Writing this column on Tuesday afternoon, I have no idea of how the presidential election will turn out when the polls close a few hours from now, which is just as well. Like everyone else, I have spent much too much time on the subject in recent weeks and months.
On to the topic at hand, a subject tossed around like a political football in virtually every election cycle, to a greater or lesser degree.
I was fortunate to hear Carl A. Anderson, the supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, tackle the subject directly at a Manhattan dinner I attended in late October.
Anderson was there to receive the Great Defender of Life Award from the Human Life Foundation, an independent, non-profit, non-sectarian organization chartered specifically to promote—and help provide—alternatives to abortion. You may know the foundation, as I do, for publishing the Human Life Review, the well-written quarterly journal filled with pertinent commentary about abortion and other life-and-death issues.
Anderson, of course, needs no introduction as the leader of the nearly 2 million-member Catholic fraternal service organization that literally puts its funding and myriad volunteer hours at the service of life and other Church causes. One initiative Anderson detailed is placing technically advanced ultrasound machines in crisis pregnancy centers. Since 2009, the Knights have arranged for 720 such machines to the tune of $35 million.
Many of us have been delighted to see our baby’s (or grandbaby’s) first photos that way. And that is exactly the point. We live in a visual world, where seeing really does help us to believe. Anderson said he wasn’t sure how many women have been encouraged to keep their babies after seeing ultrasound images, courtesy of the Knights. “But if each machine is decisive in convincing just one mother each week to keep her baby, these machines will save more than 37,000 lives each year,” Anderson said.
At the dinner, he also recounted the story of how he and his wife, Dorian, years ago opened their home to a young, unmarried pregnant girl “who lived with us throughout her pregnancy and who we helped place her child with a loving Catholic couple through a private adoption.”
He spoke about that experience just after saying that “all of us who value the life of each person, including the life of every unborn child, think of abortion not just as a political issue, but as a very personal one.”
It’s no surprise I found myself agreeing with Anderson at every turn, but one part of his remarks resonated more deeply than the others. That was when he spoke about how 43 years after the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion across the United States, a strong majority considers abortion morally wrong, and 8 in 10 Americans would restrict abortion to—at most—the first three months of pregnancy and a majority would limit it to the rarest of cases or not at all.
While Anderson concedes that “we may see these positions as imperfect, given our strong belief in the value and dignity of every human life, but…if our politicians had the courage to act on this American consensus, we could eliminate almost all abortions in the United States.”
Unfortunately, Anderson said, too many politicians, including many who are Catholic, are moving in the other direction, “embracing more radical—and unpopular—positions, such as repeal of the Hyde Amendment,” which bans federal funding of abortions.
In the name of “political orthodoxy,” he added, they violate their own consciences and the will of the majority of the American people.
While Anderson said he did not endorse any candidate this year, he said he has argued “that we should not vote for any candidate who supports abortion and opposes abortion restrictions.”
“I do not see how it is even remotely possible to build a culture of life or a just society by electing people who defend such a lethal regime.”
Following Anderson’s talk, I emailed him a couple of questions, including one about how he thought Catholics could build a coalition for life, and whether he thought that was a feasible idea from a religious point of view.
Here is his response in its entirety:
“The key is for values to influence our political actions, not for politics to influence our values. If we are against the taking of innocent life, which is now the number one cause of death in America, we need to stand up and say, ‘I cannot support that.’
“Politicians are most motivated by winning. If Catholic Americans said that we would not vote for any politician, in any race, of any party, who supports abortion, because it is the killing of the innocent on such an enormous scale that it outweighs the many other important issues we face, what would happen? Within a couple of election cycles, we would have a country in which politicians would understand that they could only win if they protected innocent life. Then we would start to have races with two pro-life candidates, and that would then allow the discussion of many other issues that are important.
“But we would be having that discussion having solved the most pressing civil rights problem of our day—the denial of rights to an entire class of people, and the killing of a million of them each year. How much better would our country be, and our political discussions be, if this issue were finally being solved? And today, we have the consensus to begin that process politically. All that we need is for people to vote their conscience.”