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CFC in the News - 2008

Opposing Views

Catholics can support prochoice politicians in good conscience

Jon O'Brien

20 October 2008

Catholics can rest assured that they are in good company, and in good conscience, in supporting prochoice policymakers. Church teachings on moral decision-making and abortion are complex and far more nuanced than the monolithic teachings as represented by the bishops. In Catholic theology there is room for the acceptance of policies that favor access to the full range of reproductive health options, including contraception and abortion.

For example, despite what many conservative Catholics may want us to believe, there is no firm position within the Catholic church on when the fetus becomes a person. In its last definitive statement on abortion, the 1974 Declaration on Procured Abortion, the Vatican acknowledged that it does not know when the fetus becomes a person: “There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement.”

In addition, the popular notion that whatever the pope says on a serious topic is infallible is an exaggeration of the principle of infallibility. While some ultra-conservative groups claim that the teaching on abortion is infallible, it does not in fact meet the definition of an infallible teaching. Since the doctrine of papal infallibility was first declared in 1870, only three teachings have been declared infallible: the Immaculate Conception of Mary; the Assumption of Mary; and the declaration on infallibility itself.

At the heart of church teachings on moral matters is a deep regard for an individual’s conscience. The Catechism states that “a human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.” Catholic teaching holds that when the church cannot speak definitively on a matter of fact, the consciences of individual Catholics must be primary and respected. This leaves latitude for Catholics to support prochoice politicians.

Catholics can and do support public policies that acknowledge the moral agency of women, respect developing life, and appreciate the Catholic tradition while honoring the views of other faith groups. Many of these Catholics support a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Church teachings, tradition and core Catholic tenets—including the primacy of conscience, the role of the faithful in defining legitimate laws and norms, and support for the separation of church and state—leave room for supporting a more liberal position on abortion. The church has acknowledged that it does not know when the fetus becomes a person and has never declared its position on abortion to be infallible. Catholics can, in good conscience, support access to abortion and affirm that abortion can be a moral choice.

This article originally appeared on Opposing Views.