In an election season, Catholics are called upon to evaluate a wide range of issues as they determine what candidates they will support.
We who are leaders in the pro-life movement do not say that abortion is the only issue. It is, however, the foundational issue. Many things destroy human life. Yet abortion goes beyond that. Our nation's current abortion policy authorizes such destruction, by a direct denial of the protections granted to persons under the US Constitution.
An example will clarify this. We are rightly concerned about the poor, and need to develop programs and policies to advance their rights and enhance their lives. Sometimes people are heard to say that offenses against the poor are a more compelling concern to them than the abortion problem. Certainly, the problems are related, because a consistent ethic of life recognizes that human life is sacred always and everywhere, and that progress in any area of advancing human dignity means progress in all the other areas as well.
But to make a truly equivalent parallel between the plight of the poor and that of the unborn, one would have to imagine a policy whereby a) the poor were officially declared to be devoid of "personhood" under the Constitution (as Roe vs. Wade did to the unborn), and b) over 4000 of the poor were put to death daily against their will, while efforts to directly save them were prosecuted by the government (as is the case regarding the unborn).
It is one thing to assert that a particular policy does or does not advance the rights of the poor; it is quite another to assert that the poor have no right to exist. Debates about the poor are in the first category; the debate about the unborn is in the second.
In their 1989 Resolution on Abortion, the US bishops therefore declared, "At this particular time, abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will."
In their 1998 statement Living the Gospel of Life, the bishops likewise explained, "Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice.… Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues ... But being 'right' in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the 'rightness' of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as the "temple of the Holy Spirit" -- the living house of God -- then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house's foundation" (n. 23).