Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

the Massachusetts election: a pro-life dilemma

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 12, 2010

When—if ever—is it morally justifiable to vote for a political candidate who supports legal abortion? I will face that question squarely next Tuesday, January 19. That’s the date for a special election here in Massachusetts, to select a US Senator who will fill the seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy.

  • Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate and heavy favorite in the race, is a liberal ideologue who has made her support for unrestricted legal abortion a centerpiece of her campaign.
  • Joseph Kennedy (no relation to the deceased lawmaker), the Libertarian candidate who will finish a distant third in the race, favors unrestricted legal abortion.
  • Scott Brown, the Republican contender who has made this a surprisingly close contest, favors legal abortion. He has no quarrel with the Roe v Wade decision. He supports “a woman’s right to choose.” But unlike the other contenders, Brown believes that government should regulate abortion.

I favor government regulation of automobile traffic; that doesn’t mean that I want a ban on cars. Nor does Scott Brown’s willingness to consider regulations on abortion industry mean that he supports an end to the slaughter of unborn children. He doesn’t.

Why, then, has the largest pro-life group in the state, Mass. Citizens for Life, spread the word that Brown could be a “pro-life vote in the Senate?”

It’s true that Brown would vote for a ban on partial-birth abortion. But right now that’s irrelevant. The partial-birth abortion ban has already been approved in Congress and signed into law. That legislation is now bottled up in the courts, not the Senate.

It’s true that Brown would vote for a pro-life nominee to the Supreme Court. But right now that’s irrelevant, too. If he is elected, his term (the unexpired term to which Kennedy was elected in 2006) will end in 2012. During that time, President Barack Obama will be making the selections to the Supreme Court, and he will never nominate a pro-life jurist.

It’s true that Brown could cast the critical 41st Republican vote in the Senate, preventing Democrats from steamrolling the opposition and enacting a health-care reform bill that includes abortion subsidies. Now that really is relevant. In that sense, if no other, Scott Brown just might case a “pro-life vote in the Senate.”

Keenly aware of that fact, Democratic officials in Massachusetts have already revealed that if Brown is fortunate enough to beat the odds on election day, they might delay certification of his election, to give their friends in Washington a few more weeks to ram through the health-care reform before Brown takes office. Secretary of State William Galvin (who is—surprise!—a Democrat), warns that it can take a month to complete the arduous process of certifying a federal election. Just over two years ago, Galvin managed to complete the certification process in less than 48 hours following a special-election victory by my own representative, Congressman Niki Tsongas (who is—surprise!—a Democrat). Political life is much easier for Democrats in Massachusetts—which is why a Brown victory in next week’s election would be such an enormous upset.

But I digress. My topic for today was not whether or not the political playing fields are level in Massachusetts (that question is too easy), but whether pro-life voters can be justified in supporting a candidate who supports legal abortion.

In this case, I think the answer is Yes. A victory by Scott Brown would not further the cause of legal abortion. It might, under certain circumstances, advance the cause of life.

Prior to his election as Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Ratzinger explained the circumstances under which a Catholic could be justified in voting for a pro-abortion candidate:

When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

A Catholic voter cannot in good conscience share Scott Brown’s willingness to accept the Roe v. Wade decision and the legal extermination of unborn children. Still, in light of the fact that there is no genuine pro-life alternative, the Catholic voter might choose Brown “for other reasons”--for instance, because he could cast that crucial vote against an unacceptable health-care proposal.

But a word of advice to pro-lifers: Curb your enthusiasm. First, because a Brown victory remains a very long shot. Second, because even if he does pull off that astonishing upset, Scott Brown will not go to Washington as a voice in defense of the unborn. From the pro-life perspective he will be the best candidate on the ballot in Massachusetts next Tuesday. But if he does win, please don’t count it as a great advance for the pro-life cause. Staving off a disaster (the prospect of a Senator Coakley) is not the same as winning a victory. We still have a long, long way to go before Massachusetts voters can expect a genuine pro-life champion in Washington. 

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: Miss Cathy - Jan. 19, 2010 1:09 PM ET USA

    Just a thought, sometimes I think the greater of evils is not the one that good people wholeheartedly reject, it is the evil that you invite home and encourage your family and friends to support.

  • Posted by: Miss Cathy - Jan. 13, 2010 12:57 PM ET USA

    Indeed, it is a strange atmosphere in the political sphere. Pro-lifers claim Scott Brown a pro-life vote. Groups that say "no more RINOS!" are asking people to make phone calls and contribute to Brown's campaign. Pro-lifers and conservatives who make the distinction and call for truth in advertising are called "purists" and "trolls" on the blog sites. My simple question is in regards to truth in advertising, seems to depend on what one's definition of is, is. Romneycare, anyone?

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Jan. 13, 2010 11:47 AM ET USA

    In November 1972, my parents were embarrassed to be from Massachusetts, the only state to vote for George McGovern. I was young, and couldn't understand why. After all, _they_ didn't vote for McGovern. Now, I still live in Massachusetts, and I understand. What an embarrassment, that even a "pro-choice" Republican is a long shot to win, and a pro-lifer would have no chance. Nevertheless, in the name of subsidiarity, may Scott Brown win and thereby derail the coming "health-care" debacle.