Thursday, October 30, 2008

Abortion and the 527s

In 2004, a grassroots organization in Ohio called “Catholics for Kerry” asked the campaign to send a surrogate to one of their events. They were told, “We don’t do white churches.” Turns out, if you “don’t do white churches” you also don’t get to do the White House.

This year, you don’t have to ask twice if you are a religiously motivated voter and you want some attention from the Democrats. Several groups have sprung up to articulate and amplify those parts of Catholic social teaching that correspond with more progressive policies and they are taking to the airwaves to promote their message.

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has been busy all election season, hosting conference calls with reporters, preparing voter guides and now running a campaign that includes billboards, print ads and most importantly an extensive radio campaign. For samples, click here. As you can guess from the group’s name, the ads focus on the need to replace the social Darwinism that has reigned in America lo these many years since Reaganomics first began its idolatry of the free market with social policies that bring people together. Solidarity, not competition, is the theme and it could scarcely be more resonant as the nation comes to grips with the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression. The ad campaign is running in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri.

The group Faith in Public Life is mounting a ten-state ad campaign on Christian radio stations. The ad states: “We need to ask ourselves what it really means to be pro-life and help move the conversation beyond bumper sticker slogans…It's time for Democrats and Republicans to come together around solutions based on results, not rhetoric. Please learn more by visiting” The website includes statements from a host of religious leaders about the need to find some common ground on abortion. has been busy on the airwaves also. This group is the brainchild of Mara Vanderslice, who won the hearts of many religiously motivated Democrats in 2004 when she cheerfully served in the often thankless job of religious outreach director for the Kerry campaign. They are more explicitly partisan – they have endorsed Obama - and they have been running ads for a couple of months on Christian radio, highlighting Obama’s faith as much as his policy positions, making him familiar to a largely evangelical audience.

Voices from the right have been busy as well. “Catholic Answers” is distributing voter guides again this year. Randall Terry, the pro-life activist, has issued a document called “Faithful Catholic Citizenship” that reflects what he calls “the authentic magisterium,” a not so subtle jab at the U.S. Bishops’ document “Faithful Citizenship.” He also has issued “An appeal to Catholic priests” – but viewer discretion is advised. In the video Terry stands before an altar and displays an aborted fetus, which struck this viewer as tasteless, turning a tragedy into a prop.

I am no believer in averting our gaze from the horror of abortion, but the issue between Catholics in Alliance and Randall Terry is not whether abortion is good or bad but how we can best approach the issue. Some were moved when they watched “Silent Scream” and others were repulsed, but in a democracy the key is to convince and to do so in a way that respects the views of those with whom we disagree. My friends on the Left and my friends on the Right disagree about how to advance the pro-life cause but both groups should enjoy the presumption of good faith in their earnestness to prevent abortion.

Michael Sean Winters


Unknown said...

I have not read all of Michael Sean Winters' columns so I might have missed it. Has he given his opinion about whether he will be repulsed if Obama re-instates the Freedom of Choice Act. Has he given his opinion whether he at least supports and advocates for overturning Roe so that states can start to put some democratically initiated restrictions on abortion.

Will Winters' be disapointed if Obama re-instates the Freedom of Choice act and if he appoints young judges who solidly re-affirm Roe?

gramps said...

It is amazing to me to see someone come out and say that we should find common ground between a grave evil when it applies to the life of a person someone wants to kill and those wanting to save it. Where is the common ground for the infant? Once we agree that the life must be saved, then common ground can be discussed on how to help the mother by first avoiding that which caused the pregnancy outside of marriage, poverty, and many other issues. However, if one said says no, the baby must die and common ground starts there, who can find any talking points. Roe vs. Wade put the stake in the ground on the death of the baby and thus common understanding and any possible discussion is lost until reversed and the baby is saved.

Jim Belna said...

Michael Sean, here is a pop quiz for you. Let's imagine that we take your advice and have a good faith, respectful national discussion on abortion. Let's further imagine that we manage to convince 99% of the people in this country that unlimited abortion on demand is wrong, and that there should be significant limits on how and when women can have abortions. Under an Obama Presidency, what abortion-limiting measures can we democratically enact into law?

None, of course, because under Roe v. Wade it is unconstitutional to pass any laws that place any meaningful restrictions on the right to abortion on demand. Obama has promised that the first thing he will do is sign the ''Freedom of Choice Act'', which will guarantee an unlimited right to abortion on demand. He will also only appoint Supreme Court justices who are committed to preserving Roe at all costs. Good faith and earnest dialogue are meaningless when the people are deprived of their right to make laws to protect innocent human life. One presidential candidate is committed to preserving this judicial tyranny, and one would set us free.

Michael Sean, I'm sorry you flunked the quiz. Why don't you do a little homework before you blog on this subject again?

Michael Bindner said...

Jim, it is actually Doe v. Bolton which disallows restrictions - although it would be avoided in the face of national legislation recognizing fetal civil rights at some stage or another in pregnancy.

Joseph, FOCA cannot be reinstated, as it was never law. In fact, it is unlikely to ever pass the House. Too many Democrats are centrists on life issues and FOCA is too far to the left.

Gramps, the issue is not the great evil of abortion, but the proposals to end it. So far the pro-life position is pretty vacuous. It is not up to the Democrats to justify what is already the law. In a debate about changing law, it is up to the proponents of change to actually propose something. My soul is not in danger for not supporting legislation WHICH IS NOT ON THE TABLE!

djr said...

It would be interesting to know whether those who oppose Michael Sean Winters' views would be voting for Obama or McCain if the abortion issue were off the table. I, for my part, would vote for Obama because I think he is at least close to correct on everything else, whereas McCain is either wrong or holds the same mistaken view (e.g., capital punishment). If McCain were not wrong on everything else, I might consider voting for him because of his position on abortion, except that his position on abortion and the virtually certain likelihood of his effects on abortion in America are extremely divergent. At this point, presidential appointments to the Supreme Court seem unlikely to have a significant effect on Roe v. Wade. Even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it will remain possible for very many people to have abortions -- in particular, for the people with enough money to travel to states that permit abortion, who are the people for whom abortion is even less justifiable than it is for the poor. Meanwhile, McCain will do nothing to address the problems that drive many people to abortion.

It is important to be clear that a vote for Obama does not imply an approval of his position on abortion or the view that he can end abortion without making it illegal. Conservative Catholics have presented the pro-Obama Catholic position as though it entails those views, but it does not. I, for one, believe that abortion is wrong and that so long as it remains legal, no amount of affluence will eradicate it. But I also believe that it will do no good to vote for a presidential candidate who will do damage to virtually every other area of the government without doing much to decrease the real number of abortions in this country. Ironically, I doubt very much that the Catholic debates about this election stem from an obsession with a single issue; it seems far more likely that the people who find a vote for Obama absolutely unthinkable also oppose him on a number of other grounds, but simply talk less about it.

The real hope for the pro-life cause in this country lies with those of us who will try our best to break the obvious connection between the Democratic party and the pro-choice position. Even a Republican should believe that, because so long as a candidate's position on abortion is virtually dictated by his party membership in a two-party system in which neither party can sustain much of a majority for very long, there will be no movement beyond the status quo.

Unknown said...

Are you appalled that BO is a co-sponsore of the FOCA?
How is he trying to reduce abortion by consponsoring this legislation?

Michael Bindner said...


FPO is not going to pass. There are too many Catholic Democrats in the House who will make sure it dies. His support for FPO was a way to cement his ties with the Hillary vote. Granted, it is hypocracy - but no more so than Sarah Palin making abortion an issue in the Wassila city council race.

Michael Bindner said...


Overall affluence may not affect the abortion rate - but targeting more funds to families with children through the tax system just might. Obama may not do this - but McCain surely won't - making a vote for McCain a non-started for Catholics who believe in Catholic social policy.

Further, if McCain had a Republican Congress, he would surely maintain lifetime limits in Temporary Aid to Needy Families, which is likely an incentive for abortion (much more so than allowing Partial Birth Abortion).

As you say - life is not really the issue keeping some Catholics from voting for Obama - and they should look into their hearts as some of them should be ashamed.