avatarMichele Somerville


“Pro-Life” Has Always Been Their Misnomer. Integralism: What’s In the Trojan Horse ? Take 2, Part 4

Abortion and Vatican Optics, Who are the true Catholics? Bishops’ “spoon full of sugar” approach to neofascist incursion in secular government, perils of new evangelization/ Catholic “unity” fever…

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Supporting Legal Medical Abortion does not make a person less (Roman) Catholic.

I left off at the end of Part 3 pointing to the way the abortion issue has become “a calling card” for right wing secular politics. Peruse X / Twitter or any of the other social media platforms in in which Catholics discuss the condition of the Roman Catholic Church and one finds that many clerics, women religious, and lay Catholics are comfortable undoing the baptisms of fellow Catholics on the basis of the (former’s) belief that favoring legal medical abortion somehow disqualifies Catholics from being Catholic. Being pro-choice very much does not make a person un-Catholic or even less Catholic — at least, not according to their rules, by which I mean Canon Code, Magisterium, Catechism of the Catholic Church.

One is unlikely to see a United States bishop or any “liberal” lens louse priest correct those who argue that supporting the legal right to an abortion makes a person less Catholic or renders them non-Catholic. Why? What is the reason for this duplicity by omission? Catholics’ ignorance of official Catholic teaching, works in the bishops’ favor. It’s better for business if Catholics in the pews do not know that voting for pro-choice candidates and disagreeing with the official teaching on this topic does not make a Catholic less Catholic.

While a person who obtains an abortion does, under Catholic law, self-excommunicate, that excommunication can be, and regularly is, ‘corrected,’ by participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) and the obtaining of absolution. It is important to say here that from a theological perspective, any benefits the Sacrament of Reconciliation offers only apply when a Catholic making the confession believes abortion is sinful. Many Catholics do not see abortion as a sin.

A Catholic who chooses abortion may also, view the “law” relative to abortion that that automatically results in self-excommunication as unjust. Any law self excommunicating that Catholic essentially fails to bind. Many otherwise devout Catholic women embrace a lex inusta non est lex (“an unjust law is no law at all”) view on abortion. That’s Augustine. Many otherwise devout Catholic women reject official teaching as a matter of conscience. Many devout Catholic women discern that terminating a pregnancy is the correct moral course, and do not see terminating their pregnancies as sinful. The Roman Catholic man-made law has no real hold on them. Their putative self-excommunicated status carries no spiritual weight for them. The rule lacks force.

It was not until late in the 19th century that the Vatican really began to package the abortion as murder message. In the United States, the Vice Laws and Comstock Act catalyzed this emerging campaign and in the 1960s in part, due to concern that artificial contraception would imperil the (misogynist) ideal of the large Roman Catholic family, Humanae Vitae was released. Somewhat ironic is that Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) by increasing emphasis on priest as a preacher enhanced the capability of priests to use pulpits to boost the “abortion as murder” message.

Even according to the most strict of Roman Catholic regulations; neither voting for pro-choice candidates, nor believing abortion is a private matter, nor advocating strongly for abortion rights, makes a person not Catholic. Nor does it make them less Catholic.

The abortion issue has proven to be a good Trojan horse into which a Christian world view can be packed and rolled into secular and religious consciousness in the United States.

So, again, why do the men in charge of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States allow so much misunderstanding about official magisterial teaching about abortion to prevail in contemporary catholic discourse? One reason is that the Roman Catholic Church is in schism. (More on that later.)

The abortion issue has proven to be a solid Trojan horse into which a Christofascist, integralist world view can be packed and rolled forth. The objective is not to sell forced birth alone to the American public, but to sell Roman Catholic (and Christofascist) gender theory, evangelization, difficult to sell — given who the Jesus of Nazareth of the Gospels was and what he is, according to Christian Bible, said — arguments in favor of predatory capitalism, white supremacy and a government heavily marbled with Christian teaching and governance to United States voters.

The so-called “pro-life” campaign has never really been about “the babies.” It’s been about the need to keep women happy with spawning Christians and Catholics at the expense of all else.

The so-called “pro-life” campaign has never really been about “the babies.” It’s been about the need to keep women happy with spawning Christians and Catholics at the expense of all else. It’s been about the sentimentality of the men in charge of the church who are often driven to become clerics because of deficient or arrested psycho-sexual development, culture-based inability to accept being gay, and de to “mommy problems.” One need to look no further than the imagery many so-called “Pro-life” zealot priests use in their social media: images of refulgent camera-ready (almost always caucasian) Mary gazing at her infant, her perfect chaste love flooding forth without restraint. I notice so often in so-called “pro-life” advocacy voiced by Catholic men, the longing for that mother who falls head over heels in love with her baby.

The ghosts the origins of abortion as a sexual sin (versus infanticide) abound in so-called “pro-life” activism. When abortion appears on a vice list in the Didache, it is listed with numerous sins, along with the sin of murder. Until the rise all around the western world of women’s suffrage movements and the abolition of American Slavery — and the Comstock Laws — abortion was a private matter, and the Roman Catholic magisterium, no doubt wrestling with it behind the scenes, so to speak, saw it as more of a sexual sin — in a category with adultery.

A cursory look at the way some more traditional Catholics discuss abortion on social media indicates quite immediately that the myth that single “sluts” have abortions in order to to continue on with their sexually promiscuous lives uncomplicated by spawn persists. If such women only knew the joy of the baby quickening in their womb or that neonate in their arms, they might never choose to “kill” their “children”… But the truth is that most women who have abortions are already mothers, and that people who have intimate knowledge of what rearing children conscientiously entails sometimes choose abortion out of concern for their existing families.

The teaching body of the institutional Roman Catholic Church did not always see abortion as it does today. Bishops in the United States have had to fight hard and not always honestly to sell the idea that abortion is murder. The impetus for making abortion “murder” and for the fallacious and hyperbolic language anti-abortion zealots use in this contexts today was necessary to avoid what happened with other facets of Catholic teaching on family and sexuality. The artificial contraception ban has been rejected by an overwhelming majority of faithful Roman Catholics. The bishops did not want that to happen with abortion.

Today much of the financial and political support for the institutional Roman Catholic Church in the United States currently comes from ultra-wealthy right-wing white men who view bringing secular law in line with Catholic law as one of their chief religious imperatives. This contingent wants the United States to be a Christian nation. They believe secular and Christian law should be aligned. They embrace a male supremacist order. They are increasingly throwing their support to educational approaches that preserve “patriotism” and look away from the great sin of American slavery, its aftermath in the United States) and the white supremacy on which the Roman Catholic Church was built.

Every day I read something in some media outlet that advances the argument that one cannot be Catholic and pro-choice. That’s a fiction, but the United States Bishops have used it, will be using it again soon…

For some very traditional Roman Catholics (and non-Catholic Christians) the thirst to evangelize the world arises from a conviction that saving souls is a kind of ultimate generosity. For some this mindset is more temporal and, at its root, hateful. In any case abortion issue today operates as a vehicle into which Christian conviction and the means (including financial means) for saving the world by making everyone Christian are bundled. Every day I read something in some media outlet that advances the argument that one cannot be Catholic and pro-choice. That’s a fiction, but the United States Bishops have used it, will be using it again soon, to push for the election of a so-called “pro-life” president.

Please read this part (Part 4)in its entirety and the first 3 parts of this essay on Indie Theology.

Michele Somerville is a religion scholar. This is an excerpt from a long prose work, Pro-Life Has Always Been Their Misnomer. She hold a Master’s degree in Theology Studies and has written about religion and faith for the Harvard Divinity Bulletin and the New York Times.

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