Does the church see the right to life as trumping all its other concerns? Technically speaking, yes. The most useful comparison may be with the church's anti-capital-punishment stance. The Pope has explicitly connected executions with abortion as part of the "culture of death."
But church teaching on abortion is "definitive": Catholics must obey it as an act of faith. Teaching on capital punishment is merely "authentic," meaning believers may bring reason to bear on the issue. The church's catechism calls abortion an absolute evil but hedges on the death penalty, quoting the Pope as saying cases necessitating it "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." And canon law includes a penalty of excommunication for abortion but none for aiding state-sanctioned executions.Unfortunately, John Kerry does not get it, as Time acknowledges by quoting a Vatican scholar who "senses 'an emerging impatience' among church leaders around the globe at U.S. Catholic politicians who cast their pro-choice votes without even the appearance of pain."
"You can tell when a politician is really wrestling with the issue," he says, citing Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, who voted first against and later for a ban on so-called partial-birth abortions. "With Kerry," he comments, "you just don't see that struggle."