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What is a Catholic’s obligation to democratically enacted pro-death laws?

Injustices such as abortion remain injustices and cannot be made just, irrespective of political or social consensus.

Pro-life demonstrators are seen near the Supreme Court in Washington June 15, 2022. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Seeking to rescue Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) President Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia from his remarks over assisted suicide, the neo-ultramontane papal positivists of “Where Peter Is” featured a discussion with Mike Lewis trying to spin Paglia.

I’ll cut through Lewis’s efforts to explain Paglia’s (and the PAV’s) constant “communication” problems and his explanation for Francis’s gutting of the Academy in 2016. I’m most interested in his comments on the differences in the situation of abortion in the United States and Italy, because his rationale (which is probably not unlike Paglia’s) holds problematic implications that are not fully fleshed out and relevant for a U.S. setting.

Lewis argues that the U.S. and Italian prolife movements are inherently different (and the latter less politically focused and arguably weaker) because of how abortion came to be legal in both countries. As Lewis rightly points out, the abortion-on-demand regime foisted on America by Roe v. Wade was a judicially-imposed Diktat that short-circuited democratic legislative processes. In Italy, Law 194 was enacted by the Italian Parliament and signed by the President in spring 1978 and affirmed by Italian voters in a direct referendum in 1981.

Lewis cites a key factor in the American debate that has long been identified by prolife scholars (e.g., Mary Anne Glendon in her magisterial Abortion and Divorce in Western Law in 1989): the Court’s imposition of abortion. Roe’s pretending there was a “Constitutional right” to abortion led to almost fifty years of judicial micromanagement of the most minute aspects of abortion policy (e.g., whether a state could mandate the burial or cremation of fetal remains vice their disposal as “medical waste”). That micromanagement led to fifty years of legislative resistance to the Court’s usurpation that finally buried Roe last June.

The simplistic version of the argument that criticized Roe’s judicial imposition of abortion claimed that liberal abortion laws were less fraught and more stable in Europe because of the “democratic” nature of their enactment.

There’s something to be said for that argument. But there are also aspects that make the comparison to the American situation questionable.

For one, Roe imposed abortion-on-demand through birth on America. Granted, the ruling played with trimester subterfuges and a supportive media hid the truth, but federal courts repeatedly made clear that they would impose abortion up through the moment of birth. (Remember that the Court first struck down, before it upheld, a third trimester partial birth abortion ban). No European law “democratically enacted” went that far. Law 194, for example, allowed abortion only in the first trimester and only under very restrictive circumstances in the second. That was far removed from Roe. Indeed, I would assert that, when major Western European countries were legalizing abortion in the 1970s-80s, no parliament would have been able legislatively to enact Roe v. Wade.

For another, it’s a bit deceptive to claim that American v. European abortion policy was a function of courts v. legislatures. The whole reason Law 194 came before the Italian Parliament in spring 1978 was because the Italian Constitutional Court had already struck down part of the country’s absolute ban on abortion. So there was a judicial finger on the scales of the Italian debate, too.

Prescinding from the judicial versus political context of the debate, however, I want to flesh out an argument about the latter. So what that abortion was legalized politically?

Yes, the political decision to legalize abortion created different dynamics than a judicial decree. Yes, it can be argued this is a “democratic outcome” we should all “respect.” Yes, given the likely constellation of political forces for and against abortion in many places, there is a greater incentive for the pro-abortion side to maintain the status quo than for the pro-life side to upset it: unborn children don’t vote in elections. Their silent death screams don’t make the news.

I want to focus here on the Catholic’s moral response to the situation.

It seems to me that the implicit argument here is that because abortion was legalized politically and appears to enjoy a certain political consensus, Catholics should “move on.” Yes, they might occasionally lament the destruction of the unborn (muttered quickly amidst a litany of other wonderful things pro-abortionists also support that can be used to give them “prolife” credentials, especially with a seamy garment of life). But we should just “get beyond” the fixation on abortion.


For folks who profess loyalty to and claim to be defending Vatican II, the Council is pretty clear that abortion is an “unspeakable crime” (Gaudium et spes, 51). That’s pretty strong language, which suggests that the Council Fathers didn’t think abortion was just another social ill that, alongside climate change and recycling (neither of which the Council mentions), merits Catholic attention. The Council (Gaudium et spes, 27) even puts abortion between “genocide” and “euthanasia” as “infamies,” at the top of a list whose further down crimes include human trafficking.

So, is a Catholic supposed to say “well, a democratic vote decided that abortion (and euthanasia) aren’t crimes and eminently speakable, so let’s ‘move on.’”


It seems to me that a Catholic has a twofold obligation, even in the face of the “democratic enactment” of unspeakable crimes:

First, he has an obligation to change that law, because injustice is not transformed by the magic alchemy of a majoritarian vote. Injustice remains injustice and cannot be made just, irrespective of political or social consensus. The Catholic who is “salt of the earth and light of the world” (Mt 5: 13-14) is called to stand effectively (i.e., more than verbally) in defense of innocent life, perhaps especially when the political order is infected with a culture of death. That is the Catholic’s prophetic witness, something Vincenzo Paglia often overlooks in his purely political (and generally wrong) calculations.

Second, he has an obligation to challenge that political order to explain its inherent self-contradiction in which it has put itself. Every legitimate political order serves the common good. There is no more basic common good than life and no more basic function of a society than to protect life. That is not a uniquely Catholic or even sectarian claim: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson all asserted it as the foundational basis on which a society could claim allegiance. So, a society that fails in that duty is in self-contradiction. That self-contradiction is not resolved by appeal to parliamentary majorities because, as Benedict XVI noted (in addresses to the Bundestag and European Parliaments) a truly democratic order recognizes that fundamental human rights are off-limits even to majoritarian decision (the same concept Jefferson recognized in speaking of “inalienable rights”).

Far, then, from retreating from the field over questions of protection of life on the excuse that its destruction was democratically ratified, a real Catholic recognizes the need to keep that question perennially on the agenda, challenging society at every opportunity to fulfill its fundamental obligation towards life.

Politics is rarely a static field: political contexts are almost always fluid. There may be political forces that want to pretend a question is “settled,” but that is rarely the case. If we went by that criterion, all the elite and thinking classes claimed Roe was settled and we should “move on” (a position not unlike the views of some American “liberal Catholics” that always had a distaste for real prolife politics). Ordinary, everyday Catholics in the United States refused to accept that position, writing, petitioning, voting, and Marching for Life every winter. 49 years later, Roe found its place, next to Dred Scott and Plessy, in the trashcan of Constitutional miscarriages of justice.

One thing is certain: if we don’t protest, death will prevail, because the unborn don’t vote and the euthanasia crowd makes the noise. We Catholics keep the life agenda on the political agenda.

We need clarity on this point because, in the wake of Dobbs and efforts by referendum to write abortion into various state constitutions, it is likely to be used by Catholic Lite to excuse failing to maintain Catholic witness and real political pressure against such outcomes. Trying to create Mario Cuomo 2.0, the likely argument will be that the “political judgment” of the “common good” suggests we “move on” (which oh so conveniently puts much of that Catholic Lite back in the good graces of politicians with whom Catholic defense of the right to life is the one uncomfortable burr in the saddle).

Keeping that pressure up demands engaging a question pro-abortionists want at all costs to keep off the agenda and which some pro-life politicians would happily evade: when does life begin? A society whose fundamental duty is to protect life cannot feign agnosticism about that question, and its scientific foundation (I emphasize scientific, because no small part of Catholic Lite would like to pretend it is merely philosophical) remains unchanged, whether contradicted by judicial ukase or democratic legislative majority.

Dobbs reopened abortion as a political question, not in the sense that killing is right or wrong depending on who gets 50+% of the vote but in the sense that the courts no longer artificially constrain the possibility of protecting life through assertion of an ersatz right. We should not err in believing that the political status of abortion is a mere political judgment call; it is, first and foremost, a moral duty that reaches to the foundational justification of any society, but especially one that claims to be just.

While Evangelium vitae (#73) countenances a prolife legislator voting for an imperfect law rather than an outright permissive one, one must not overlook the point the sentence makes clear: “when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law.” That is not a static, frozen-in-place criterion; it is dynamic, and up to Catholics to keep the situation ever fluid until the law can finally do the “possible” and fulfill its most basic task: that humans be comprehensively welcome in life and protected in law, especially from “unspeakable crimes.”

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About John M. Grondelski, Ph.D. 8 Articles
John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. He publishes regularly in the National Catholic Register and in theological journals. All views expressed herein are exclusively his own.


  1. Democratically enacted? Enacted by judicial diktat?

    I would say to Mr. Lewis, when it comes to crimes against humanity, that is a distinction without a difference.

    Big time.

    Was Hitler more acceptable than Mao because Hitler took power legally?

    Were Hitler’s victims any less dead than Mao’s?

    The feebleness of this pro-abortion argument is just another indication of the clarity of the case against killing children, whether in utero or out.

    Ask any five-year-old child whose Mommy has another baby in her tummy, and he or she will tell you:

    Killing babies is wrong.

    To which I would add, evil. Monstrous.


  2. The use of the term ‘abortion’ is a squeamish submission to the linguistic lie fashioned by the baby killers. It is a demonic deception to disguise and diminish the grave sin of murder of holy innocents on the womb.
    The Gospel tells us of two babies, each miraculously conceived, their names proclaimed by an angel, fully alive and aware of each other as John the Baptist leapt in the womb at the Presence of his cousin Our Savior King. That is all the proof a ‘Catholic’ needs to understand that the term ‘pro-choice’ is another linguistic lie to justify murder.

  3. From the pulpits we are told to pray and to be law abiding as it appears that sins against a vindictive Caesar are more grievous than sins against God who is All Loving and Loving All. The RadTrads enjoy the attention of the FBI and the Vatican today.

  4. Frankly, although I totally believe in the “religious” arguments against abortion, I think that Catholics and other religious people would be wise to emphasize in public arenas the “arguments from science,” specifically the science of embryology and human development. It makes no scientific sense that the embryo or fetus is a “human baby” only if the woman wants it to be a human baby, but a “clump of cells” if she does NOT want it to be a human baby.

    If indeed, the embryo or fetus is not a human being, then why do we spend immense amounts of public and private money on pre-natal research and care (just for the woman who has this “growth” inside her)? End the funding for pre-natal care and end grants for embryology and fetal development research. It doesn’t make sense to provide grants and funding for something that only exists if the woman wants it to exist.

    I would hope that most legitimate scientists and doctors (and maybe even women’s rights activists, politicians, and journalists!) would denounce the very idea of defunding embryology and pre-natal development studies, as well as withdrawing pre-natal care. And WHY would they denounce the defunding? Because they know that the fertilized egg is (not “may be”) a human being. And what follows is that an abortion will kill that human being. Just follow the science.

    Of course, there is a great deal of “science” that we humans reject every day. We know that being overweight or obese is dangerous for our health, but we don’t make serious efforts to lose weight using a tried-and-true method (such as reducing sweets and getting a little exercise). We know that drinking and driving are unsafe, but we do it anyway and kill innocent people. We know that sleep-deprivation has deleterious effects on our health and mental state, but we exist on 4 hours of sleep ouy of 24 hours. We know that our environment needs to be cared for, but we buy tanks instead of cars.

    So what’s probably happening is that we know that the embryo/fetus is a human being, and we just choose to ignore the science and live life the way we want to live it, regardless of the inevitable consequences. But just like morbidly obese people, or drunk drivers, or sleep-deprived people, or people who ignore our beautiful environment, will eventually pay the consequences of their “choices,” we will eventually discover, to our horror, and be forced to admit that yes! those embryos and fetuses that we are killing really are human beings! It’s the science!

  5. This is an issue related to the heresy of legal positivism.

    There can never be a right to do wrong. Abortion is a matter of the violation of an inalienable right. No judge or legislature can turn that which is wrong into something that is tolerated. Laws are promulgated to prevent and punish wrongs. Wrongs aren’t essentially created by law.

    Those who attempt to enshrine the “right” to abortion in a constitution are guilty of complicity with attempted murder. But why aren’t they arrested and prosecuted? Widespread heresy started/aided by Roe v. Wade appears to be the reason.

    God is just, and prophecy points towards a very terrible chastisement. Abortion (i.e. murder of the innocent) is one of the sins crying out to Heaven for vengeance.

    It was Socrates in pre-Christian times who was put to death for “refusal to worship” and “corrupting the youth.” But who consider the media guilty of wrong for using the evil, erroneous phrase “abortion rights?” I do. That is an example of corruption of morals.

    Censorship in the past should have been able to avert both the corruption of morals by the toleration of errors spread through the mass media, and the heresy of legal positivism.

  6. The outrageous corruption of the godless elite is finally coming into the light of day. It didn’t reach such depths of depravity, such complete lack of respect for human life overnight. The diabolical nature of the present corruption developed into its current nightmarish form over decades, actually over centuries, since it was conceived in the militant atheism that arose with the so-called Enlightenment, and has now matured into a monster that dominates the institutions of what was once Christendom.

    We are now at nearly two-billion innocent human lives taken by “legal” abortion worldwide. The greatest holocaust of innocent human life in the history of the world began only a few decades after the Nuremberg Trials established that the state has no authority whatsoever to legalize the murder of innocent humanity; its prosecutors treated “legal” abortion as a crime against humanity; defendants who demonstrated that they had done nothing illegal under Nazi law were hanged. Why? Because the state simply has no authority whatsoever to legalize the murder of innocent humanity. Murder is intrinsically illegal and can’t be made legal.

    How did the world, so soon after defeating the Nazis by paying an unprecedented price in blood and tears, and so soon after condemning them at Nuremberg, resume the basic Nazi error? That error was, of course, to deify the state. Only a self-deified state that makes itself into a god claims for itself the authority to “legalize” the murder of innocent humanity. After all, if there is no God then the state, for all practical purposes, is a god with no authority above its own.

    Such an atheocracy inevitably assumes that if there is no God managing the human herd, directing its evolution, then somebody has to ensure the survival of only the fittest. Self-appointed, godless social engineers in cooperation with the self-deified state must direct the culling of the herd.

    Understanding this puts the thwarting of effective treatments for Covid in perspective. One realizes that the godless elite has decided that two-billion lives taken by “legal” abortion isn’t sufficient; they must further cull their human herd. The ideal human population, according to the population controllers, is around 1.5 to 2 billion people (and only a half-billion according to some of them). You, dear reader, are disposable surplus that is causing problems — at least you are that according to the reigning atheocracy.

    Again, how was it that the basic Nazi error was so quickly put into practice again? In today’s computerized world it is helpful if one thinks of the Nuremberg Trials as an official declaration that a database was indeed terribly corrupted; the data was corrected, but the root cause of the corruption never was. So the database, of course, quickly became corrupted again. And what was the root cause of the corruption that was never dealt with?

    John Quincy Adams described the basic cause long ago. In his 1839 Jubilee of the Constitution discourse he repeatedly contrasts “the judgment of the sovereign constituent people, responsible only to God” and the “grossly immoral and dishonest doctrine of despotic state sovereignty, the exclusive judge of its own obligations, and responsible to no power on earth or in heaven for the violation of them.”

    The latter is the case today under the reigning atheocracy, and profoundly so. Sovereignty rests in the people, not in a self-deified state. That is what made the American revolution different from all previous revolutions in history; the people didn’t want a new, absolute king or a new unaccountable ruler, they wanted public servants of a people who had formed a “nation under God.”

    Atheism, which denys the existence of God, and therefore denies the existence of God-given, inalienable human rights, inevitably ends in the state pretending to have the authority to “legalize” the murder of innocent humanity as a matter of social policy.

    Nuremberg 2.0 will eventually take place. When it does we must correct the root cause of the problem. This correction will consist of the establishment of a nation of, by and for the people, under God.

  7. Thank you, Professor Grondelski, for this excellent and very helpful analysis.

    And. I agree with your comment about “Francis’s gutting of the PAV,” it’s tragic lavender desecration.

  8. The subject to be carried one step further is the obligation of our spiritual leaders to condemn these laws and also note the complicity of those political figures supporting them. While not necessary to call individuals by name, they should not fear to define the personal obligations of politicians. A number have been notably silent on these matters the last few decades and this failure has had a negative effect on the individual responsibilities of their office and in their final accountability.

  9. But, surely, even “good” versus “evil” can be harmonized, perhaps by some sort of synodal process, if only the “experts” can come up with the right words. As a case study, the abortion narrative began with a pre-harmonized vocabulary…

    “I know of not a single case where anyone came out of the chambers alive” (Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess on the destructive capacity of Zyklon B gas, 1947) and “It never ever results in live births” (an experienced abortionist on the merits of dissection and extraction, 1981);
    “The subjects were forced to undergo death-dealing experiments ‘without receiving anesthetics’” (Dachau freezing experiments, 1942) and “the fetuses are fully alive when we cut their heads off, but anesthetics are definitely unnecessary” (Fetal researcher Dr. Martti Kekomaki, 1980);
    “No criticism was raised” (conference of German physicians to the Ravenbrueck death camp sulfanilamide experiments, Berlin, May 1943) and “no one ever raised an eyebrow” (meeting of American pediatricians to an experiment involving beheading of aborted babies, San Francisco, 1973); and
    “What should we do with this garbage” (Treblinka, 1942) and “an aborted baby is just garbage” (fetal researcher Dr. Martti Kekomaki, 1980).
    In “Mein Kampf” (1925) Adolf Hitler referred to Jews as “a parasite in the body of other peoples”; fifty years later, the year of Roe v. Wade, a radical feminist group branded the unborn as “a parasite within the mother’s body” (an early edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book By and For Women”).

    (From William Brennan, The Abortion Holocaust: Today’s Final Solution [St. Louis: Landmark Press, 1983], Chart 6, and 100-102.)

    When God is Absent in Our Life: Evil becomes the way of life!
    • We cannot permit what the Church forbids.
    • We cannot forbid what the Church permits.
    • We must protect all Human Life, from Conception to Natural Death.
    • Man’s laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral. Even if sin is “legalized” by Man’s Laws, it is still a sin in the eyes of God.
    • God’s own Word shall never change, no matter what his creation, which is humankind, deems as the new ‘reality’!
    • GOD will NEVER approve of what GOD has condemned since the beginning of time, no matter what Man-Made laws are passed!
    • “Yes, we are to love God and love each other. But if we love God, we will seek to obey His Word. Jesus told us, ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments’ (John 14:15). God defines what is sin, not us; and His Word is clear that homosexuality is sin,” – Franklin Graham
    • The Ten Commandments were not created to be a pick-and-choose salad bar.
    • Where does it say that GOD’s OWN Commandments shall be periodically updated?
    • Where in the Bible does it say that GOD will allow YOU to decide, (or vote on) which of the Ten Commandments are currently relevant?

    1. Any so-called “christian church” that accepts abortion, suicide, euthanasia, transgenderism, and/or homosexuality as an accepted practice, is NOT CHRISTIAN!
    2. Abortion, euthanasia, suicide, transgenderism, and homosexuality are ALWAYS SINS!
    3. Any person or church that accepts “chrislam” or “christianized islam” as an accepted practice and belief is NOT CHRISTIAN!
    4. Anyone who supports any of the above is giving homage to Satan!

    It is: “Love the sinner, but hate the sin!” — St. Augustine of Hippo, 354 – 430 AD

    Islam rejects God as a Father, Islam rejects Jesus as the divine Son of God and Islam rejects the Jewish people as the ancient inheritors of God’s promises. There is now a heretical movement that is quickly infecting the “christian” church with its creeping influence, called “Chrislam” that we must stop.

    Islam adamantly rejects the Deity of Jesus Christ and says Allah has no sons [Surah 72] (However, “allah” has three daughters: Al-lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat!) The Koran declares the idea of ‘Jesus is God’ as blasphemy. (Believing that Jesus is the Christ is considered shirk or “filth” to Muslims.) Furthermore, Islam denies the death of Jesus Christ on the cross (4:157-158). Islam denies the paternity, deity, crucifixion, death, & resurrection of Jesus Christ and makes him to be a barbarian warlord who will return to kill us.
    In two places in the koran, Mohammad openly admitted he (Mohammad) could do no miracles to show any sort of divinity or divine calling (Surah 17:90-95; 3:183, also see: 29:50-51) Islam’s name for Jesus is Isa. The ‘Jesus’ or Isa in the Koran is not the same Jesus as in the Bible. Islam views Isa as just a “normal human prophet who was appointed by Allah to prepare mankind for the coming of Mohammad”. Yet, nowhere in the Old or New Testament is Mohammad mentioned or even hinted about!

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