Note: This column first appeared on January 24, 2020, before the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson last year, which reversed the Court’s finding in Roe v. Wade that there was a federal right to abortion – and returned questions about abortion to the individual States. Three years later, as the debates continue in many States, there is still a refusal to come to grips with the stark numbers indicated below. And as the national Pro-Life March takes place in Washington D.C. today, the World Economic Forum (currently meeting in Davos, Switzerland) seems to take it for granted that global access to abortion is an integral part of a better human future – though better for whom and at what moral cost doesn’t enter into the economic calculus.
Robert Royal: Despite the pro-life victory in Dobbs, and as we march in Washington today, we need to redouble efforts to end modernity’s murderous, sinister, anti-life ideologies.
As a thought experiment, let’s assume something I would never accuse TCT readers of being: that you are materialist and utilitarian. You believe that “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” in tangible, physical measures, is the pre-eminent moral principle. What might you have to consider today, when hundreds of thousands of Americans will be marching to protect life in the womb? (And people in various countries conduct their own pro-life marches?)
Well, to begin with, though all such numbers are a bit uncertain, roughly 55 million people die, globally, every year. And numerous public health organizations intensely scrutinize the slightest increase or decrease in mortality, in a laudable effort to identify what factors may be harming or helping the health of diverse peoples around the world.
That number does not include the number of babies killed by elective abortions, however, which at one time would have been thought a rare, emergency measure. The Guttmacher Institute, an advocate for abortion, estimates that there are roughly 56 million abortions around the world every year. So allowing for the statistical uncertainties, we can say in broad terms that as many innocents are slaughtered every year in the womb as there are deaths from all other causes in the entire world.
That’s the kind of mayhem you associate with murderous ideologies like Nazism and Communism, not “reproductive health.”
Because of an ill-advised accord with China, the Vatican refrains from speaking about that government’s persecution, brainwashing, organ harvesting, and interference with the internal life of religious groups, including Catholics. But how about the more than 300 million abortions there since the 1970s, many forced – a number about equal to the entire population of the United States?
Or the more than 60 million abortions in America since Roe v. Wade? That’s more or less the population of the United Kingdom or France or Italy; much larger than Spain; a figure close to the populations of Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, and Poland combined.
Would even a materialist/utilitarian believe that such prodigal slaughter of the innocents has not and will not have enormous consequences?
At their annual meeting last November , the American bishops, recognizing the moral questions in play during this year’s presidential campaign, tangled over whether abortion was the “pre-eminent” issue.
Chicago’s Cardinal Cupich and San Diego’s Bishop McElroy, staunch partisans of Pope Francis, argued that the pontiff considers other life issues equally urgent. Nonetheless, two-thirds of the bishops voted to keep abortion “pre-eminent.”
Couldn’t the bishops, or at least some bishop, somewhere, do a little painting by the numbers? And speak out about the enormity that goes on unnoticed in the world, year after year now. Indeed, there’s a creepy current in international bodies seeking to define this slaughter as a universal human right.
The controversy among the bishops was cast in the media as the usual debate over Pope Francis. But Francis is not, as we have learned, in entire agreement with his champions.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who heads the USCCB’s Committee for Pro-Life Activities, met just a few days ago with the pope, along with other Midwestern bishops on their scheduled ad limina visits. He asked whether abortion is pre-eminent. Francis replied, “Of course, it is. It’s the most fundamental right. . . .This is not first a religious issue; it’s a human-rights issue.”
Francis is notorious for saying one thing to one group and the opposite to another. And as Archbishop Viganò has documented recently, we can’t be sure how much he’s permitted to know by those around him. So it may very well be that he wasn’t aware that “pre-eminent” is a term that, in America, is also a tripwire.
Many of us have suspected, going all the way back to then-Cardinal McCarrick’s misrepresentation of Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2004 letter to the American bishops, that efforts to make abortion just one of many “life” issues is really an effort to preserve the “political viability” of pro-choice Catholic politicians, almost all Democrats.
Still, Francis has, at least in one mood, spoken of abortion as “hiring a hit man” to solve a problem. He has not, however, shown anything like the urgency towards the tens of millions of deaths via abortion that he has towards the much smaller numbers of refugees, illegals, etc. who die every year.
The world desperately needs a sense of proportion about the evils we experience. For example, officials of various stripes warn against “hate crimes,” which, from their rhetoric, you might think constitute a vast epidemic, threatening the moral tone and very existence of civic life, especially in the “age of Trump,” who somehow is blamed for them, even though they largely predate his presidency.
Numbers? The FBI says in 2018 there was a “bump up” in incidents against Hispanics – from 430 to 485. Muslims? 270 – the fewest, by the way, since 2014.
Numbers, of course – even if minuscule – are not the only factor worth considering. Every human life is infinitely valuable, and injustice of any kind must constantly be fought. Catholics and other Christians realize this – quite contrary to the anti-Christian slurs, pro-life Christians seek to preserve all human life – from conception to natural death.
Still, numbers cannot be ignored. If millions, tens of millions, were dying crossing into America at the Rio Grande, or into Europe across the Mediterranean, or from the Middle East to refuge in Europe, there would be non-stop outrage around the globe – and rightly so.
So if the Catholic Church and others believe that abortion is the destruction of innocent human life, why do many – even within the Church – treat it like just one in a list of problems, and often far down the list?
The world looks at that relative passivity and asks, with some justice: So do these pro-lifers really think abortion takes a human life?
We do, of course. And as we march in Washington today and engage in other pro-life activities throughout the year, we all need to redouble efforts, both to defend the millions who are dying and to dispel yet another of modernity’s murderous, sinister, anti-life – and unrecognized – ideologies.
Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.
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