Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Contradictory Catholic: Joe Biden on Abortion

Human life either begins at conception or it does not. If it does, then abortion takes the life of an innocent human being and we have prima facie evidence that abortion is morally wrong. One way to formulate the argument is as follows:

  1. It is morally wrong to take the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.
  2. Elective abortion takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.
  3. Therefore, elective abortion is morally wrong.
Toward the end of the vice presidential debate Thursday night, Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan were asked to explain their view on abortion as Catholics. Here I want to look at Biden’s response line by line:

“My religion defines who I am and I have been a practicing Catholic my whole life and it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who can't take care of themselves...”

Biden is off to a great start. Not only does he take religion seriously, but He is a self-proclaimed, proud, practicing Catholic. Catholicism even informs his social doctrine. And since abortion can rightly be considered a social (and moral) doctrine, and the Catholic Church has clearly addressed this issue, his stance on abortion should be a no-brainer, especially when we consider that unborn human beings are "those who can't take care of themselves"...

“…With regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a, what we call, de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment…”

Excellent! Right on track. Biden says he accepts the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and believes that life begins at conception. The Catholic Church has explicitly spoken on the sanctity of life and the topic of abortion is simply not up for debate among faithful Catholics. Paragraph 2270 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Let’s keep going…

“…I accept it in my personal life…”

Uh oh! Danger, Will Robinson! This is the first sign of trouble. Here we see the inconsistency of Biden’s position begin to emerge. All the previous positioning, posturing, and progress has now been qualified by “I accept it in my personal life.” In other words, as will become more evident as we continue, Biden lives a compartmentalized existence. Contrary to what he said earlier, his Catholic faith doesn’t really inform his social doctrine. Rather, his “personal” Catholic faith is kept distinct from his “public” policies.

But this is surely an artificial and arbitrary division. After all, what does it mean for abortion to be morally wrong in one’s personal life, but not public life? How exactly does life begin at conception in one’s personal life, but not public life? Elective abortion either takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification or it doesn’t. Elective abortion is either morally wrong or it isn’t. Biden explicitly assents to the Catholic teaching. But now he is in a quandary, for if abortion kills an innocent human being, it doesn’t just do so in some separate, private sphere of disconnect known as “my personal life,” rather it kills an innocent human being in reality. Unfortunately Biden has relativized his own view on abortion, effectively preventing anyone (including himself) from taking it seriously.

“…But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians, and Muslims, and Jews. I just refuse to impose that on others unlike my friend here the Congressman…”

Now Biden has pulled a complete 180 and is heading in the opposite direction. He presumes to take the morally high ground because he doesn’t “impose his view on others,” unlike that nasty woman-hater Paul Ryan! But Biden forgets there is no morally or legally neutral position in this debate. Both sides are attempting to legislate morality; both sides are attempting to impose a view. Ryan would like to legislate the view that it is morally wrong to take the life of an innocent human being simply because they are in the way and can’t defend themselves.

But Biden is also attempting to impose a view, i.e., that women should have the right to kill the human life within them for socioeconomic reasons. Contrary to what he may say, this is a view which he is more than willing to impose on “equally devout Christians, and Muslims, and Jews.” More importantly, the view Biden is defending has already been lethally imposed on 50 million of the weakest and most defenseless members of the human community since 1973. What happened to "taking care of those who can't take care of themselves?"

“…I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people, women, that they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor.”

What started out as a promising Catholic response to abortion has ended in a mess of rhetorical self-contradiction. Probably what Biden assumes to be the last nail in the coffin, he now appeals to a woman’s bodily autonomy. But this talking point begs the question in assuming there is only one body involved when it should be obvious there are two: the mother’s and the unborn. While the mother’s body is certainly involved, it is not the mother’s body that is being aborted. After all, the woman survives the abortion while the unborn doesn’t. A pregnant woman does not have four arms, four legs, two heads, or a penis when she is pregnant with a boy. There are two bodies involved, not one. Therefore, the decision is not “between them and their doctor.” Rather, any decision regarding abortion should be based on what a woman should be permitted to do with the body and life of the intrinsically valuable unborn human being within her.

Pro-Choice Catholic: A Contradiction in Terms

If Biden is really a practicing Catholic whose religion defines who he is and informs his social doctrine, we would assume consistency between his life, social doctrine, and the teachings of the Catholic Church. As mentioned above, it is not as if the Catholic Church has not been clear regarding its position on abortion. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, two paragraphs after paragraph 2270 quoted above, paragraph 2272 states,

Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.

The key term here is “formal cooperation.” Pro-choice senators and congressman who consider themselves “Catholic” and yet support abortion legislation have not officially been recognized by the Catholic Church as “formally cooperating” in abortion. But it is hard to think of any group of individuals within this nation who have more power and influence in keeping the abortion holocaust legal. By both commission and omission, they have cooperated and collaborated in the death of 50 million unborn human beings. If this is not grounds for excommunication, I’m not sure what is.

It seems to me then that Joe Biden has left himself in quite an interesting paradox. If Biden is truly, as he says, a “practicing Catholic” whose religion defines who he is, then he wouldn’t be Catholic at all, for his consistent and unapologetic support of abortion would necessitate his own excommunication.

Additional Resources

Looking for more resources on abortion? Be sure and check out these other PleaseConvinceMe blogs and articles:

1 comment:

Steph Nelson said...

Wonderful! My sentiments exactly, although you said it much better than I could have.

Thank you for such a well-written piece.