Friday, September 12, 2008

Abortion and Obama's "Catholic Problem": Another perspective

In his September 11, 2008 "State of the Campaign" post, Michael Sean Winters focused on Sen. Obama's "Catholic Problem" and noted that "[b]oth parties have certain difficulties they must overcome if they are to meet with success in Catholic precincts." This is, without question, true. What he said next, though, is not - or, so reasonable and faithful Catholics could easily conclude.

Michael wrote: "The GOP has become the party of social Darwinism, their economic policies are about the survival of the fittest, and they never speak about the common good except when invoking a vague, and militaristic, brand of patriotism." Suffice it to say that many who are every bit as formed by Catholic Social Teaching and every bit as committed to the common good as Michael is will reasonably find this charge quite unfair. There is plenty in the Church's social-justice teachings to challenge both parties on matters relating to the economic order and the common good.

As for the claim that "[t]he Democrats are better than the GOP on social justice issues the church champions" - well, yes and no. To mention just one example, what about school choice? On few policy questions is Church teaching so clear: Parents have, as a matter of social justice and religious freedom, a meaningful right to send their children to a religious school. The Republicans tend to support school choice; Sen. Obama - like the teacher-unions who exercise so much power in the Democratic Party - opposes it.

Michael also wrote that the Republicans "remain the 'pro-life' party but increasingly, many pro-life voters, especially younger pro-life voters, are questioning the value of carrying the GOP's water: 35 years after Roe, what exactly does the pro-life movement have to show for its affiliation with the Republicans?"

A lot, actually. Here, the facts are stubborn. Since Roe, the Democratic Party has stood - unwaveringly, without compromise - against even the mildest regulations of the abortion license, has made the preservation of Roe's anti-democratic power-grab one of its highest priorities, and has made it clear that not only should abortion-rights be protected, they should also be funded with public monies, both here and abroad. The Republicans, on the other hand, have fought for (and won) limitations on public funding of abortions, the confirmation of Justices willing to reconsider Roe, and reasonable restrictions on abortion (like the ban on Partial Birth Abortion, parental-notice laws, 24-hour waiting periods). The "Republicans have been all talk and no action on abortion" claim is, demonstrably, false. There are hundreds of pro-life executive orders, regulations, statutes, and other actions that have been taken by Republicans, and resisted by Democrats.

Many pro-life Democrats are working to pursue policies aimed at reducing the number of abortions, even within the Roe regime. This work is commendable; pro-life Republicans should join it. (One wishes, though, that Sen. Obama would join these efforts by signing onto the Pregnant Women Support Act. So far, he has not.) But Michael's claim that Sen. Obama's approach and positions represent a departure, in the right direction, for Democrats is extremely hard to sustain.

Readers should look up, and read carefully, the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, the passage of which Sen. Obama has pledged will be among his highest priorities. This law will sweep away all pro-life legislation and other regulations of abortion, require public funding of abortion, and remove legal protections for the conscience-rights and religious-freedom of health-care providers and facilities that object to abortion. Its passage would be a breathtaking set-back for the pro-life cause, one that could not be excused by Sen. Obama's promise of more support to pregnant women.

A few days ago, on September 2, Cardinal George reminded Chicago Catholics that "one cannot favor the legal status quo on abortion and also be working for the common good." He also reminded us all that "our present laws permit unborn children to be privately killed. Laws that place unborn children outside the protection of law destroy both the children killed and the common good, which is the controlling principle of Catholic social teaching." "The unborn child," he emphasized, "who is alive and is a member of the human family, cannot defend himself or herself. Good law defends the defenseless."

Sen. Obama not only supports, but is enthusiastically and entirely committed to protecting, our "present laws" - that is, the laws that "permit unborn children to be privately killed." No doubt he would prefer that fewer abortions take place. Still, on the basic point addressed by Cardinal George, Obama's position is clear: Unborn children ought not to be protected by law; the choice for abortion ought to be legally protected; judges who would revisit Roe ought not to be confirmed.

So, back to the "Catholic problem": Catholics can, and should, find plenty in Republican positions and policies to criticize. When it comes to the fundamental human rights issue of our time, though, it should be a "problem"
not just for Catholics, but for all of us, that the Democrats remain so badly misguided.

Rick Garnett


Douglas Johnson said...

In terms of substantive policy committments, Senator Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion agenda of anyone ever to be nominated to national office by a major party. His policy commitments, if implemented, would certainly substantially increase the number of abortions performed in the U.S.

As indicated, Obama is a cosponsor of the "Freedom of Choice Act," a bill that would make partial-birth abortion legal again, require tax-funded abortion on demand, and invalidate virtually all state and federal limits on abortion, including parental notification laws. In 2007, Obama told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing I'd do."

In the Illinois state Senate in 2001-2003, Obama even opposed and ultimately killed legislation to provide protection for babies who are born alive during abortions -- and he has been making demonstrably false claims about the bill ever since, which have been throughly rebutted in an extensively documented White Paper released by National Right to Life on August 28, 2008, which can be read or downloaded here:
The bill that Obama killed was virtually identical to a bill that passed Congress without a single dissenting vote in 2002. When we released recently uncovered documents to prove that this was so, Obama himself said that we were "lying." After an investigation, Annenberg's independent concluded: "Obama's claim is wrong . . . The documents from NRLC support the group's claims that Obama is misrepresenting the contents of SB 1082 [the 2003 Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act]."

Obama's recent talk about "abortion reduction" is merely political pixie dust. Consider: one policy that both sides agree actually has substantially reduced the number of abortions performed in the United States was the cutoff of Medicaid funding for abortion on demand. There are various empirical studies that demonstrate that many children have been born, who would otherwise have been aborted, because Medicaid funding of abortion has been denied by the federal Hyde Amendment, and by the comparable policies in effect in the majority of states. By the most conservative estimate, the federal Hyde Amendment alone has saved over one million lives since it was first enacted in 1976. Both sides agree that this has occurred -- indeed, the pro-abortion side cites these studies in urging Congress and state legislatures to repeal these pro-life policies, while pro-life groups see this as a success story. So then, here is a proven "abortion reduction" policy, so is Obama for it? No, he is not -- he advocates repeal of the Hyde Amendment. Moreover, in 2007 Obama gave a speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in which he promised abortion would be covered in his national health care plan, which means that everybody would be required to pay for elective abortion through taxes, mandatory premiums, or both. In addition, the "Freedom of Choice Act" provides that "A government may not . . . discriminate against" abortion "in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information," which is hardly a law that will foster "abortion reduction."

Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee
Washington, D.C.
Legfederal // at // aol - dot - com

Bill Collier said...

A very good analysis.

Just a couple of points. I find both parties woefully lacking in serious commitment to the goal of reducing the number of abortions. Senator McCain has not signed on to the Pregnant Women Support Act either. If he were to do so, he would undercut the perception among many non-Republicans that the party is pro-life from conception to birth only, and that its only abortion focus is to overturn Roe.
Senator McCain, like Senator Obama, is also, unfortunately, in favor of federal funding for destructive embryonic stem cell research. I find Senator McCain's positions on abortion and destructive ESC research illogical and incompatible.

Despite some carefully tailored language from the Democrats in their platform about alternatives to abortion, and some very generalized comments about abortion by Senator Obama that were designed to mollify some Democrats uneasy with the party's near stranglehold on even discussing abortion in party power circles, I agree that President Obama would almost certainly push through some of the most pro-choice legislation in U.S. history, to the wild cheers of organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood. His failure to show political courage pre-election, by speaking up loudly in support of the PWSA, is, to my mind, a strong indicator of the pro-choice policies that will be a pillar of an Obama administration.

Both parties, IMO, are greatly deficient on the related issues of abortion and destructive ESC research. Would that there were a viable third alternative.