A “single issue”?

I have tried to avoid using this site for direct political advocacy. I knew that would be difficult during a presidential campaign in these hyper-partisan times, and some commenters have expressed frustration that I have not been more pointedly political.

Of course, I know politics and government are central to most of the critical issues that confront us. But rather than join the cacophony of rancorous partisan debate, I wanted to try to objectively examine the moral imperatives at the core of Catholic social teachings, rather than erroneously reducing those teachings to partisan policy positions—as too many are doing already.

In that vein, I need to challenge an argument put forward virtually every election year—spearheaded this year, it seems, by several American bishops. It is the contention that the ongoing, intentional mass destruction of pre-born human life is reducible to a “single issue” interchangeable with other “social justice” issues.

I disagree. I believe, consistent with statements by the U.S. Bishops over the years, that legalized abortion violates a foundational principle, of our Declaration of Independence and the natural law of God on which it is based: that every human life, created by God, is sacred; and every human being, from the moment of creation, has a natural, unalienable right to life.

As such, legalized abortion—in the words of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, author of the “seamless garment” approach to life issues—”undermines respect for life in all other contexts.”  

It is as it was with the “single issue” of slavery in the 19th century. There the foundational principle of individual liberty—also a part of the natural law of God and also cited as a natural right in the Declaration of Independence—was undermined by the enslavement of millions of people; and America’s great experiment in human freedom could not legitimately move forward until this unspeakable violation of that foundational principle was abolished.

Today, we cannot truly build a culture of life—nor can we consistently advocate for “justice” in any credible sense—until the massive denial of life and justice to the most innocent, most defenseless of human beings is ended.

Thus I adhere to the principle set forth by the U.S. Bishops in their 1999 document, “Living the Gospel of Life”: “We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of innocent human life.”

The bishops did not say “begin and end”; of course, we must go from there to address a wide range of issues of human suffering, threats to human life and justice. But we must begin by addressing the ONLY issue where the direct, massive killing of innocent human life is government policy. Because it is that reality—that this killing is carried out “under mantle of law,” in Cardinal Bernardin’s words—that “undermines respect for life in all other contexts.”  

Moreover, by invoking abortion as a “solution” to a range of social concerns—poverty, child abuse, disability—the abortion mentality invites us to destroy the victims, rather than the causes, of human suffering. And that has implications far beyond the millions of unborn children killed every year—as if that reality were not horrific enough.   

Consider a couple of examples of how the abortion mentality negatively impacts other issues of life and justice. 

Take our responsibility to protect the environment. We constantly hear that climate change is “settled science.” I’m not quite sure what that means. Do we know that certain changes are not just cyclical? Do we know if, and how much, human activity is a contributing factor? If so, do we know what the solutions are? More importantly, do we really know what the long-term effects are? I’m not debunking this; I readily admit I don’t know enough about it. I’m trying to learn, but it is sometimes difficult to discern what is science from what is ideology.  

Contrast this with what we KNOW to be settled science—that every child in utero is a growing, developing, LIVING human being. Yet we disregard that science, destroying these lives by the thousands every day. How do we allow that settled science to be ignored, but expect to convince people to respond to the relatively less settled science of global warming?

Or consider the death penalty, which I ardently oppose. But the death penalty is not used to intentionally kill innocent people. Of course, it does result in innocent people being wrongly executed. That is one of the reasons to oppose it, though our Catholic reasons run much deeper.

But how do we sensitize people to the value of the life of even the most hardened, violent murderer, when we have become absolutely morally numbed to the massive killing of the most innocent, most defenseless, of human lives?

Of course, giving special attention to protecting the unborn does not—and should not—preclude our also doing what we can to address other issues of life and justice (allowing, of course, for differing prudential judgements; agreeing on injustices to be addressed does not require being in lockstep on solutions. That is a topic for a future post.)

The problem comes when we have to make political choices, as between one candidate who opposes abortion and another whose stands on other “justice” issues we may like, but who supports the legalized killing of the unborn.

In such cases, I would never presume to tell my fellow Catholics who they must vote for. I will, however, try to persuade them that the injustice of abortion is so massive, and so all-encompassing in its undermining of respect for human life, that perhaps they might see it as I do: as a disqualifying issue that precludes my voting for a pro-abortion candidate.

And I would ask those who disagree: Would a Catholic in 19th century America have been justified in voting against a candidate solely because that candidate supported the continued enslavement of millions of human beings?

Or would that, too, have been unacceptable “single issue” voting? 

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

7 thoughts on “A “single issue”?

  1. Rick,
    No one is suggesting “…partisan policy issues”. The position of a conglomeration of prelates or any other group for that matter is not the issue. A cyanide ice cream pop may taste good but it still kills. Wrapping words around it is akin to ignoring the alligators when draining the swamp. No one is advocating for an alternative political party. If one can’t or won’t vote for another party – DON’T VOTE! That would be preferable to endorsing murder, genocide or whatever heinous acts. Italians justified Mussolini by saying “.. He made the trains run on time!”.

    Civil discourse shouldn’t be used to encourage dialogue to cloud an issue. The League of Nations and to some extent the United Nations and our own legislatures often get bogged down by filibustering civil discourse.


    1. Thank you, John, I appreciate your thoughts. I agree that civil discourse can be misused to cloud an issue. I don’t think that’s what I do, and I think this post is an example of that. I think I laid out the case pretty clearly and forcefully that abortion transcends other “justice” issues, in its mass destruction of innocent life, and its resultant undermining of respect for all life. I think I’ve made clear in my writings over the years that protecting the unborn is, as the U.S. Bishops have said, THE fundamental moral issue of our time. But I also think that angry, confrontational rhetoric generally undermines our effort to change minds and hearts–and unless we do that, we cannot hope to prevail. So I try always to be strong and forceful, but respectful. I don’t always succeed, but I try. Again my thanks, John, please continue to offer your insights.


  2. Well said Rick. Here’s confirmation of what you have said in relation to “single issue” concerns:

    Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship – Part I – The U.S. Bishops’ Reflection on Catholic Teaching and Political Life | USCCB

    26. St. John Paul II explained the importance of being true to fundamental Church teachings:

    Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. (Christifideles Laici, no. 38)



  3. Hi Rick, your blog is excellent! I think one of our challenges is to try to understand why many people remain blind to the truths you so clearly enunciated. Putting aside the disturbed argument that abortion should be available as a birth control measure and used as a tool to promote “sexual freedom”, there are those who are overwhelmed with anxiety, fear or depression when experiencing an unwanted pregnancy. I think a key to understanding the cause of these powerful emotions, which often power ahead of ones intellectual and reasoning capacities, is the context within which they occur. We have to change the context.

    St. Joseph demonstrated, it should always be about the woman and the child. Nowadays, however, that message has been largely forgotten. As a society we fall short on the extent to which we are called to celebrate the new life; and done so in word and deed. Instead of feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders, she should feel uplifted by our shared joy in the role she is performing, and this should be conveyed by assuring that her emotional, financial, educational and vocational supports are in place.

    Keep up the good work!


    1. Thank you so much, Jim. Yes, you have identified a critical component of our pro-life work–and one which has always been in the forefront of the pro-life movement and the Catholic Church–meaningful, life-affirming support for women in crisis, so they are not made to feel, by societal and too often familial pressures, that abortion is their only choice. I expect to write more about this during Respect Life Month in October, but you have provided a timely reminder


  4. Rick – how about the “single issue” we are confronted with in this presidential election when it comes to saving lives in America, which is the response to the Covid pandemic. How can a party that is “pro-life” support a presidential candidate who is putting lives at risk by openly disregarding and encouraging people to not follow the advice of doctors and scientists? How can the “pro-life” party support a presidential candidate who shows no empathy at the probably unnecessary deaths of over 200,000 Americans (“it is what is is”). If October is Respect Life Month, then President Trump obviously didn’t get that message.


    1. Bernie, Bernie, Bernie. Only you would conclude that all doctors and scientists are in lockstep on this virus and that if only Trump had listened to them we would all be safe and sound now. I don’t pretend to know what is right and wrong about this virus. I do know that scientists and doctors have at times contradicted each other, and even themselves. Today even the WHO, which previously cautioned against reopening too soon from lockdowns, is now warning against relying on lockdowns. From the start, ventilators were seen as essential to saving lives, so much so that we poured millions of dollars into producing more of them–but at least some doctors subsequently warned that ventilators were actually harming many of the elderly people placed on them. We know that Sweden avoided such massive lockdowns and did comparatively well in avoiding spread of the disease. Some say this should have been America’s model; others say the U.S. dynamics are different, and it wouldn’t have worked here. Who’s right? I don’t know, but I’m sure you do, Bernie. The temptation to play politics with this horrific disease has proved too great to resist, on all sides. Dems say Trump is not following the “science,” as they selectively define it. Republicans are chiding Cuomo for sending COVID-infected elderly people back into nursing homes (even as a federally provided hospital ship lay unused off Manhattan’s shore). I’m sure you join Cuomo in blaming Trump for that, Bernie, as you blame Trump for everything. (I’m looking forward to your anticipated explanation of how the NY football teams’ combined 0-10 record is all Trump’s fault!)

      And of course there are other considerations that a President has to deal with–the pandemic’s impact on the nation’s economy, which is not an abstract but impacts on the physical, mental, emotional health and stability of every American and every American family, with the greatest impact on the most vulnerable populations; the impact on children of keeping our schools shut down; the long-term impact of the massive federal bailout packages, which, while providing immediate relief, might have disastrous long-term financial implications. Again, I don’t know what is the right answer here; but the president has to weigh all these factors, in addition to the (conflicting) health advice of doctors and scientists.

      This issue is hardly comparable, Bernie, to a national government policy, of the last 47 years, of willfully, deliberately, killing over 60 million of the most innocent, most vulnerable human beings.


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