1. Can a Catholic (or others) conscientiously vote for a politician who is openly and clearly pro-choice?
2. How seriously should a Catholic (or others) consider abstaining from voting?
Let's start with the issue of abortion. The every-four-years guide that our bishops offer us to facilitate conscientious, faithful voting gives clear advice here:
As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet if a candidate's position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support.So, we should not support candidates based solely upon their policy toward a single-issue, yet we are justified in not supporting candidates that go on record in promoting something we oppose as morally wrong. The bishops add:
In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.So, we shouldn't vote for candidates who support morally evil things but we can if we feel like we conscientiously can. So that's settled... not really.
The key is that we need to engage with the fullness of the picture. What has the candidate shown their character, integrity, and morality to be? What do their speeches reveal about their intentions? What does their voting record show with respect to policies they've supported? What do their platforms, stated issue stances, and campaign comments add up to? There's a larger picture to every candidate.
However, abortion rightfully grabs a lot of our attention. When it comes to abortion, there's a few degrees with respect to politicians' direct policies:
- completely oppose abortion
- oppose abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or health of the mother
- oppose abortion personally but vote in favor of it
- support abortion but favor some limits (ex: partial-birth abortion ban; illegal for minors)
- support abortion liberally
- Republicans widely oppose comprehensive immigration reform and instead want to restrict immigration and refugee admissions.
- Republicans widely oppose the Affordable Care Act and seek to repeal and replace it, though it's unclear what the replacement would be as repeal would move us further away from universal health-care.
- Republicans widely oppose reasonable restrictions on gun purchase and use...
I want to continue searching for answers to these two big questions as I look for the strength of Catholic Social Teaching in the candidates' social actions. I do have an evolved understanding of the reality of abstention as an actively chosen and deliberately communicated decision, but I remain hopeful that there is a conscientiously sound possibility to discern a vote.
I look forward to reading more thoughts from conscientious Catholics who are trying to weigh out these same concerns, in the presidential race, in the down-ticket elections, and throughout the campaign. Let me know what you think!