Abortion & Politics

The current flap in Latin America between the Catholic hierarchy and the politicians over the issue of abortion seems, I think, headed to an outcome that can only hurt the Church.  The reason is that the churchmen seem to be ignoring several realities.

       One is that despite having the largest number of Catholics -- at least nominally -- in the world, Latin America is not so Catholic as the hierarchy would like to imagine is the case.  In Mexico, political life has long been dominated by the anti-clerical PRI, even though, since Vincente Fox, the more conservative and Catholic leaning PAN has been on the rise.  However, President Calderon only narrowly won the national election over the left-leaning former mayor of Mexico City where first trimester abortion has been made legal. In Brazil, where the Church boasts the largest number of bishops, it is woefully short of priests, and more and more of the average people are turning toward home-grown evangelical and pentecostal sects. So even in Brazil, where illegal abortion clinics are commonly called "angel factories", it is increasingly unlikely that whatever the bishops or the pope say is apt to have much effect.

       Another reason that threats of excommunication are apt to have much effect is that the Church's official "magisterium" seems to be increasingly out of touch with its own best traditions on such matters.  Although no one can doubt that abortion has always been considered a very serious sin, the fact is that down through the ages, as modes of philosophical reasoning and the views of science changed, the Church also changed its thinking a number of times, especially regarding what is actually involved in abortions carried out during the earliest stages of life.  Even today, the official argument (as expounded by the late John Paul II) is not that abortion is necessarily the equivalent of infanticide or murder, but rather that respect for life at all stages (including the final stages approaching death) demands non-interference -- hence forbids contraception, artificial insemination, etc. -- with the natural processes of life. 

       All this is very logical -- which leads to the third reason such prohibitions are apt to be ignored. The fact is that the Church's appeal to "natural law" arguments in all these matters has been all too logical in the strictly rational sense rather than based on biological science.  This has been most evident in it's understanding of sexuality.  Thus while pope John Paul II admitted the fact of biological evolution, he, like his predecessor Pius XII back in 1950, drew the line at admitting that evolution might have any bearing on the nature or origin of the human spirit or soul. The result is that Church teaching has found itself increasingly out of touch with any understanding of how human nature, especially regarding sexuality, which after all has everything to do with the transmission of life -- hence evolution -- actually works.   Thus abortion, especially in this increasingly crowded world, is all too often the unfortunate by-product of a situation for which the Church itself is partly to blame. 

Ordinary people, especially the poor in Latin America, may not be able to articulate or explain the intricacies of this grim reality, but they sense it, especially when hierarchs start issuing threats that seem to them to defy common sense.     

R W Kropf   5/10/07                   Abortpol.doc 07-05-10.html