Ever since SCOTUS handed down Dobbs on June 24, 2022, we heard many warnings, including comparisons to the Taliban, accusing American conservatives of trying to turn the USA into a theocracy [Apr 21][May 2][Jun 28][Jul 11]. Is this mere sensationalism?
As notable Catholic educator Timothy Gordon (@Timotheeology) recently declared, many Catholics consider abortion “the worst sin in the history of humanity, aside from the killing of our lord on the cross” (2022-12-18 Fr. Pavone Laicized [YouTube] @1m0s).
First, we’ll remind the reader that our pro-choice campaign unequivocally defends women’s access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion within the first trimester (the typical policy in European countries), and also that our campaign acknowledges that abortion is feticide, the violent killing of a human fetus in the womb. The principle that nevertheless determines our pro-choice position is that we cannot credibly and unhypocritically eliminate the practice of first trimester feticide in the USA while our whole society enthusiastically profits off of $500+ billion per year of tainted goods from a vicious, murderous regime in PRC (as we’ve benefited from since 1972 — not coincidentally a prelude to Roe in 1973), while our whole society unabashedly profits off of a violent foreign policy of interventionist regime change (such as in Libya in 2011), and while our whole society profits from eagerly pushing onto our vulnerable youth a wide range of passive and interactive entertainment based on ultra-realistic depictions of murder.
Indeed, on December 15, 2022 we made the firm prediction that, due to Dobbs, no pro-life candidate will win the US presidency before US Congress codifies Roe v Wade by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act or its equivalent. Between then and today, former President Donald Trump’s New Year’s Day 2023 post on Truth Social seemed to corroborate our prediction. Next, further bolstering our prediction that he is unelectable nationally, Governor DeSantis reinforced his pro-life bonafides by signing six-week ban legislation Florida SB 300, the “Heartbeat Protection Act”, on Thursday April 13. Exactly one week later, Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s campaign tacked pro-choice in a statement to the Washington Post, affirmed “States’ rights”, thus offending the most uncompromising anti-abortion groups including SBA Pro-Life America, who explicitly, vociferously and publicly condemned Trump’s position the same day , thus firmly establishing his 2024 campaign’s moderate pro-choice bonafides (just as we predicted here on this blog!).
With the 40-years-in-the-making Dobbs overturning of Roe (shepherded through mostly by FedSoc attorney Leonard Leo), and US Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) dead-on-arrival September 2022 15-week ban legislation (S.4840 – Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act), and more, we might ask: Do American Catholics, Evangelicals, and Latter Day Saints, really want to impose a Christian theocracy on us all, where the Bible tells us who we can and cannot kill?
Examining the strength of or, in this case, weakness of such reasoning will alleviate this concern. How does the faith community profess to ground this yearning to forbid an (admittedly violent) medical procedure? In this post we’ll consider the Catholic position, because it suffices as the best proxy for all faith-oriented reasoning on this topic.
Those who fear imminent theocracy may not have studied the perhaps obsolete logic by which theologians defend and justify their own relative (as compared to anti-abortion) nonchalance and relative silence about profiting from PRC forced labor, PRC police tyranny, organ harvesting, genocide of Tibetans, Uyghurs and other minority groups, colonialist exploitation of African labor including in Congolese cobalt mines (2022-12-22 Joe Rogan/Siddharth Kara [YouTube]), industrial-scale destruction of the natural environment, fatally dangerous laissez-faire regulatory negligence as with the 2008 infant formula scandal, rampant abortion (including forced abortion), and other notoriously murderous practices of our largest import trading partner. But it merits study, because ignoring those geographically distant human rights abuses is crucial to the domestic political tactic of focusing hypnotically and semi-exclusively on American abortions while effectively ignoring the vast majority of blatant American immorality. Ignoring our dirty business with PRC is convenient and profitable for all Americans, including Catholics, Evangelicals, Latter Day Saints, and the rest of us.
To justify an “Abortion First” moral prioritization, erudite Catholics cite (a) a doctrine called Subsidiarity, which is the principle that matters ought to be handled locally when possible, and which has implications for responsibility or lack thereof, and also (b) the doctrine of proximate and remote cooperation, a ranking of sin based on the directness of the participant’s actions.
The doctrine of Subsidiarity is first of all interpreted to mean that if a matter, such as the manufacture of smartphones bought and owned by almost everyone in an American small town, is “best” handled at some supra-local level, perhaps the international level, then the good folks in that small town bear reduced (or perhaps completely absolved) responsibility for the moral cost of the management of that matter. “Best”, in such analyses, usually means “most cheaply”. But let us secondly acknowledge that part of the Catholic interpretation of Subsidiarity is that one can be more certain about the effect of our own actions when the effects are observable nearby, and less certain when the effects occur physically or psychologically far away. Accordingly, they reason, we should focus our desire to improve the world on our own backyard first and foremost, where we know what’s really going on. That principle seems fair enough at first. Furthermore, the idea gains a power boost if we assume that, if we create a moral community and a moral environment around us in our immediate vicinity, that local impact will tend to spread outward almost contagiously (in the best sense). That principle, too, seems fair enough at first. Are we not absolved?
We think the answer is no. We Americans living and doing business in 2023 are not absolved.
Note that it isn’t so much the vast distance in miles itself that theoretically absolves our complicity but the uncertainty that theoretically arises as a side-effect of that distance. But are we Americans really so uncertain about the horrors we pay the PRC government to inflict on their people for our material benefit? Can we keep telling ourselves “Everything is fine! The best explanation for why it is cheaper to make things in a place 6200 miles away, even inclusive of the massive cost of shipping them to me, is that the people over there simply have a knack for making stuff. There’s nothing terrible happening there, and definitely nothing as terrible or more terrible than American abortions!” ?! We cannot. Why not? What happened?
We think that, between Nixon’s 1972 trip and today, the internet changed everything, including what we know, what we’re certain about. Perhaps the modern speed-of-internet world can be characterized, partially, as a breakdown of some types of Subsidiarity. Because we know, we know full well, and we know with certainty, for something like our utterly unforgivable fifty years of business dealings with PRC, Subsidiarity is no longer a good excuse. And remoteness of cooperation is no longer a good excuse either because, due to the distance-bridging effects of the internet, we are no longer truly “remote”. We know.
The upshots of the illuminating power of the internet are that (1) we can no longer pretend not to know things we know, that (2) to be credible we need a “Whatever Most Profits Me Should Be My First Worry” moral prioritization instead of the all-too-convenient “Abortion First”, that (3) we have not, in practice, achieved a “contagious moral community” because every curious individual in our communities secretly knows and feels appropriate shame over our not-so-secret moral failings, that (4) current theocratic tendencies stand on shaky ground because no one has been willing to sacrifice much of his own prosperity to oppose evil, and that (5) the current state of American reproductive rights law is a reflection of this messy, disorienting reality.
The hypothetical theocracy, if it is desired by any, is not imminent, because its moral foundation is exceedingly weak. At present, we materialist Americans bankroll too much for-profit exploitation and, yes, murder of our fellow adult humans to be taken seriously as moral authorities on forced birth. But I, for one, would not oppose reckoning with and fixing that.