Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Keeping silent is bad strategy, on abortion and on contraception

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 28, 2012

Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about losing political campaigns, thinks that Republican candidates need to stop talking about abortion.

“I can state my position on abortion. But other than that, leave the issue alone,” said Sen. McCain. “I would allow people to have those opinions and respect those opinions. I’m proud of my pro-life position and record, but if someone disagrees with me, I respect your views.”

True, some candidates have expressed the pro-life argument awkwardly and (when the media hounded them relentlessly) suffered the consequences. That doesn’t prove that everyone should be silent on the issue. It only means that pro-life candidates should speak clearly and cogently.

Look at this question logically. It either is, or is not, possible to present the pro-life argument in a way that voters will find attractive. If it is possible, then pro-life candidates should make that argument; they will win hearts and win votes too. If it isn’t possible, prudent politicians would keep quiet about the issue—unless they were willing to sacrifice their electoral chances for the sake of the pro-life cause.

Yet what sort of politician wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice his own chances, if he firmly believed in the pro-life cause—firmly believed that thousands of innocent babies are being slaughtered every week? A principled politician? No; a shallow, selfish politician.

But if you actually understand the pro-life argument, then surely you realize that the case can be made in an attractive way. If you read the polls, which show that most Americans support measures to protect both mothers and children, you can already see the outlines of the winning argument. And if you’re a politician campaigning for office, you’d be foolish to let any winning argument go to waste.

Why would any pro-life politician remain silent on the issue, then? Senator McCain apparently does not believe that the pro-life argument can win. He says that he is proud of his pro-life record, but will not explain why that record is a source of pride. Either you agree or you don’t; he’s stated his position, he’s on the record, and he isn’t going to talk about it. This approach makes sense only if you believe that you have the losing end of the argument.

Have we seen this timid approach somewhere before? I’m afraid so.

For more than 40 years now, Catholic bishops and priests have issued occasional reminders that the Church opposes contraception. Those reminders haven’t really been necessary, since everyone already knows the Church opposes contraception. But few people know why. When was the last time you heard the Church’s teaching on this issue explained from the pulpit, or in the diocesan newspaper, or in a public address by the bishop?

It’s not enough to say that the Church opposes contraception. A curious world wants to know why the Church opposes contraception. In the absence of an explanation, people might conclude that Church leaders can’t offer a persuasive explanation, that even the bishops and priests fear they’re on the losing side of the argument.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Nov. 29, 2012 5:52 PM ET USA

    I find it difficult to understand just how to respect the view that it is ok for a woman to kill the child in her womb. This is evil, and to think of it otherwise is to be complicit with the evil.