It seems to me that public opinion polls always have to be approached cautiously. So often the results are influenced by subjective factors: Exactly how were the questions phrased? Who was asking the questions? Did the pollster have a personal agenda? How were the participants in the poll selected?
By any measure, however, the results of a recent Rhode Island poll on attitudes about abortion are very discouraging. According to a Providence Journal report, 63 percent of Rhode Islanders identified themselves as "pro-choice." Just 32 percent identified themselves as "pro-life." And this in the State often identified as having the highest percentage of Catholics in the nation. "Judged exclusively on those numbers, Rhode Island stands well into the abortion-rights corner" concludes the newspaper article. Embarrassing, isn't it?
The results suggest that as a Catholic community in Rhode Island, we need to return to some basic teachings about the evil of abortion. Political and sociological arguments aside, we need to affirm again, in the clearest possible language, that abortion is wrong, evil and sinful. Even the most difficult circumstances of a pregnancy don't alter the outcome of an abortion. When an abortion takes place, a baby dies. A Catholic doesn't have the option of being "pro-choice" if that choice leads to the death of a child.
Catholic teaching on this serious matter is very clear.
The Second Vatican Council: "God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to women and men the noble mission of safeguarding life and they must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes." (Gaudium et Spes, #51)
The "Catechism of the Catholic Church": "Since the first century, the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law." (#2271)
Pope John Paul II: "The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit as an end in itself or as a means to a good end.... Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable." (Evangelium Vitae, #57-58)
The Bishops of the United States: "Human life is a gift from God, sacred and inviolable. Because every human person is created in the image and likeness of God, we have a duty to defend human life from conception until natural death and in every condition.... Abortion, the deliberate killing of a human being before birth, is never morally acceptable." (Faithful Citizenship, 2003, p. 17)
And for those who prefer a less hierarchical, but just as compelling view on abortion, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: "Life is a gift that God has given us. That life is present even in the unborn. A human hand should never end a life. I am convinced that the screams of the children whose lives have been terminated before their birth reach God's ears."
Now, even as I write this I know some will object saying, "What about the other issues related to human life? What about war, capital punishment, violence, poverty and abuse?" Well it's certainly true that these issues are important and legitimate pro-life concerns. "War is always a defeat for humanity" said Pope John Paul. Capital punishment cannot be justified in our country, the Bishops of the U.S. have stated. And violence, poverty and abuse are terrible evils that cause untold suffering for many individuals and families, especially women and children, around the world, in our country and in our own local community.
But there can be legitimate debates about these issues. There is, at least in Christian theory, a "just war." Likewise, a government may impose the death penalty if certain conditions exist. And while no Christian worthy of the name can ignore the dire consequences of violence, poverty and abuse, there are various opinions about the most effective ways of responding to these issues.
Abortion is different. It is always intrinsically evil. There are no circumstances that justify abortion. Its victims are innocent and defenseless, and number in the millions. Without a doubt, abortion is the fallacious foundation upon which the culture of death builds its ugly edifice.
Being passionately committed to other human life issues does not excuse an individual from personally and publicly opposing the grave sin of abortion.
Nonetheless, I wonder if it's possible for us to reach a consensus about the pro-life agenda. What would happen if those who oppose abortion as the primary issue became more active in responding to other human life concerns? And what if those who are sincerely concerned about the other issues become more vocal in opposing abortion?
Perhaps, just perhaps, we'd make a lot of progress in promoting the culture of life, defeating the culture of death and changing the outcome of the next poll taken in Catholic Rhode Island.