“Ask a Priest: Am I Wrong to Boycott Starbucks for Its Support of Planned Parenthood?”

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Q: My girlfriend and I do not agree on supporting companies that support Planned Parenthood. She loves Starbucks, but they support Planned Parenthood. I myself said, “No more coffee from there,” but she got upset with me and said it’s not fair. How can I explain that supporting a company that is doing evil [is wrong]? I believe we should boycott such companies. My girlfriend is not Catholic but believes abortion is bad. I told her that her words say one thing but her actions say another. Should I just let her continue to buy Starbucks and not cause a fight? Or should I enforce a boycott and have a fight? –N.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your question is timely, given the news about Planned Parenthood’s sale of body parts from aborted babies. This latest revelation shows how deeply the world is mired in a culture of death.

The query touches on what is known as material cooperation in evil. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for any of us to avoid this kind of cooperation completely.

For instance, the sales tax you pay on a fast-food hamburger goes to a municipality that uses part of that money to fund its police force. The police provide protection in a community that enables businesses to function. One of those businesses might be an abortion clinic. In one sense your tax money is enabling that clinic to function. But you aren’t responsible for the abortions done there; first, because your financial contribution is so tiny, and second, because it is not your intention to support the clinic.

Now, similar factors can be taken into account with Starbucks. It is unlikely that much of the money your girlfriend spends on a cup of coffee is making its way to Planned Parenthood. It might be a fraction of a cent on every cup. If her intention is not to support abortion, then her material cooperation in evil in this case is extremely remote. In this sense it might be unfair to say that she is being hypocritical for patronizing Starbucks.

There is, however, nothing wrong with your boycotting Starbucks as a way of signaling your opposition to abortion. Here it is a matter of perspective. You see the boycott as a legitimate way to show pro-life beliefs. Your girlfriend, in this case, doesn’t see a boycott in the same light. I think both of you have legitimate grounds for your decisions. So it might not be good for either of you to try to force the other to conform to the other point of view.

Other points are worth considering. There might be other products that you use that are made by companies that support abortion. Such companies include software firms and apparel makers. To try to boycott all of them would probably be impractical. Yet, that shouldn’t dissuade you from trying to do something.

Perhaps this a good moment to talk with your girlfriend about the long term. The fact that she is against abortion is a good sign. Now might be the time to talk about the vision that both of you have. If you foresee a possible marriage, then what kind of home would you want? How will you live your values in an increasingly secularized world? How will your differences in religion affect your decisions?

If you want to be strong pro-lifers, how will that be expressed in daily life? Will you look for alternatives to pro-abortion companies? Are you willing to write to companies to dissuade them from supporting abortion? Are you willing to do without certain products if need be? These are all worth discussing.

If both of you are pro-life, why not do something together that is more substantial in promoting that cause than simply boycotting Starbucks? Why not go and pray the rosary at an abortion clinic, or volunteer to help at a pregnancy center? Why not make a holy hour together for an end to abortion?

(For more reading on material cooperation in evil, see the National Catholic Bioethics Center article.)

In the meantime try to maintain your own Catholic faith well. Keep up a good prayer life and sacramental life. Pray for your girlfriend. Stay close to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And think about getting involved in some kind of pro-life work.

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