What If a Candidate Supports Other Issues I Like (And Abortion)? 25

Last week, I gave a conference to a Catholic men’s group on voting with an informed conscience. During the time for questions after the talk, one of the gentlemen asked a thorny question:

“What if there’s a “pro-choice” candidate who supports 5 other issues I like? Are you telling me that if I vote for him, I’m committing a mortal sin?” The odd thing is that I never mentioned the word “sin” or “mortal sin” at any point during the talk. The terms I used were “moral evil” and “intrinsically evil act,” which need as much explaining as the term “mortal sin” does before one can assume there is an honest and satisfying answer to questions like these.

From the perturbed expression on the man’s face, I immediately understood he would not be satisfied with an honest answer. Well, he asked for it; so I gave it to him.

Let’s just look at the question first. Break it down. “Am I committing a mortal sin?”

When a grown man asks this question — and a Catholic at that — I am not the one who should be answering that question. If you don’t know the 3 conditions for mortal sin, look it up. Then ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is the action in question seriously wrong? If we are talking about abortion, which is murder, we don’t need to clarify which of the 10 commandments this sin violates. Everyone knows that murder is seriously wrong.
  • Am I aware that the action is wrong? If you were able to answer the last question, you should know the answer to this one.
  • Do I participate in this action with the full consent of my will? This is the part people deliberate on the most. In this particular case, if we consider the man’s original question the answer is simple. If you choose to vote for a candidate, who you already know supports legislation that sanctions abortion, then you consent to his action and in doing so, you participate in his sin.

9 times out of 10, when people ask questions about mortal sin, they already know the answer. When they bring it up, seeking some sort of justification for their behavior, the best favor you can do for them is simply to point out that the ball is in their court (or tell them to talk to a priest).

But the man’s question was not that simple. The material I covered in the talk already addressed the implicit concerns embedded in his question. Namely:

  1. What is the nature of an intrinsically evil act?
  2. What are the relevant political issues that involve intrinsically evil behavior?
  3. In what ways can an individual participate in the evil actions of another person?
  4. After considering these questions, how can I possibly vote in good conscience for a candidate who actively supports and promotes legalized abortion?

In my post last week on voting with an informed conscience, I included some links to brochures and pamphlets that treat these issues specifically for those who want to vote in accord with their Christian conscience. Here is a link back to the article where you can find that information. Here, I want to assume the answers to these questions are already understood, in order to address the side-stepping question about voting for candidates who support abortion when “I like their other postions.”

What if the candidate stood behind the following positions?

  1. Eliminate wasteful spending in a way that satisfies you.
  2. Rewrite the tax-code in a way that satisfies you.
  3. Extend free healthcare to as many people as possible in a way that satisfies you.
  4. Resolve the immigration problem in a way that satisfies you.
  5. Provide support, funding, and weapons technology to regimes in foreign countries that actively and blatantly engage in ethnic cleansing through genocide — in a way that satisfies you.

Scratch that last phrase. No one is going to vote for this person knowing that he openly supports genocide. Clearly, anyone who would do so, regardless of his or her own opinions about genocide, knows that voting such a person into office is tantamount to sanctioning murder.

Voting for a pro-choice candidate of any political party is tantamount to sanctioning murder. Period. The laws and policies that allow for killing innocent human beings can never be tolerated under any circumstance whatsoever.

Is it more complex than that?

Yes it is. People can raise further questions that seem to complicate the issue even further. I am not saying that all those questions are easily answered. However, it does not matter how many other issues you can compound with this one, what kind of dilemmas they might raise for some people’s consciences, or how they might appear to introduce contradictions into some people’s voting decisions — no further question you might ask can take away from the fact at hand. Abortion is murder and it cannot be tolerated.


  1. Setting out ahead of time to do something knowing, and not caring, that it is wrong, compounds the sin. So does saying it’s only going to be a venial sin, and therefore no big deal. That attitude separates the individual from God by attempting to make a bargain with Him to live outside His rules. Right?

    • Absolutely right! This is rationalism. Once people begin to calculate with sin, it is already a done deal. But people are weak. Their consciences are weak and human reason is — designed for the purpose of attaining truth but weakened by sin — inherently weak when based on principle. This is why we need to be humble and trust the wisdom of Church teaching even when our weak reasoning does not follow it sometimes. If we take the time and effort to understand what the Church teaches, however, it makes perfect sense. Thanks for your comment, Rainy View!

  2. “Bringing it up seeking some sort of justification for their behavior.” That is the most honest statement I have heard in a long time and, “I INTEND ON USING IT!” I think that line right there speaks for the whole of the post! All I can say is, “I am glad I was not that man.” I know you handled it as honestly as you could and very graciously as well. You did an excellent job on this and explaining it all to us. Love it!! Murder is “the taking of a human life.” Now what is that little precious gift in the womb? Oh I remember, “A human baby!” God Bless, SR

    • It is sad. People don’t see the tremendous horror of abortion for what it actually is, that is, killing a human baby. If they would just recognize it for what it is, how could they let it happen? I just don’t know.

  3. Well articulated, James!
    I have heard such questions in my own church, and heard them all the time where I was raised (New England).

    People are searching for what the want to hear, in order to assuage their conscience. And the sad fact is, many of them will find SOMEbody who’ll tell them, “yeah, sure, it’s fine”.

    Depressing, but true.

    • I’m from the South, but grew up in New England (from first through fifth grade), moved back 3 times and ended up living there off and on for a sum total of 12 years. I returned to Cape Cod for vacation three times. I love it there. It is a beautiful place, and the people are beautiful — tough skinned and beautiful. Many of the Catholics I know from there are truly tough Catholics. Solid, sturdy, tough Catholics. In general, however, the liberal political culture is horrendous. Generally speaking, I believe I can sum up the political mentality there in one word. Kennedy.

      Well, that’s a lot of terrain to cover with just one word, but… they really don’t want to let go of that legacy (of ashes).

  4. Bravo! Thanks for having the guts so many of our teachers are reluctant show on this and other social issues. Murder is murder and 60 million deaths sounds like a form of genocide to me: it dwarfs the hollocaust by a factor of 10.

    • Thanks for pointing out the astounding numbers, Servus! These numbers are real and they far out number the casualties of all American wars combined. The death toll of American children through abortion truly is a genocide and a holocaust.

      • I fear God will not come to our assistance in our prayers for peace until we somehow stop this unsolicitated slaughter of our children. So try as we might, we have to actually do something to prove to our Lord that we have seriously sinned and desire His mercy.

    • Yes. I also believe we need to offer reparation for our sins. The 40th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision is approaching soon. Let our actions shout louder than our words as we pray for an end to abortion.

  5. You have written some good posts on voting in good conscience lately, and I appreciate that. I have spent much time thinking about all of these issues.
    I try to understand how a person could rationalize their choice of whom to support.
    I will admit to sometimes feeling conflicted. It is always a matter, every since I became a voter many years ago, to decide who is less negative, who is less wrong, who is less damaging. There has yet to be a politician that I can wholeheartedly support.

    The gentlemen in your example asked about a candidate who is pro-choice yet supports 5 other issues that he likes. Without getting into the area of judging of who is sinning and how much, I wonder about those who are pro-life yet find little else to agree with the pro-life candidates. There is no denying the horror and evil of abortion.

    It is hard to condense my swirling thoughts about the election options, but perhaps the best I can do to articulate them at this point is this preliminary question: Is it more evil for a person to directly kill a particular individual, or to indirectly cause the death of many whose names, stories, existence was unknown to them through decisions that affect the weak?

    Abortion: The death of one baby at a time.
    I know a woman who was cut off from her health plan, and could not afford her medication, including insulin. She lived about 4 months, then died, a casualty of budget measures taken by the state.
    I know a baby who died from severe asthma as a result of air pollution, and there are movements underway now to loosen pollution controls to save energy costs.
    War, and its “collateral” damage.
    None of these things happen just to one, but to countless people . All of them are evil. One is direct murder, the others are indirect. But both are murderous and steeped in sin.

    • Very good questions, Reinkat! And your points are well taken. As I mentioned, the issue becomes very complex when we consider all the issues — and I meant that.

      I want to refer back to what Servus Fidelis pointed out when he commented that: “I fear God will not come to our assistance in our prayers for peace until we somehow stop this unsolicitated slaughter of our children.”

      Abortion is not the only issue. Stem cell research, euthanasia, capital punishment, unjust war, to name a few, plus the other important issues you mention deserve their due consideration and weight in the balance of issues. These matters should have more prominence of place and attention than we give them in an advanced society like ours.

      I am particularly sensitive regarding care for the sick and poor. I have family members and friends with severe health issues and I am often sickened by the lack of care that the health industry will provide for those who need it most and can’t afford it. I know people who face deeper destitution because of the cost of healthcare, people who cannot afford the medication they need to live or at least not to live miserably. I believe that a society like ours ought to be able to care for its ailing citizens and is obliged to do so to the extent that it can, and we certainly can do better.

      Our priorities are misplaced as a society. Our pocketbooks are our first concern. Consumeristic culture blinds us and diverts our attention from what should concern us the most: the intrinsic dignity of each and every human person.

      That is the crux of the matter. The sin of abortion that we allow in this country ultimately manifests our open disregard for human dignity.

      I am not talking about abstract human dignity, but the absolute and inalienable gift of human life God bestows on every unique person he creates. What right does anyone have to destroy that life? What right can we possibly claim over an unborn person’s gift of life?

      The problem is complex because of our society’s disordered values. We need to put our priorities straight. The act of committing an abortion unjustly ends the life of an unborn child by killing it. The death of the unborn is not an unintended effect or an undesired consequence. Rather, it is an intentional act of killing another person. It is not only a grave sin to commit this act, but also to legalize it, to fund it, to force people to pay for it, and to tolerate any behavior of this sort.

      The slippery slope began when our country legalized abortion in 1973. Today we find that it has gone much further than an unopposed right for a woman to have an abortion. If it remains unopposed, where will it end?

      • Yes, I agree with you. I, too, think our materialistic, money-oriented, consumer culture is the root of our problems. Every person becomes a thing is such a culture, to be judged useful or not useful and disposed of accordingly. I hadn’t thought of abortion as the most prominent symptom of this culture as such. It had always been a “stand alone” sort of thing. But as the ugliest, most evil symptom of our regarding all life as product to be used, it ties in very well with environmental issues, economic issues, etc. as a continuum of related sin.

  6. you make a good point…..even voting for “the lesser of two evils” is still voting for evil….it’s our responsibility to find (or be) candidates that we can consciously and morally vote for…. good read!

    • Thanks, Plantin’ Taters! When it comes to intrinsically evil behavior, the “lesser of evils” scenario no longer factors into the moral equation. There are some actions that simply cannot be tolerated. There are times when it is not a matter of choosing the lesser evil, but rather rejecting the one that can never be chosen and always resisted. If we believe — and we know — that abortion is murder, the choice is obvious. We have no option but to protect innocent human life.

      • amen…well put! there certainly can be no compromise when we believe! If we say we believe in God….there is no way that we could ever sanction abortion…or anything else that God considers evil!

  7. I am a Catholic, and I am completely against any intrinsic evils; saying that I am still not a fan of the candidate who is also against those intrinsic evils. In fact, if and when I vote for the candidate this November, I will vote Independent. Because I support Obama’s moral beliefs in terms of the economy over Romney’s beliefs, but am also against the intrinsic evils that Obama supports, I am at a standstill.

    When I was in my junior year of high school, Obama was running for the candidacy in his first term. Even though I was (and still am) against his views on abortion, gay marriage, and fetal stem-cell research, I still supported him until now. Most of my family- for years- have been affiliated with the democratic party simply because we supported the party’s platform on the economy, and their ideas on the War on Terror; after a downfall in the economy that could have been linked to Bush Jr.’s (or Clinton’s) economic views and agendas, almost everyone in my family voted for Obama; during the 2004 election, mostly everyone in my family voted for Kerry. It was never for a support of the intrinsic evils, but for the other beliefs that the party possesses.

    My late grandmother, who was a pro-life, devout Catholic, always voted for the democratic party. There was not much catechesis on the Church’s part until the HHS mandate, or after Archbishop Paprocki’s statement. Because of that, my grandmother would always support the Democratic views on the economy, healthcare, and the War on Iraq; also she could not stand Former President Bush, or any of the views of the Republicans on these beliefs. Any Democrat, whether pro-Life or not, voiced their beliefs about having a stronger health-care program, allegedly having a better economy plan than Bush, and they promoted taxing the rich more than they already were. Plus, you had at least from one’s perspective on Obama, a way of possibly bringing home troops from Iraq, and that biased claim of Republicans being Pro-war. These things probably still are the views any pro-life Democrat would have to mainly justify their choice to vote Democrat. My grandmother could not even understand why there was maybe just one bishop at the time, who would not give communion to those who were Democrat, yet were not necessarily pro-choice.

    It’s all because there was not really a time outside of the Obama presidency that Bishops, as a whole, stated their concern about pro-choice candidates. If there were, then not many parishes would inform their congregation about the gravity of voting for a Democrat in general. Same can be said with Bush vs. Kerry, and Bush vs. Gore. Obama is practically the very first candidate who is completely open now in this election about his views on intrinsic evil.

    Thankfully, my Grandmother died after having received the Last Rites of the Church,and that God’s mercy was upon her. Today is the first anniversary of her death. Because of this belief that has really come to the surface now, I am praying for her soul more than ever.

    As for me, what I will might eventually do is vote independent. Because I do not like any side, I think neither of the candidates should win a seat in the Oval Office. Instead, I am going to pray for the conversion of any candidate that is Pro-Choice, and pray that whoever will become in charge, will respect human life- from conception to natural death. If one day we have two pro-life candidates, then we should all be able to vote on who will make this country better financially and safely.

    God bless you all.

    • Thanks for sharing this Matthew. I join you in praying for your grandmother and really do believe that she is in a place of rest with the Lord, since she was obviously a person who loved peace and justice in the true spirit of Christian charity.

      This issue of carefully considering the implications of a candidate’s moral positions and whether they constitue intrinsic evils is still a complicated issue for most Christians and perhaps especially for Catholic voters today. The internet has provided a broader platform for Bishops and priests to promulgate the Church’s teaching so that more voters will be better informed. However, that message is still competing with a lot of other information, some of which is specifically aimed at denouncing what the Church teaches. I think we need to factor that in before we even begin to judge individuals who claim to be voting with a considerate conscience. We all must follow our consciences — properly formed. Forming a flawless conscience is no easy task. Actually, it is impossible, but we must do our best to form it as well as we can, by educating ourselves, striving to live morally upright lives, and praying for God’s grace to enlighten and guide us.

      As for myself, I would only consider voting for an independent in this election, if I thought that candidate stood a chance of beating our incumbent president, because I find his current policies intolerable, and he pledges to make things considerably worse if he has four more years to do so.

      However, I empathize strongly with your views on the matter. If you cannot in good conscience vote for the republican candidate, because you find some of his positions morally repugnant, then you are doing the right thing by not casting your vote for that person, unless you can see your way to considering the possibility that some things can be tolerated for the sake of avoiding other things that are evil per se.

      These are not easy things to discern. The important thing to do is to make the decision to vote in good conscience, and then, after informing ourselves as much as we can and considering all the relevant factors involved (or as many as we can process), cast our vote in accord with our conscience. If we do the right thing to the best of our knowledge, God will bless us and we can be at peace with ourselves.

      God bless!

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