Donald Trump has brought to a head many of the worse aspects of the trajectory of right-wing politics over the last several decades. From the use of racial fear and resentment as a tool to mobilize white voters, to the use of immigrants as scapegoats for declining wages, to promoting religious hatred in response to terrorism, Trump has made explicit the political undercurrents that began in the Nixon era.
Those trends have created a widespread base for a demagogue. Nowhere to be found in response to this threat is the institutional Catholic church; and, too many individual Catholics have been made to feel comfortable with right-wing demagoguery through the narrow focus of decades of right-to-life politics.
The force of Catholic social teaching has been lost to American politics. No longer does the Church, or the community of Catholics, provide an alternative vision for a society grounded in tolerance, equality, widespread economic well-being and care for the least among us. Everything was given over to a right-wing political apparatus that is hostile to the very values of social justice that define the church in the world.
Every Pope for more than 100 years has affirmed and expanded our understanding of the importance of these values. The American church, however, effectively abandoned these values and sacrificed everything for a false promise of anti-abortion legislation.
It is time to re-examine right-to-life politics.
First, abortion is an extremely personal and private act. The decision to obtain an abortion is made, however, in a broad social and economic context. Legal restrictions are only one of many factors, and perhaps not the most important factor, influencing the decision.
Economics and family support mechanisms seem to be the most important factors in making the decision to have an abortion. In most cases, evidence indicates a woman has an abortion not to avoid having a family, but rather to maintain the financial viability of her existing family. Taking care of the needs of families can help prevent abortion.
Furthermore, as a practical matter, abortions are becoming easier with the use of drugs. Simple anti-abortion legislation will be increasingly less effective in preventing abortion. Addressing the broad economic and social factors influencing abortion will be increasingly important. The politics of abortion restriction are more symbolic than real. Anti-abortion legislation won’t stop abortion, but it will make it more dangerous.
A good faith right-to-life movement would address the whole life context of both mother and child to create a culture of life. But that requires asking whether the purpose of the movement is to influence a woman’s decision to protect the life of a child, or is the purpose simply to gain political influence?
Second, anti-abortion politicians are, almost without exception, hostile to the social justice agenda of the Catholic church.
It is ethically irresponsible not to consider the broader impact on the community of supporting right-wing politicians. It is not sufficient to say that protecting the unborn is the first priority. Every action has to be considered based on the harm it does versus the harm it prevents.
Does legislation mandating requirements for abortion clinics, for instance, take priority over Medicaid expansion? Particularly when access to medical care directly impacts unborn and born children; and, certainly impacts a mother’s assessment on whether or not she will be able to provide for herself and her child.
The political reality is you can’t have both.
We have to make moral decisions all the time that weighs the consequences of different actions when we have multiple goals. The church, however, has always gone for the politicians supporting anti-abortion legislation while opposing Medicaid expansion even though the later has the benefit of both providing medical care for the needy and making the pro-life choice easier for mothers.
The right-to-life political movement has turned anti-abortion legislation into a fetish that subsumes all else regardless of the consequences.
One of those consequences is the integration of the church and the Catholic community into a partisan political operation that now is on the verge of electing a demagogue that threatens the core values of the Catholic faith.