As we approach the 19th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s seminal work, The Gospel of Life, it is time to revisit section 73, paragraph 3 of that document. It says:
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favoring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations—particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation—there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.
In particular we call attention to this sentence: “In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality.”
Many well-meaning pro-life Americans have used these words to justify their support for rape, incest, and life of the mother exceptions; for candidates who favor some exceptions; and for defending their own desire to be politically pragmatic instead of uncompromising. In each of these cases, a terrible error has been made.
We must understand that the Holy Father is not condoning, as some have suggested, actions that support abortion in certain circumstances. He is not endorsing political posturing or relativism by men and women whose “absolute personal opposition to procured abortion” is NOT well known.
What he is doing is affirming for those 100 percent pro-life people in elected office the fact that IF they choose to vote for an imperfect law, they may do so. IF they choose NOT to do so, that is also their prerogative. As he said a year later during a conference dedicated to Evangelium Vitae and the law, “The existence of the right to life as a constituent intrinsically present in the biological status of the human individual from [his beginning], therefore, also constitutes nature’s fixed point for the definition of the ethical and juridical status of the unborn baby.”
Note again, he did not enumerate exceptions to the teaching. Pope John Paul II was not a pragmatist and he should not be represented in that light for any reason.
I ask pro-life Americans, out of respect for the Holy Father, to end the distortions and abuse of the language in section 73, paragraph 3 of The Gospel of Life.