty or abuse.
I realize that creating such a culture of cohesive living will not be easy. If Biden takes this route, he will face the difficult task of appealing to pro-choice citizens who (for good reason) equate abortion criticism with far-right, anti-women policies. This has always been a challenge for anti-abortion ethicists. Four years in power for Donald Trump has made the challenge much greater. Biden will also have to face the wrath of pro-lifers who believe the only way to deal with abortion is to ban it.
Coherent Life ethicists and influencers have an obligation to work with Biden to create a different way of thinking about living our Catholic faith in the public arena. We need to explain to church leaders and right-wing Catholics that being anti-abortion can take many forms, and that the form adopted by the GOP is outdated, a lie. What we have called the pro-life movement, which many of us have worked for and voted for, has failed to protect life. It has become a tool for right-wing authoritarianism.
We need to educate our fellow citizens to understand that as politicians, Biden and other Catholics in office see how legislation designed to protect unborn life often ends up with negative consequences, such as women. imprisoned for miscarriages, or even drive up abortion rates. Bishops continue to insist that we must stop abortion by outlawing it. But if that doesn’t work and even makes the situation worse, why continue to view theirs as the only viable way to end abortion?
At the same time, we need to help pro-choice leaders understand that opposition to abortion does not always come from misogyny or the desire to control women, but can also stem from an ethic that values all life. in all its forms and believes it deserves protection. .
I would like President Biden to call on Catholics and other citizens to work together to create a common future in which life is valued and protected, but also in which bodily coercion is rejected. Is such a coalition possible at this fractured moment in our history? I do not know. But it is certainly worth pursuing.