The phrase is familiar in public and private discourse: "I am personally opposed to abortion (and now same-sex marriage, perhaps), but I don't want to impose my beliefs on someone else." Such a claim seems to be made with regret, but why? Let's give some thought to what is being said...
Photo credit: Robert Bremer
Why do we oppose things? Many reasons, to include simple personal taste, but in this case all would agree that we are dealing with a grave and contentious issue. So why oppose abortion at all? The first question to resolve: what is an abortion? If someone opposes it even if only privately' then he must find something objectionable or wrong with" abortion. Does he consider an abortion to be the ending of a human life? If so, then it is understandable why abortion should be opposed. But if abortion is not the ending of a human life, then why "personally oppose" it?
Perhaps someone is not sure whether abortion actually constitutes taking a human life. Very well... then the next prudent step is to resolve the doubt. It is commonsense that we cannot act on an uncertain conscience, especially in grave matters. If I am a hunter, and I see a brown shape moving through the woods but I am uncertain whether that figure is of a deer or another hunter, may I pull the trigger? No...I have to resolve my doubt, lest I make a tragic error. In serious moral matters, Catholics look to the Church to resolve doubt. Pope John Paul I, a man of exemplary gentleness and charity, calls abortion "murder." (Evangelium Vitae, 58)
So abortion either ends a human life or it does not. Does it make sense that a pregnant woman on the way to an abortion clinic and a pregnant woman on the way to a baby shower differ only in their private view of what they are carrying in their womb? "I am personally opposed to spouse or child abuse, racism, slavery, fraud, and rape, but I don't wish to impose my views on others." Who would make such a claim? So, how can I personally or privately accept that abortion is killing, but support it publicly? Christians not only believe in shaping culture through morality upheld by civil law, but we also believe that the Parable of the Good Samaritan instructs us to intervene to protect the weak or to stop injustice.
If I am "personally opposed" to something I believe is morally wrong, but I will not urge that the wrong be righted, then either:
- I do not consider the wrong to be important or I am uncertain of its seriousness (a problem of the intellect); or
- I am indifferent to the welfare of others (a weakness of the heart); or
- I am afraid to act (a failure of the will).
Pope Leo XIII wrote: "It is unlawful to follow one line of conduct in private and another in public; respecting privately the authority of the Church, but publicly rejecting it: for this would amount to joining together good and evil, and to putting man in conflict with himself. Whereas, he ought always to be consistent, and never in the least point nor in any condition of life to swerve from Christian virtue."
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