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Catholic Culture Podcasts

‘A more radical public witness’ on the Covid vaccines

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 12, 2021

Yes, you can make a plausible moral argument to justify the acceptance of an abortion-tainted Covid vaccine. But why would you want to?

My colleague Jeff Mirus has argued that the most recent such justification, issued by pro-life Catholics under the auspices of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, fails to emphasize a crucial point: Those who accept the vaccine have a moral obligation to protest the use of tissues derived from aborted children in the development of the vaccines. While I agree on that point, I would also fault the pro-life scholars’ statement for another serious failure: the inability to see the big picture.

There is tremendous public pressure already for Americans to accept the vaccines. Newspapers and television spots and highway signs and store displays urge us to make an appointment for vaccination. Legislators and public-health officials are suggesting the development of a “vaccine passport,” which could make anyone who rejected the vaccine a second-class citizen: barred from airports or arenas or other public places. The danger that faces us today is not that many Americans will reject the vaccine; the more pressing danger is that the minority who resist will be deprived of their rights.

In such circumstances—when the power of the government and the mass media and the medical establishment all push in one direction—prudent moralists might want to step back, avoid the temptation to casuistry, and address a more fundamental question. What does it say about our society when the Covid vaccines—and other vaccines, and popular medications, and processed foods, and cosmetics—are prepared with the use of abortion-tainted cell lines? Will we soothe our consciences with the assurance that our involvement—in case after case after case—is just a matter of “remote material cooperation?” Or will we finally decide that something is seriously wrong here, and must be corrected?

So I welcome the publication of a new statement, To Awaken Conscience, authored by Catherine and Michael Pakaluk, Stacy and Jose Luis Trasancos, and Bishop Joseph Strickland, which has quickly attracted hundreds of co-signers. Who say: “We resist this ‘consensus’ being foisted upon us as morally repugnant: we do not wish to benefit from abortion.”

The statement continues:

We find insufficient the accounts of moralists who lean on casuistical distinctions, originally designed to analyze private action in a Christian society, when we are crushed by a public edifice determined to protect the so-called ‘right to abortion’, and determined in addition to benefit from its byproducts in many ways beyond the current (and previous) vaccines.

As I observed a month ago, the moral arguments in favor of accepting the Covid vaccines are based on the assumption that the vaccines will successfully stop the Covid epidemic. Not even the makers of the vaccines offer any such guarantee. But again, I do not want to be caught up in the details of the argument; I want to look at the question from a longer perspective.

Nearly a year ago I called for a campaign to reject the development of vaccines using fetal tissues. To put serious pressure on pharmaceutical manufacturers, I reasoned, pro-lifers would need to take a stand, letting it be known that they would refuse to take a tainted vaccine. I took that stand myself, and if I back down now, my witness is worse than useless.

And count on this: the Covid vaccine will not be the last test of our resolve. There will be another disease, and another vaccine. In fact there already is another vaccine—many vaccines, in fact, as well as other medications—developed using the same cell lines taken from aborted children. Will we protest the next time? Or will we slide toward the cowardly conclusion that, having accepted that “remote material cooperation” once, we can accept it again and again—with less urgent reasons for each successive surrender?

Americans have been lulled into acceptance of vaccines and medications (and other products) that represent the “benefits” of abortion. The Covid epidemic, and the rush to vaccinate, have provided the opportunity for a bit of moral awakening. Realizing what we have, sadly, come to accept, we might resolve to stop the profiteering, stop our peaceful coexistence with the “culture of death” and its marketable products. To stiffen that resolve, as “To Awaken Conscience” argues, “a more radical public witness is needed today.”

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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Show 15 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: kwojewnik1317 - Mar. 20, 2021 10:27 PM ET USA

    Very good argument.

  • Posted by: Cory - Mar. 20, 2021 1:13 AM ET USA

    @1Jn416 - Mar. 14, 2021 5:09 PM ET USA There's evil and there's evil. Not all evils are equal. There's no equivalence between slave labour and child murder. So yes, one does draw the line at some point.

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Mar. 17, 2021 9:20 PM ET USA

    Montserrat, no accusations of hypocrisy here, just the question, why this? We all use retailers that sell abortifacients (CVS, Walmart, Target), have insurance from insurers that pay for abortions, and apart from abortion, we all pay for products and services that in some way remotely cooperate with grave evils like human and child slavery and trafficking, porn production, and more. You can't avoid remote material cooperation in evil. So why focus on the vaccines so much and not the others?

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Mar. 16, 2021 6:26 PM ET USA

    Perhaps artemis3 might benefit from reading or rereading Phil Lawler's essay, Our Culture is Attempting Suicide, among others. Thank you for this latest contribution, Phil.

  • Posted by: anne.adamczyk - Mar. 15, 2021 5:38 PM ET USA

    There is NO evidence that the experimental "vaccines" stop transmission of the disease. The evidence that they provide more benefit than harm to the recipients is extremely sketchy, since the disease itself has an extremely high survival rate and those most vulnerable to the disease are also more likely to succumb to harms from the "vaccine." Proven safe antiviral medications should be used for the vulnerable and those who care for them. There is no moral necessity for anyone to get this shot.

  • Posted by: Montserrat - Mar. 15, 2021 2:55 PM ET USA

    The faulty reasoning in some of the comments demonstrates a logical fallacy. The premise is that since we do not take action to protest the many unjust and evil things take place in the world, we therefore have no right to single out one other particular evil thing to protest (such as refusing to take an abortion tainted vaccine), lest we fall into hypocrisy. In that case, there is absolutely no evil I should resist, because that would be hypocritical. Right.

  • Posted by: mooreshi7489 - Mar. 14, 2021 7:42 PM ET USA

    I hear you, Mr. Lawler. Thank you for the link: “To Awaken Conscience”. There are more conscientious objectors out here than you might think. And even if there weren’t it is no reason to deny that inner voice.

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Mar. 14, 2021 5:09 PM ET USA

    Corey, briefly, my point is that one cannot avoid remote cooperation with grave evil in today's world, so if you are going to take a hard line on a given instance, you really do need to say why. For example, if you have health insurance, you are cooperating with MANY abortions that happen NOW, not one or two abortions that happened decades ago re: the vaccines. So why don't you refuse health insurance? I'd love to have a fuller discussion, but, 500 characters makes it hard.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Mar. 14, 2021 4:00 PM ET USA

    It's not really cooperation with evil, since the poor child whose cells provide the vaccine material died over 50 years ago. Instead, isn't it benefiting from ill-gotten gains? If so, is there a fundamental distinction?

  • Posted by: artemis3 - Mar. 14, 2021 3:25 PM ET USA

    I respect Bishop Strickland, and you. I cannot however, sign on to the statement or take part in the “ radical witness” it promotes. I understand the willingness to die of Covid rather than take advantage of morally tainted vaccines. I admit that they are morally tainted. What I don’t understand is the superiority of a “witness” willing to sacrifice others, without their consent, on the altar of its purity. Vaccine refusers should self-isolate, not petition for a “right” to be publicly active.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Mar. 13, 2021 10:13 PM ET USA

    Consider Phil's conviction the point of a wedge formation. We start here, then expand our rejection to broader and broader markets. But in order for this to be successful, we have to either identify and begin to use products from, or start to create our own, morally upright manufacturers, marketers, retail outlets, society. In other words, we must make Catholic culture a living reality outside of the virtual space and in the physical, psychological, affective, and political space: a revolution.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Mar. 13, 2021 1:34 PM ET USA

    I wish everyone would stop calling this a vaccine. By the definition, the law, FDAr regulations, and CDC rules( when followed) this not a vaccine. It is misnamed to avoid liability issues. This thing does not make you immune to Covid but will lessen results. There is lots of research on the connections with Fauci, Gates, CDC, and others that have this mess upto their necks. Again this is not a "vaccine".

  • Posted by: Cory - Mar. 13, 2021 12:50 AM ET USA

    @1Jn416 buying smart phones made by slave labour and minerals mined by children. buying vaccine made from murdered children. Hmmm, tough choice? Naaah.

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Mar. 12, 2021 7:55 PM ET USA

    I agree w/poster 1jn416.I understand your argument, Phil, & admire your determination. But this is not the hill on which to wage the battle. Few will hear you, & those who do will reject what you say out of hand. A more way effective way to show "skin in the game" opposition to abortion is by our routine, daily decisions. Example: if you're a woman whose ob-gyn performs abortions, switch providers & explain to the 1st one (& your friends) why you did so.

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Mar. 12, 2021 6:37 PM ET USA

    I of course want vaccines to be developed without the use of these abortion-derived cells. Yet I remain perplexed why some Catholics make THIS, and only this, the line in the sand they will not cross. Yet they use smart phones with components made by slave labor and minerals mined by children, and monthly pay communications companies for services when those companies actively promote the production of porn and thus human trafficking. Yet you never hear people expressing concerns about that.