Matt C. Abbott
September 21, 2012
On outlawing abortion, contraception, and sodomy
By Matt C. Abbott

I posed the following question to Father John Trigilio Jr., president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, author, and my column's resident theologian:
    Is it consonant with Catholic teaching to call for the government to outlaw abortion, contraception and sodomy (which, of course, includes same-sex 'marriage')?
Father's excellent response (slightly edited) is as follows.



The civil government has the authority and the obligation to enact laws prohibiting abortion, contraception and sodomy as these are harmful to the individual as well as to society. Government — be it a democratic republic, monarchy, and so on — exists for one purpose: to protect the common good.

Saint Thomas Aquinas defined law in his Summa Theologica, I-II q.90 a.4 resp.:
    rationis ordinatio ad bonum commune, ab eo, qui curam communitatis habet, promulgate (an ordinance of reason, promulgated by he who has care of the community, for the common good)
This is the basis of all human law, ecclesiastical (canon law) and civil. It requires that the legislation be: 1) rational (sensible); 2) mandatory; 3) declared (publicized); 4) legitimate (authorized); 5) beneficial.

Laws are commands (ordinances), not suggestions. Like medical prescriptions, chemical formulas and cooking recipes, laws are instructions on human behavior. Proverbs are helpful pieces of existential wisdom, but laws are obligatory rules binding on those who belong to a community. The purpose of the law is the essence of it. It must serve the common good. Laws must be issued, i.e., made known to the members of the community (e.g., citizens) and they must be issued by the one (or ones) responsible for taking care of the community (i.e., those in authority).

Every society needs laws, rules and regulations to protect the community. The dangers can be natural or man-made. They can come from within or from outside. Hence, every civilized culture and society has a duty and obligation to protect members from activity that is seriously harmful to the one and to the many. That is why murder (homicide) is not only a sin against the Decalogue (Ten Commandments); it is also a criminal offense. Theft (stealing) is also both a sin and a crime. Likewise, there are laws against perjury, fraud, slander and libel since lying is a sin and, in serious matters, also a crime.

When someone says you cannot legislate morality, they are correct. The law does not create the moral imperative; it must honor and respect it. The natural moral law, known by reason, tells the human intellect what is good (and therefore ought to be done) and what is evil (and therefore to be avoided). This is called the first moral principle. Bonum est faciendum et prosequendum, et malum vitandum (do good and avoid evil).

Abortion is the intentional killing of non-viable fetus. The fetus is an unborn human being; therefore, deliberate killing is de facto murder (homicide). 'Pro-choice' proponents can use euphemisms such as 'terminating the pregnancy,' but directly killing the unborn child is still murder in the first degree. That is illegal morally and civilly. The only way to allow it is to reinvent what is a human being. Slavery denied blacks their inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by redefining them as 'property.' The U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned such a travesty of justice in its infamous Dred Scott decision.

Similarly, when the court issued its equally infamous Roe v. Wade decision, it reinvented human biology and declared the unborn child in the womb nothing more than another 'part' of the woman's body over which she has total autonomy. Reason tells us that neither the color of one's skin (black or white), nor one's geographical location (inside or outside the womb) diminishes one's personhood or humanity. The same human DNA that defines an African-American, European-American, Native-American or Asian-American likewise defines the fetus, from the moment of conception, as a human being.

The government has the authority, the duty and the obligation to outlaw serious threats to innocent human life and to the welfare of the common good. Abortion is an act of lethal violence against an unborn child. Euthanasia is the act of killing a seriously ill person. Both must be illegal as they directly and deliberately threaten innocent human life. The law itself does not make a human act good or bad. Rather, the intrinsic evil of an act, the immorality of it, makes it worthy to be against the human positive law.

By extension, contraception and sodomy had been civilly outlawed in the past as these, too, threaten the common good. Contraception, when it is an abortifacient, is a murderous weapon. When it is only a means to prevent conception, it is still injurious to the person using it and to society as a whole. Why? Human sexuality is different from animal sexuality. Animals engage in sexual intercourse because of instinct. It is reproductive and perpetuates the species. Human beings, on the other hand, have a free will and rational intellect. Therefore, we reproduce by intent, not instinct. Human beings freely choose with whom they have sexual intercourse [rape is an exception to this, of course].

Any activity that involves the intellect and will is a moral act. Moral acts must conform to the moral law. Children are not just the offspring of their biological parents; they are sons and daughters of their mothers and fathers. In other words, human beings are designed and intended to be born and raised within the context of the family. The family is the fundamental building block of society, be it the Church or state. Society is a family of families. Government exists to protect the individual and society. The best way is to protect the family which is the lifeline to all human associations. That is why marriage is worthy of legal protection, just as is human life. Marriage is threatened by contraception and sodomy. Both are essentially acts that frustrate the natural procreative aspect of human sexuality.

Pope Paul VI aptly explained in Humanae Vitae that human sexual intercourse is essentially procreative and unitive. It is focused on life and and love. Being open to the possibility of new life and being open to more intimate unity between husband and wife is what human sex is really about. When it becomes merely a recreational activity, it is selfish love, not mutual love. It is certainly not sacrificial love if the end is merely physical pleasure for pleasure's sake. Pleasure is the happy by-product God added to the act of married conjugal love. Contraception often makes the sex partner an object rather than a person who is worthy of, and who deserves, sacrifice. The husband and wife sacrifice for one another. They offer themselves to each other. That means being open to the possible gift of new life from God and it means that the physical intimacy must be accompanied by emotional intimacy as well. The 'two become one flesh' is not just the act of coitus; it is the union of two human beings into one married couple.

Two men and two women can be very close and loving friends, but they are incapable of being husband and wife. Marriage is more than just a civil union between two individuals. Marriage is the symbol of love and life, unity and procreation. It is a reflection of the love of Christ and His Bride the Church, just as in the Old Testament the prophet Hosea was told to marry to show the Chosen People that they were the spouse of the Lord God. Not slaves or servants, but the beloved spouse.

Practically speaking, some laws are difficult if not virtually impossible to enforce. That does not negate their validity, however. Some people avoid evil because it is sinful. Others avoid evil because it is illegal. We know that imperfect contrition is the remorse for sins out of a fear of punishment, especially the pains of hell for mortal sins. We also know that perfect contrition is the remorse for sins out of a pure love of God and deep regret in offending the One we love most of all. Perfect contrition is better than imperfect contrition, but both are valid.

Likewise, avoiding evil because it is immoral and sinful is a far better motive than avoiding breaking the law and risking imprisonment, but both are valid. When concupiscence rears its ugly head, our darkened intellect, weakened will and disordered lower passions can tempt us to do evil and avoid good. It is then that civil law can help protect the common good by creating barriers and buffers between the innocent and the guilty.

Behavior that is seriously harmful to the human person as an individual or to the human community as a whole ought to be illegal since law exists to protect the common good. Threats to innocent human life such as abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are sinful and immoral and they need to be illegal as well — just as much as homicide.

Contraception and sodomy threaten marriage and the family, and they enslave the individuals who engage in them into becoming sexual objects rather than human beings made in the image and likeness of God. The sex act does not define who we are, but who we are determines why and when and with whom we have sex. Human sexuality is a holy act when done in accord with the plan of God. When done between a husband and wife who are committed to a permanent and faithful relationship oriented toward love (unity) and life (procreation), it is sacred. When it becomes merely physical, biological, individual and devoid of openness to life and the removal of permanent commitment, it is debased and immoral.

Certainly, the government cannot outlaw every sinful or immoral act since it would be impossible to enforce, and human law is imperfect. Serious harm to the one and the many, however, warrants the inclusion of civil proscription. Just as we have a distinction between venial and mortal sins, there is a difference between a misdemeanor and a felony. We cannot compel by civil law people to act or do good, but we can and must outlaw sinful and evil acts which seriously threaten the person and/or the community. Danger to the institutions of marriage and family is no less serious than danger to one's life, health, property or reputation. Law protects the latter and should protect the former as well.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

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