One of the most striking, bold, and sobering paragraphs ever written about the impact of abortion on the common good is the 20th paragraph of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). It is a great antidote for the thinking that says we can elect a “pro-choice” candidate because “their other positions are good.” It’s easy to start counting the positions we think a candidate has “right” and see what candidate has the greater “sum” of right answers or “Catholic” answers. But that’s a very superficial and flawed way of doing moral analysis. It’s like saying to a supporter of terrorism, “I disagree with you on the one issue of terrorism, but what’s your health care plan?”
Paragraph 20 of Evangelium Vitae starts by showing the radical and practical impossibility of living with the implications of “pro-choice.” The same illusion that separates “choice” from the demands of respect for life is the illusion that makes us think we can separate other “rights” from the right to life. But human rights are integrally interconnected. Take away the basis for respecting life and you’ve taken away the basis for all human rights. As the Pope says, “At that point, everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining.”
The Pope then takes aim at the idea that if abortion has been legalized according to proper democratic procedures, then that’s all that matters. He says, “The appearance of the strictest respect for legality is maintained …. Really, what we have here is only the tragic caricature of legality; the democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations: How is it still possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted?”
Along with this, he has some of the strongest words ever written about what happens when the state legalizes abortion: “In this way democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism. The State is no longer the ‘common home’ where all can live together on the basis of principles of fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant State, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenseless members … When this happens, the process leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the State itself has already begun. To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom.”
“The disintegration of the State itself…totalitarianism…the death of true freedom.” In other words, no “common good” can co-exist with legal abortion. The very foundations of civilization break down. It sure sounds like abortion is more than just one issue among many.