“To the person who says, ‘Personally, I am against abortion, but then if people want to do it, I leave them free’…”
Cardinal Francis Arinze from Nigeria was asked a question at the Apostolate for Family Consecration’s 2007 Totus Tuus Conference about politicians who claim they personally believe abortion to be wrong but still support it politically. How should faithful Catholics respond?
Here’s Cardinal Arinze’s simple but powerful answer about why the “personally opposed, but…” line of reasoning is wrong (the video is at the end of this article):
“You could say, ‘You are a member of the Senate or the Congress; personally, I am not in favor of shooting the whole lot of you…” The crowd at the conference started laughing.
“‘But if somebody else wants to shoot all of you in the Senate, or all of you in Congress, it’s just pro-choice for that person. But personally I’m not in favor.’
“That is what he’s saying! He’s saying, personally, he’s not in favor of killing these millions of children in the womb, but if others want to do it, he’s pro-choice. That’s what he’s saying.”
Cardinal Arinze is offering what’s called a reductio ad absurdum argument: in which a person takes the principles of his opponent’s argument and shows how, if taken to their logical conclusion, they lead to an absurdity and are therefore wrong.
In this case, neither Cardinal Arinze nor anybody else would condone a person shooting members of Congress; neither would a person say they’re personally opposed to it but will protect a person’s right to shoot members of Congress – that would be universally considered absurd.
And that’s the point. It’s absurd for a person to say they agree abortion is the killing of innocent children and thus gravely immoral but that they’ll still protect the political right for others to kill their children.