WASHINGTON, D.C. — When the Democratic Party makes its decisions about leadership at the end of the month, the House Minority Leader will be a self-proclaimed “pro-choice Catholic.”
Both current House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, and her challenger, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), profess to be Catholic but also support legalized abortion.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987. She has consistently advocated in favor of legal abortion, and has earned high ratings from pro-abortion groups including Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL.
Ryan represents a district in Northeast Ohio and has served in Congress since 2003. He was once a member of the advisory board for Democrats for Life and received an 80 percent rating from National Right to Life in 2006.
Early last year, however, he announced that he had shifted his views in favor of legal abortion, quoting the Gospel of Matthew to do so.
His new position, however, is logically incoherent, one theologian told CNA.
“If we were to outlaw abortion, we’re not claiming to stand in judgment over anyone’s soul any more than we do when we outlaw murder and stealing and fraud,” said Dr. Donald Asci, a professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Asci spoke with CNA last year, after Ryan announced in a January 2015 op-ed published in the Akron Beacon Journal that he now favors legal abortion. The congressman insisted that the issue of abortion is complex and personal, and the government should not interfere in it.
“My faith is important to me, and like many Catholics I strive to adhere to its principles, especially one of the essential and highest teachings of ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’,” he wrote.
Pregnancy is a “complex” issue, he said, adding that “some couples are unprepared to become parents” and that “some families who are looking forward to a child may experience complications during the pregnancy.”
Abortion should be “a personal decision” because of these complexities, he said, concluding that “the heavy hand of government must not make this decision for women and families.”
Catholic teaching holds that abortion is gravely contrary to moral law. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.”
Asci said that Ryan’s argument is morally flawed and unsound, in part because it falsely equates making laws for the common good with judging a woman’s soul.
“It’s part of our Christian and Catholic fraternal charity not to stand in judgment over the soul of another,” Asci stated, adding that “making laws to protect individuals or to promote the common good of the community” is not the same as judging someone else’s soul.
“What we ought to all be looking for is greater respect for life, in all its examples whether it’s unborn children, whether it’s mothers in danger, whether it’s the elderly,” he said.
Pregnancy is a “complex” issue, Asci acknowledged, but rather than justifying abortion, this reality means a woman in need should receive support from her community.
“The pro-life position would be that all abortion should be removed from the discussion as an option in these stressful situations,” he stated. “The sanctity of the life is what should be made very clear to all involved. And then you go forward in doing the best you can with whatever the particulars of the situation are.”
Ryan’s reversal on the issue was no surprise to Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America. In a February 2015 op-ed for The Hill, she explained why the organization quietly removed Ryan from its advisory board in 2009.
“When Ryan voted in favor of taxpayer funding of abortion, we removed him,” she wrote.
“His record by then, quite frankly, was calling to question DFLA’s integrity. His idealism had withered. He had begun his Congressional career with a nearly perfect pro-life voting record but by 2009 that had deteriorated.”
Ryan also advocated for government expansion for contraception in his op-ed, saying that government has a duty to reduce abortions through expanding access to contraception and “age-appropriate sex education.”
Asci said that too undermines respect for life.
“[Ryan] says ‘I wish that all children could come into a situation where they’re wanted, and somehow intended.’ Well the only way to achieve that is to increase our value that we have for human life itself,” Asci stated.
“And contraception erodes that in theory and in practice. It erodes the value that we see in life, and is only going to lead to the propensity to the abortions themselves.”