A theologian offers advice for Catholic voters faced with a difficult choice

Catholics living in a state where both of the major party’s gubernatorial candidates oppose key Church teachings have difficult choices to make on Election Day, a theologian told CNA.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear that “the inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.” Issues such as abortion and assisted suicide are, therefore, of special concern to Catholics in deciding who they want to shape a state’s laws.

This November, 36 states will be holding gubernatorial elections–and some states do not have a pro-life candidate on the ballot. In this scenario, what should guide a Catholic’s conscience?

Catholic University of America Professor Chad Pecknold told CNA that while this can be a challenge for Catholics, they “must vote for candidates who aim at the common good, and whose policies do not contradict Catholic teaching.”

Life issues outweigh other social issues, Pecknold explained, because “the gift of life is the basis for all human rights and responsibilities,” meaning that Catholics cannot vote for candidates who would support the destruction of any vulnerable life.

When presented with two candidates who both are in favor of abortion rights, for example, Pecknold told CNA that Catholics can find themselves wondering where to turn.

“With the major parties contradicting various aspects of Catholic teaching, and very often working against the common good, Catholic voters have difficult choices to make at the ballot box.”

In some cases, he told CNA, it may not be clear exactly were a candidate stands on life issues, or if their election might advance the moral good in spite of their personal equivocations.

“Hard cases are exactly that,” Pecknold said. “For example, two pro-abortion candidates may differ substantially on policy, with one perhaps favoring legal restrictions which could save lives,” Pecknold noted.

“In such cases voters should follow their conscience and Church teaching on the sanctity of life in voting for the candidate they believe will advance the common good, and protect the dignity of all human life, born and unborn.”

Alternatively, in states where candidates appear to have equal support of abortion, the moral option for Catholics may be to either stay home, or write in a different candidate, “one who would legislate in defense of human life,” said Pecknold.

There are several states where Catholics are wrestling with these questions before heading to the voting booth.

In Oregon, both of the major parties are fielding candidates in favor of abortion rights.

Republican Knute Buehler is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Kate Brown. Buehler has said that abortion is “a decision between a woman and her physician and should not be political or government-influenced.” Brown has described abortion as a “fundamental” right for women.

Incumbent Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is also pro-abortion, and last year signed a controversial bill that expanded taxpayer-subsidized abortions for low-income women throughout the state. His opponent, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, has signed a pledge to maintain the current abortion law.

Voters in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont face the same conundrum.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) recently signed the NASTY Women Act, which enshrined a right to abortion in Massachusetts law. He has said numerous times that he supports a woman’s “right to choose” abortion. He is running against Jay Gonzalez, a Democrat who is firmly in support of abortion access, and has spoken out in support of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.

Gov. Chris Sununu (R) of New Hampshire has a long record of supporting abortion rights, as does his Democratic challenger, Molly Kelly.

In Vermont, moderate Republican incumbent Gov. Phil Scott is running against Democrat Christine Hallquist. Hallquist has called for every Vermonter to have access to both birth control and abortion, regardless of their ability to pay. Scott calls himself “pro-choice, with restrictions,” and does not support the taxpayer funding of abortion.

Other states have candidates who describe themselves as “personally pro-life,” but unwilling to fight to repeal pro-abortion laws or introduce new restrictions on the procedure.

There is, however, one state where Catholics have a different choice to make.

In a relatively unusual circumstance, both the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor in South Dakota describe themselves as pro-life.

Republican Kristi Noem, who is currently a member of the House of Representatives, has a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life. She is running against Billie Sutton, a self-described “pro-life and pro-Second Amendment” Democrat. Noem has the support of President Donald Trump. South Dakota is a solidly Republican state, and has not had a Democratic governor in nearly four decades.