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Pro-life legislation and the pain of compromise

In the valley of tears that is post-Christian America, we have no choice but to sow seeds of life, knowing that some will be choked by the weeds before the Master finally comes for the harvest, which is still far away.

A woman helps two young boys light candles during a "Value Them Both" sidewalk vigil in Olathe, Kan., Aug. 1, 2022. Voters rejected a ballot referendum that would have amended the state constitution to say there is no constitutional right to abortion in Kansas. (CNS photo/Kathryn White, The Leaven)

The defeat, in early August, of the Kansas ballot initiative to remove the state’s “right to abortion” prompted soul searching within the pro-life movement over how to pursue legal restrictions on abortion in our post-Roe nation. Commentators were quick to conclude that Americans will not support complete abortion bans, so we should work instead for restrictions that leave the window open for various exceptions – medical emergencies for the mother, rape and incest, before a certain gestation period, to name the most common.

Leaving the political specifics aside for a moment, there is a simple reason pro-lifers are leery of compromises: each one allows for children to be killed. The politics of abortion are unlike every other issue. Economics, education, taxation, and health care are not zero-sum games; we can receive some, or none, of what we want and our lives still go on. Abortion prevents a life from going on. It is the only issue that is all or nothing – life or death.

Pro-lifers also know that legalizing some abortions is intellectually inconsistent. “Life is inviable – but only under certain conditions” really means that no life is sacred, especially if it runs against the will of a hostile adult. To subject some babies to the death penalty based on factors they cannot control, such as geography, age, and means of conception, is cruel caprice. It’s a thin line between “abortion only in certain circumstances” and “abortion as safe, legal, and rare.”

A final fact that makes compromise distasteful is the act of subjecting God’s law to His creatures’ veto. God commands for all time, “Thou shall not kill.” Many contemporary Americans, by contrast, separated from the Christian religion that our Founding Fathers knew was essential to keeping a republican government virtuous and just, think that there are times to kill when the situation suits the individual. Widespread public support for abortion in certain circumstances shows the perils of a democratic government centered not on fulfilling the divine will of God, but on satisfying the disordered wills of human beings.

Acknowledging these perils returns us to politics and the problem of compromise when, in one very palpable sense, compromise is not possible.

But compromise, in the sense of offering concessions to reach an agreement, is not the right vantage point to view this new phase of the struggle against the legal killing of innocent children in the womb. Post-Roe America is post-Christian America in which Biblical precepts, spelled out most succinctly in the Ten Commandments, are viewed as hateful impositions against individual license, especially license to sexual expression.

Given this difficult reality and the fact that just three months ago, America ended its fifty-year abortion free-for-all, any law that restricts abortion is a victory. Beyond the limits themselves, these restrictions also have the power to redirect reasoning in the other direction: If abortion is wrong in some circumstances, is it wrong in all circumstances? Yes, the thin line mentioned above can push one to conclude the converse position: that abortion is always taking the life of an innocent, and therefore never permissible.

In this way, abortion restrictions post-Roe function akin to the Mosaic Law: they are a substantial improvement over the social mores that marked life in the ancient world. But, as Christ makes clear in His Sermon on the Mount and in His prohibition of divorce, the Mosaic Law was an intermediary, preparatory step toward something greater: the Gospel Law of love. The teachings of Christ, the new Moses, do not have the same sense or impact without Moses’ teachings before Him.

The Israelites who strove toward the promised land with Moses could not have imagined the fulfillment of the law that Christ would bring over a millennium later. But God’s victory did come.

We today, immersed in an America duped by the lies of the Sexual Revolution and fallen away from Christ, are hard pressed to imagine a return to the Gospel and, with it, a rejection of abortion. But with God, all things are possible, and, working within the limits imposed by our hostile political climate, we must make a return on the talents He has given to us, even if they are only two or one. Setting some legal limits on abortion, even if not a complete ban, is taking our one talent and investing it for a renewed culture.

Yes, innocent children are still being killed as we wait for the return on investment. But abortion is such a horrific evil that we cannot cast it out on our own. In the valley of tears that is post-Christian America, we have no choice but to sow seeds of life, knowing that some will be choked by the weeds before the Master finally comes for the harvest, which is still far away.

Thinking about compromise over abortion in this manner is not a semantic sleight of hand, nor is it a cop-out or justification for bargaining with the devil. We are not doing evil so that good may come of it. Rather, it is the harsh reality of a moral discernment that seeks realistic ways to defend life in a country that views life not as a gift, but as a disposable toy. Edmund Burke expressed this harsh reality in political terms in his Reflections on the Revolution in France: “Political reasoning is computing principle” that often requires “balances between differences of good, in compromises sometimes between good and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil.”

Just a few months ago, mandatory sonograms and waiting periods for those seeking abortions were the best we could do to protect life under Roe. If we could save even one life, we tried to do so. Our challenge today is that, at this point in America’s history, we have to work incrementally by restricting abortion first before moving to outright bans. This is our Mosaic moment. God willing, the return to Christ that our nation needs to make abortion as ghastly a memory as slavery is not a millennium away.


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About David G. Bonagura, Jr. 24 Articles
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism. and Staying with the Catholic Church: Trusting God's Plan of Salvation.

3 Comments

  1. Regarding the different meanings of “compromise” on the abortion front, Thomas More offered this possibly relevant advice:

    “Whatever play is being performed, perform it as well as you can; and do not upset it all, because you bethink you of another which has more wit. So it is in commonwealth with the deliberation of kings. Suppose wrong opinions cannot be plucked up by the root, and you cannot cure, as you would wish, vices of long standing, yet you must not on that account abandon ship of state and desert it in a storm, because you cannot control the winds. But neither must you impress upon them new and strange language, which you know will carry no weight with those of opposite conviction, but by indirect approach and covert suggestion you must endeavour and strive to the best of your power to handle all well, and what you cannot turn to good, you must make as little bad as you can. For it is impossible that all should be well, unless all men are good, which I do not expect for a great many years to come” (Thomas More, UTOPIA, 1516).

  2. Far too often the church, in insisting on theological correctness, refuses to take “half a loaf.” The birth control issue is one which lost the church millions of married followers, when the mandate came down that No one was permitted to use birth control. Now that the ball is in our court, lets not make the same mistake with abortion. I believe that State laws which prohibit ALL abortions, even those for rape and incest, are doomed to fail. With the result that many more babies die and the church gets NO loaf. Better to allow the rare exception on the basis of mercy than insisting on being correct with many children dead. I do hope Republicans are thinking very carefully about this.

  3. If abortion is wrong in one circumstance, then it is wrong in all circumstances. The incremental approach is wrong. The pro-life fight is on a hiding to nothing if it gives up on this important principle. The Church always has and always must teach in absolutes.

    We are not in the Old Testament. Jesus has blessed the New Covenant with His blood. This is the time that we are living in.

    God gives us choice as to whether we follow His precepts or not. You cite that thorny issue of contraception. We know what His Church teaches on this and many Catholics made their contrary choice. Populations all over the world are now falling. This will make it difficult for future generations to service taxes, pensions and industries and life will become difficult. We learn by our mistakes. God will not be mocked.

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  1. Pro-life legislation and the pain of compromise | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
  2. Pro-life legislation and the pain of compromise | Franciscan Sisters of St Joseph (FSJ) , Asumbi Sisters Kenya

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