The Catholic hierarchy has promoted the view that taxpayers should not be placed in a position of funding abortions, which many of them find morally objectionable. This policy now seems well on its way to becoming law. Taking note that the Church is equally opposed to the death penalty, it may be time to ask what the further implications might be if the above principle becomes established in law. One could just as well argue that those who oppose capital punishment should not have to support it with their taxes. We are dealing with state-sanctioned deprivation of human life either way.
How might this be implemented? One could create a check-off box on the tax form similar to the scheme used to fund Presidential elections. At the moment, public opinion appears to be roughly split between proponents and opponents of capital punishment, with the trend going increasingly against state-sanctioned killing. An even smaller percentage would voluntarily tax themselves to further the cause of capital punishment. With fewer people contributing over time, the amount having to be asked of each contributor would go up. This drives even more people into bystander status. Eventually, capital punishment would likely end up as one of those 'unfunded mandates.' It would then become increasingly rare in application, and eventually its very rarity would be seen as intrinsically unfair.
There is something refreshingly democratic about all this. Here is a way in which both the majority position and the minority position could see its interests served. The actual policy would be sensitive to shifts in public opinion. It would be respectful of deeply help moral values among the electorate. The focus of the policy is on individual morality here rather than on the issue of civil rights of the criminal and of the unborn. The Supreme Court could still, at any time, find that capital punishment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in the modern world. Indeed, civil liberties should not be left to popular mandate. Right now our Bill of Rights probably could not pass on a popular vote. We must rely on the Constitution and the courts to provide a bulwark against overweening state power, even when it is expressly supported by the majority.
In addition to its "pro-life' position on abortion and capital punishment, the Church also has an elaborately constructed theory of just war. Such a war must be defensive in character, it must be proportionate as to means, and it must satisfy a number of other criteria. In the spirit of the above, our society might accommodate the breadth of moral fervor on the issue of war by making the war tax discretionary for all undeclared wars. It should not be difficult to gain societal approval for any war that is truly defensive in character, and is responsive to a clear threat to the society. So giving citizens the opt-out privilege should not be a barrier to securing public safety in extremis. Then if war aims were to escalate, citizens would have a continuing role in approving or disapproving what is being done in their name.
In the absence of an opt-out provision, every citizen and taxpayer shares collective guilt when it comes to war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the government in our name. With an opt-out provision, on the other hand, the question of involvement in war crimes is laid individually on every conscience in the land. That would indeed be a salutary step forward. Once the door is opened to the possibility of opting out on divisive moral issues in our society, one would expect to see the principle applied equitably across the board. It is not clear that the Church is prepared to do that. An opt-out provision should also be accompanied by an opt-in provision, and that should hold for the abortion issue as well.
When it is observed that more than one-third of all American women of child-bearing age will have had an abortion by the age of 45, then abortion cannot be treated as an issue at the margins of society. Most commonly, an abortion affects two families rather than just one, and in many cases three. So abortion is a live issue with the majority of families in America at one point or another. Unwanted pregnancies are surely a much greater issue in lower socioeconomic groups, and among the young. Both of these categories are more likely to depend on the resources of the State ongoingly. Their options with regard to abortion should not be economically constrained. For many who see things this way, the public funding of abortion is the moral choice. For them, and that includes me, the case for an opt-in provision to fund abortions publicly is just as compelling as the case for an opt-out provision is for the Church.