We receive mountains of letters and emails at Catholic Answers from constituents thanking us for helping them with whatever issue it is that they had been struggling with. Our answers do not always satisfy everyone though, and it is for this reason that I also see the occasional complaint.

Recently, I have received a few letters and emails (probably all from the same dude) complaining about Jimmy Akin’s assertion that abortion is not a religious issue. To be honest, I’m not really concerned with the complaint. It serves as a good platform for me to launch from on this subject. And Jimmy’s point here is worth considering. So let’s begin with what he actually says:

But the truth is that abortion is not a religious issue. When people say it is, they imply that it is a matter of faith rather than reason. This is false. A powerful case against abortion can be made without bringing religion into the discussion. Unborn children simply are innocent human beings, and their innate right to life must be respected like that of any other innocent human being.

It is a scientific fact that the unborn are living human organisms. This is not a religious claim. It does not depend on the teaching of any church or spiritual leader. It is a matter of basic biology, and only deliberate self-deception could allow one to avoid this fact.

In case it’s not apparent from the text, the reason Jimmy says it’s not a religious issue is because one does not need to make any reference at all to religious teaching to make the case that innocent human life should be protected from the moment of conception.

It’s important to use this approach because people who are for abortion typically insist that the prohibition against it is a religious issue, and that people who do not adhere to that religion should not be subject to its moral precepts. I even know some Catholics who say this. You may have heard it before. “I wouldn’t do it, but I can’t force someone else to accept my religious beliefs.”

And while there are scores of official Church documents discussing abortion, this alone does not make it a religious issue. It is a secular issue on which Church teaching takes a position. From the beginning, the prohibition against abortion rested primarily on the commandment, “thou shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17). In fact, modern science has strengthened our case that human life begins at conception.  According to the National Library of Medicine:

Biologists from 1,058 academic institutions around the world assessed survey items on when a human’s life begins and, overall, 96% (5337 out of 5577) affirmed the fertilization view.

If you hear a Catholic say abortion is not a religious issue, it does not mean that this is an issue our religion has no opinion or teaching on. It’s not the thing to lead with when you are discussing the topic in a secular setting. Church teaching on abortion would come into play when you are discussing it with other Christians, but it has little value when discussing it with folks who do not recognize the Bible, Church history, or the Magisterium of the Catholic Church as authoritative.

The science is on our side. You can make the pro-life case without any reference to religion at all. That’s the point.