I grew up in a small town in Italy where abortion was illegal and could bring criminal charges. Yet in my hometown, everyone knew where to go for an abortion. There was a provider for poor women and a provider for the well-to-do. Most of the time, authorities in this mostly Catholic country left both alone.
The situation is far different in America a half century later. In 2016, millions of Catholics and evangelicals whose voting choice is informed by a single issue — abortion — cast ballots for the current occupant of the White House. Whether Donald Trump ever endorsed abortion (or paid for his girlfriends’ abortions in the past) was of no consequence to them. What mattered was his implied promise to appoint justices to the U.S. Supreme Court such that, one day soon, Roe v. Wade would be overturned, and abortion could again be a crime.
I share with those voters the motivation to see pro-life candidates elected to public office. Abortion is the issue that most influences my political choices.
And yet I cannot possibly endorse the letter that my friends, the “pro-life Democrats,” recently sent to Donald Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, asking him to disallow federal funds for abortion should he defeat Trump. While I adamantly oppose abortion, I cannot in good conscience work toward the elimination of abortions for the impoverished women who are entitled to them in cases of rape or incest or when the pregnant woman’s life is endangered by disease, illness or injury.
Let’s look a little closer at both political parties’ hypocrisies and blind spots when it comes to abortion. But first, let me explain where I’m coming from as a Catholic and a physician. I believe in science. The same science that recommends face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 and warns about climate change also tells me that life begins at conception. According to molecular biology, what we call “life” is the ongoing decompression of a unique file contained in the DNA of each individual, a process that starts with fertilization.
The idea that abortion is merely a form of birth control offends me. It’s like declaring that war is an effective means to prevent overpopulation.
Which leads us to back to the political parties. Liberals who brook no divergence from the pro-choice point of view display the same disdain for life that Trump supporters showed when backing the action of ICE agents at our southern border ripping children, even nursing babies, from their parents’ arms. The same disdain for life that young men bearing Confederate flags showed when they coughed on me as I pleaded with them to respect social distance.
As for the GOP, unlike the Catholics and evangelicals who voted for Trump, I cannot overlook the cruelty and reflexive violence that informs the administration’s domestic and foreign policy. Pro-life indeed! St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is one of the texts most beloved by Christians who profess to believe in a God of love. In 2018 then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked those passages to defend the breakup of immigrant families — this, as part of an administration that had no plan to reunite or even keep accurate lists of the names of those children.
And how can the Republicans who currently run the country say that each child is welcome in this world, all while passing a tax cut for the rich as they gut programs in ways that keep Americans in abject poverty, uneducated and deprived of health coverage? When they dare to claim with straight faces that $600 a week in federal unemployment compensation is too high for a family of four — and now, even that has lapsed?
Under our American brand of capitalism, human life has become a commercial good that can be disposed of when it ceases to serve the prevailing power. If you doubt that, look at the administration’s willingness to sacrifice the lives of the poor, the front-line workers and the aged during this pandemic to “open up the economy.”
Those who are keeping track have numbered Trump’s lies or misleading claims at 20,000. One might wonder why his evangelical supporters cling to the belief that he will make good on his implied promise to end legal abortion. In my book, a web of lies is at odds with Christianity, with belief in a God who is the truth, the life and the way.
But disgust for the current administration is not what fuels my position on federal funding of abortion for indigent women. Rather, I feel some guilt that social and economic conditions still exist that make abortion seem necessary. I feel that I don’t have the right to tell a woman how to manage her pregnancy.
I’m realistic enough to know that abortion will not go away in America even if it becomes illegal, just as it never disappeared in the Italy of my youth. I wish that more Democratic candidates would show at least some empathy for people like me who abhor abortion instead of labeling us Neanderthals.
But I have come to recognize that only policies inspired by compassion and justice will have a chance to succeed at making abortion obsolete. Sadly, I — unlike those Trump supporters willing to turn a blind eye — can’t find those policies espoused by most prolife champions.
Lodovico Balducci is an author and retired medical doctor living in Tampa. He was a professor of oncology and medicine at the University of South Florida College of Medicine and was director of the Division of Geriatric Oncology at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.