Saturday, November 19, 2011

TFTD: This Catholic's View on the Abortion stance of Ron Paul

A good, even handed approach to describing Ron Paul's position can be found HERE.  For a summary of his positions, see HERE.  Of course all Catholics should read Evangelium Vitae which will be referred to often in this article, for it shows the great evil of abortion and how it must be opposed at all levels.


Ron Paul is mentioned by some Catholic bloggers (and commentators on Catholic blogs) as being the ideal candidate for President. Much is made of his being personally pro-life, and his voting against Federal legislation is explained as believing the Federal Government has no such authority to regulate the issue of abortion, and it is really an issue for the individual states to deal with.

While I am underwhelmed by his views, I am more troubled by Catholics who seem to think his views are satisfactory.  They are not.  While Ron Paul lacks the hypocrisy of Mario Cuomo's infamous "personally opposed but…," he seems to fail his moral obligation based on a false understanding of law and authority.

Now I do not doubt the sincerity of Ron Paul in his emphasizing in campaigning for President that he believes abortion is wrong.  It is reported he left the Episcopalian Church over the issue of abortion.  The problem is, if one recognizes a law is evil, one is obligated to overturn or (if this is impossible) at least seek to limit the harm of the evil law.

Unfortunately this is what Ron Paul has failed to do.

The Role of Law and Government

What is most troubling when it comes to certain Catholics supporting Ron Paul's views is that his views of Libertarianism seems to overlook what the law is for and what the government is obligated to do.  Now since Ron Paul is a Baptist, it is understandable that his understanding of law and government is not going to follow the Catholic stance.  However, the Catholic does need to be aware of the Catholic understanding of law and what we must do in regards to law.

St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of law as follows:

[A] law is nothing else than a dictate of reason in the ruler by whom his subjects are governed. Now the virtue of any subordinate thing consists in its being well subordinated to that by which it is regulated: thus we see that the virtue of the irascible and concupiscible faculties consists in their being obedient to reason; and accordingly "the virtue of every subject consists in his being well subjected to his ruler," as the Philosopher says (Polit. i). But every law aims at being obeyed by those who are subject to it. Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: and since virtue is "that which makes its subject good," it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given, good, either simply or in some particular respect. For if the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on true good, which is the common good regulated according to Divine justice, it follows that the effect of the law is to make men good simply. If, however, the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on that which is not simply good, but useful or pleasurable to himself, or in opposition to Divine justice; then the law does not make men good simply, but in respect to that particular government. In this way good is found even in things that are bad of themselves: thus a man is called a good robber, because he works in a way that is adapted to his end.

Summa Theologica (I-IIa. Q 92 a. 1)

Since every law has the aim of being obeyed and the proper effect of the law is to make those to whom it is given, good, it seems to follow that those who are lawgivers must make laws which are just and strive to overturn laws which are unjust at whatever level they are legislating: the local level, the state level and the federal level.

To fail to do this is to fail to be a good lawmaker.

Blessed John Paul II pointed out in Evangelium Vitae #20:

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: "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34).

So we can see here that the law which permits these evils is a threat to human freedom and must be opposed.

Ideology and Doing Right

While Mark Shea calls Ron Paul, "one of the only people in Congress whom I would call an honest man" I would have to question this assessment  (To clarify, Shea does disapprove of some of Ron Paul's stances so it should not be said he is pro-Ron Paul).  By saying this, I don't mean to call Ron Paul a liar of course.  Rather I mean that because of his ideology, he avoids doing what is right and seems to avoid the hard questions he needs to ask… perhaps because taking the right stand would call his ideology into question, perhaps because he is blinded by a false ideology into thinking it trumps the issue of abortion.  At any rate, his views of abortion are modified by his views of the authority of the government to make laws.

He believes that the Federal Government has no authority to make laws on abortion, so he has voted against restricting of minors being transported across state lines to have an abortion, making it a crime to harm a fetus during the commission of a crime etc.  Both of these votes do show a disregard for the importance of the family and the legal acknowledgement of the fetus as a person.

The problem is, the Federal Government is making laws about abortion, and therefore he is obligated to act on his principles that abortion is wrong at the Federal level.

Blessed John Paul II has said:

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action".

As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used. Before the moral norm which prohibits the direct taking of the life of an innocent human being "there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the 'poorest of the poor' on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal".

Evangelium Vitae #57

If the Federal Law permits the evil of abortion, lawmakers of good faith are obligated to eliminate or at least slow down the evil to the best of their ability.  Blessed John Paul II has also written,

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

ibid #73

In failing to seek limits to abortion at the Federal level, he is failing in his duty as a lawmaker and taking part in making it possible for abortion on demand to remain legal.

Why Catholics Cannot Accept His View that Abortion is a State Issue

The problem with Ron Paul's views is that if the Federal Government has no authority to pass laws on abortion, the individual states have no authority to pass these rights either and the attempt to push the decision about abortion to the state level is an evasion of the issue.

Again, Blessed John Paul II has said:

The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. While public authority can sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which-were it prohibited- would cause more serious harm, it can never presume to legitimize as a right of individuals-even if they are the majority of the members of society-an offence against other persons caused by the disregard of so fundamental a right as the right to life. The legal toleration of abortion or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protect itself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and under the pretext of freedom.

ibid #71

So his position is really an evasion of his duty as a member of Congress and is seeking to shift the issue to the states where a certain number of states decide it is legal while others decide it is not.  Admittedly, we would then have the possibility of 50 winnable battles in comparison to the tyranny of the Supreme Court which absolutely refuses to question Roe v. Wade and it's legalization of abortion of demand (an issue I had with Doug Kmiec in the 2008 election cycle), but the problem is that Ron Paul seems to think the problem will be solved simply by a strict constitutionalist point of view that puts the onus on the state.

In contrast, the Catholic point of view holds that the right to life needs to be respected at all levels of government and it is an obligation for the Federal Government to protect the right to life and for lawmakers at the Federal level to act to protect this right.

It is similar to the pre-Civil War stance that states could decide for themselves whether to have slaves or not to have slaves.  Such a view overlooked the fact that if slavery was wrong, no state could legitimately keep slaves.  Likewise, if abortion be wrong, no state can legitimately legalize abortion.


Time will tell whether Ron Paul gets the nomination for president (I doubt it myself – but then again, in 2008, I expected Hillary Clinton to get the nomination over Obama).  If he does, we'll have to decide about his positions in relation to Obama's positions.  However, in terms of the primaries I am inclined to think he is an unsatisfactory choice for the nomination for president.

If Obama were to receive a failing grade on the issue of abortion, I think it safe to say that Ron Paul can at best be given a D- as his grade.  Given how strongly the Church speaks about the obligation to defend the right to life, we can't really think of him as anything more than a "better than nothing (but not by much)" response to the current culture of death.

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