Father Eric J. Banecker

Politicians of both political parties have taken a lot of heat in recent months. And to be fair, much of it is justified. But in our hyper-partisan era, even a shred of independence and willingness to stand up for principles should be commended and recognized.

For that reason, we should all offer a word of admiration to Rep. Henry Cueller, a Democratic Congressman from Texas’ 26th Congressional district.

We all know what it’s like to do what is right even when it’s hard. We know it because most of us have probably failed at it many times. So, we can imagine the challenge of being the only member of one’s party to vote against a piece of legislation touted by party leadership and powerful lobbying groups.

Of course, Mr. Cueller is a politician, and good politicians are able to calculate whether their constituents will reward or punish certain decisions. No doubt such a calculation took place here, in a Congressional district where 79% of the residents are Hispanic, probably with many Catholics who respect the right to life.

And yet, the weight of momentum is real. We cannot deny the sad fact that pro-life Democrats have become a rare breed in the United States today. Or, we should say they’ve become a rare breed in national offices. Significant numbers of registered Democrats describe themselves as pro-life every year.

Yet the voices of these “Casey Democrats” (so named because of the great Pennsylvania governor) seem frequently drowned out in their own party, where faithful Catholic Democrats like Rep. Daniel Lipinski have lost reelection not to Republicans, but to pro-choice Democrats.

And yet, the lone pro-life vote from Rep. Cueller reminds us that these trends are not inevitable. It reminds us that the choice between giving assistance to pregnant women and banning abortion is not a false dichotomy. In fact, they mutually demand each other.

Many people say that abortion cannot be outlawed until we have a more robust social safety net. But what if easy access to abortion has become our excuse for not providing stronger economic support for pregnant mothers and families? What if we’ve unknowingly structured our whole society around the idea that only the wealthy are allowed to support several children in a dignified way?

Surely, there must be a better option for poor families than Planned Parenthood.

Many say that Republicans often give lip service to the pro-life cause without really doing much other than appointing judges thought to be sympathetic to the cause. This is undoubtedly true, and many policies generally pursued by right-leaning politicians contribute to our culture which devalues respect for human life, from the failure to promote sensible limitations on firearms to a misguided denigration of people from other countries.

It is precisely for this reason that there need to be more Democrats like Rep. Henry Cueller. It is not an exaggeration to say that the continued existence of our republic demands that well-formed Catholics from all parties act in public life in accord with their conscience.

For this reason, at least on this vote, we should offer three cheers for Henry Cueller.

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Father Eric J. Banecker is pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish, Philadelphia.