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As election day arrives, abortion is the “pre-eminent issue,” say the U.S. bishops, and earlier this year Pope Francis agreed with them.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann chairs the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee. He visited Francis as part of his periodic meeting as a Kansas bishop with other area bishops. He asked Francis about the abortion issue because some bishops had suggested that abortion is not the pre-eminent priority for voters in America today.
Archbishop Naumann said Pope Francis agreed that it was and also “was truly kind of stunned” when he was told there have been 61 million abortions in the United States since Roe v. Wade.
With a problem that shocking on the ballot, Catholics have a big responsibility this Nov. 3. Here are some pointers to keep in mind, which I have shared before elections in the past.
Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy are presidents who narrowly won elections; on the state level, the stories multiply. Significant elections have very often been won or lost by narrow margins. This year will be no different.
Those who remember the year 2000 know that every vote mattered so much that teams of officials pored over every ballot in certain Florida counties. This year, with its controversial reliance on votes by mail, may have the same kind of ending act.
We can never let the perfect be the enemy of the good — we can never refuse to act to make a better choice simply because it’s not the best imaginable choice. Too often we have unrealistic expectations from the political system. We are not voting to canonize a candidate; we are voting to give him or her temporary power to do some limited good. Find out which candidate will do more good. This is not “choosing the lesser evil.” It is choosing the greatest possible good in the circumstances.
When Archbishop Naumann asked if the right to life was the preeminent issue Francis said, “Of course it is. It’s the most fundamental right.” Francis went on to say: “This is not first a religious issue; it’s a human rights issue.”
Truth be told, most voters, deep down, are single issue voters. We vote our party or our pocketbook or our labor union. But all of these single issues depend on our fundamental rights, primary of which is the right to life. Lose that right, and all others fall.
If you vote the right to life, you are voting not for just one issue, but for all the rights and duties that depend on it.
Catholics often hear the argument that you can vote for a candidate who is pro-abortion if you are voting for them “despite” that position and not “because of” that position. There are two things to be careful about here. First, you should only feel comfortable doing this if you are voting on an issue of proportional importance, and when it comes to the right to life, proportional issues are hard to come by. Second, a new Pew Research poll suggests that Catholics tend to change their views on abortion to match their votes, so that their party ends up informing their morals more than their Church does. Don’t let that happen to you.
Sometimes we are tempted to vote reactively. We feel offended by one action or another of a candidate and we want to use our vote to show our anger and distaste. Venting may be helpful, but the ballot is a bad place to do it. Write the politician an angry letter, but when you are at the polls, vote for whichever candidate will most fundamentally serve fundamental justice to those born and unborn, and best protect religious freedom, for years to come.
Vote as soon as you can. If you wait until election day, go to your polling place first thing in the morning. Don’t put it off. If you do, the chances of getting sidetracked and never making it to the polls only increases. Voting is a perfectly good excuse for being late to some other responsibility.
Be armed with the reasons above, and encourage friends to vote.
Offer rides to those who need help getting to the polls. Parishes or pro-life groups can organize carpools. Big families have big vans that can be employed getting people to the polls without violating any rules. Is it hard for someone you know to get out to vote because they have to watch their children? Offer to watch the kids — or set up a service at your parish that does so.
E-mail, Facebook, text and call your friends to remind them it’s voting day. In America, there is no emperor or king. We are the ones in charge, and Nov. 3 is the day we exercise our power.