Asked about abortion in a recent debate, Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb said that his “personal religious belief” as a Catholic has always been that life begins at conception, but he would not impose his beliefs on others. Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate, did a nice job of explaining in response that “this isn’t a matter of religious faith” but rather of protecting the helpless.
Lamb’s rhetoric is familiar, but it is worth pointing out yet again that it is doubly mistaken. First: Laws banning abortion are no more the imposition of a religious view than laws banning other types of homicide are. Such laws do not entail, for example, any particular view about whether a fetus has a soul, any more than laws against the killing of congressional candidates entail any view of whether they have souls. The fact that some religious organizations support laws prohibiting abortion and others oppose them does not convert the debate over them into a purely theological dispute.
Second: Lamb’s self-presentation as someone who affirms Catholic teaching on abortion is false. He may be an exemplary Catholic in any number of respects. But Church teaching could hardly be more clear. A human embryo or fetus is a living human organism: The Church accepts that scientific fact, and its religious teaching consists of inferring certain duties we owe as a result of that fact. Those duties include affirming that the human embryo or fetus, like human beings in later stages of development, has a right to life that civil authorities must protect. (See, for example, section 2273 of the catechism.) Lamb dissents from that teaching, wrongly but also—insofar as he claims to agree with the Church’s “religious” teaching on abortion—either ignorantly or dishonestly.