What Are Pro-Life Oregonians To Do? Moral Action and Unjust Public Funding

It is written by St. Thomas Aquinas that “A tyrannical law, though not being according to reason, is not a law, absolutely speaking, but rather a perversion of law…” (see Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 92, A. 1). Recently, it has come to pass that the State of Oregon will oblige taxpayers and insurance companies to pay for free abortions. What makes the law so different than other pro-abortion “laws” is that it forces people to participate, or rather cooperate, in the act at some level. As abortion is contrary to reason since it is the intentional killing of an innocent human person, it is easy to understand just how contrary it is to the virtue of justice to obligate citizens to pay for these horrendous acts of violence.

As it stands, law is to direct people to virtue and to the common good. Again, as Aquinas states, “And since law is given for the purpose of directing human acts; as far as human acts conduce to virtue, so far does law make men good. Wherefore the Philosopher says in the second book of the Politics (Ethic. ii) that “lawgivers make men good by habituating them to good works” (Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 92, A. 1). “Laws” that promote vice are, therefore, contrary to the true nature of law and there would be no moral obligation to follow them as a result since they are perversions.

This, of course, begs a question: what is the pro-life Oregonian to do when it comes to this “law” that is contrary to justice? This question should be explored carefully and with much reflection, since it can have many ramifications for the Oregonian. While many people would validly argue that it is necessary to change the law through legislative actions, are there any other options available to those who are being forced to pay their money to a government that will use a portion of it for surgical abortions?

St. John Paul II explores this idea of cooperation in section 74 of his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. It is important to note that John Paul II starts off this particular part of the encyclical by observing, “The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions.” Here the morally evil action is the payment of direct abortions by the state. But a question arises out of this fact: what type of cooperation is taking place here? Now, John Paul II is explicit in the immorality of formal cooperation when he espouses,

In order to shed light on this difficult question, it is necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions. Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it” (Ibid).

Cases in which the “law” is requiring people to formally cooperate, such as “laws” that mandate that crisis pregnancy centers counsel for abortion, should be defied since one is formally cooperating with an evil act (the intention of counseling for abortion). However, this is not the case with what is happening in Oregon. The taxpayer does not directly pay for the abortion; rather the taxpayer indirectly pays for the abortion. The pro-life Oregonian is not intending this evil act. In this case, the pro-life taxpayer is in what would be called remote material cooperation. This kind of cooperation is usually not likely to be intended at all (if it is intended then it is immoral). In many cases people are not aware that they have participated in an evil action. For example, the person who makes the sparkplug that is used in a getaway car that a bank robber uses does not have a clue where the sparkplug is going to after it is made. Nonetheless, he unintentionally (by making the sparkplug that is used in the car) helped the bank robbers. Typically, when it comes to any form of material cooperation, the principle of double effect is used to determine if the action is moral or not.

Given this knowledge it would not be immoral for the pro-life Oregonian to pay their taxes in full since it is not violating any of the four criteria of the principle of double effect. Paying taxes is a morally good act since the object sought is the common good and one usually intends to help their local community and state. The good effect of helping society is not the result of the bad effect which is the public funding of abortion. The good is intended by the pro-life taxpayer. And, finally, the vast majority of the funds collected by taxes will be used for the common good, such as building roads and helping with public education.

However, would it be licit for the conscientious objector to withhold a portion of his/her taxes to the State of Oregon? This may be possible given the circumstance that the taxpayers know that some public funds are going to be used for payment by the state for an illicit action. In many respects this would be a form of civil disobedience since the law that governs public funds is partially unjust. Since the law allows for public funds to be used for abortion for any reason is not directed towards the common good, since a portion of the law is directed to vicious habits that promote promiscuity and the unjust killing of nascent human life, one is not obligated to follow that portion of it. The basic reason for this is that law is meant to direct toward virtue; to make men good, not malicious.

However, this must be approached with prudence and understanding. Martin Luther King Jr. put it best when addressing this idea of civil disobedience in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.” One must know that they must face potential consequences for his/her moral action. Not paying your taxes in full is likely to lead to some sort of legal action by the state. However, despite the potential punishment for not fully paying the tax there is the potential for one to raise the awareness that part of the tax code that allows for the public funding of abortion is unjust. Furthermore, it also could highlight the reality that this portion of the tax code is not in conformity with either the eternal or natural law. This, in turn, could embolden others to conscientiously object to paying a portion of their taxes as well. If enough Oregonians were to do this it might force the Oregon Legislature to seriously reconsider this portion of the code which allows for state funds to be used for unfettered abortion.

Prudence must be applied when employing this option. However caution should be employed, this may be an easier option for those who are not supporting a family for instance. Whatever one thinks, the option is still available and still testifies to the very reality that all civil law should conform to the natural law. Many Oregonians are rightfully upset that some of their hard earned money will be used to finance abortion on demand. And some may believe that lobbying the legislature may not be enough. This alternative may just show both the legislature and the governor just how sacrosanct life is for many in the State of Oregon.

Joe Kral has been involved in the pro-life movement since he has been in college.  His MA in Theology was completed at the University of St. Thomas where he specialized in bioethics.  From 1996-2003 he was the Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life.  During that time he was also a lobbyist for the Department of Medical Ethics at National Right to Life.  From 2004-2007 he consulted the Texas Catholic Conference on pro-life legislative initiatives.   In 2006 he was awarded the “Bishop’s Pro-Life Award for Civic Action” from the Respect Life Ministry in the Diocese of Dallas.  He currently serves as a voluntary legislative advisor to Texas Alliance for Life, is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, taught as an adjunct professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, teaches as a Forward Toward Christian Ministry instructor for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and is doing doctoral studies at Harrison Middleton University where he is specializing in the ethical and legal theory of St. Thomas Aquinas. He has been married to his wife, Melissa, since 2004 and they have 2 children together. They attend St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Sugar Land.
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