The National Catholic Review

Vice-presidential debate moderator Martha Raddatz, who had gained an admirable reputation for her coverage of Iraq war, saved one of her best questions for last, a self-definition question that makes the candidate dig into his soul and come up with something both credible and politically prudent. Both men had presented themselves as Catholics and, we can presume, were selected as candidates to attract the Catholic vote. But, as many journalists have noticed, they represent two wings of the Catholic church. She asked, What role did your religion play in your personal views on abortion?

I had prepared for the debate by reading “On all our shoulders: A Catholic Call to Protect the Endangered Common Good,” a six page document signed by over 150 prominent Catholic scholars from universities all over the country, including many Jesuit schools, which explains the individualistic and anti-government philosophy of Ayn Rand, which Representative Paul Ryan has declared his own and which is contrary to Catholic moral teaching.

They list five principles of Catholic social teaching of which few citizens are aware. 1. The human person is social, not individual. 2. Government has an essential role in promoting the common good. 3. Subsidiarity means that government must act when local communities cannot solve their problems. 4. The “preferential option for the poor” demands both individual and collective action. 5. Economic forces — globalization, deregulation, attacks on unions — can threaten human dignity. I wish the participants had read this document.

Congressman Ryan began by describing his trip to the hospital to see the ultrasound picture of their firstborn child. That’s why he’s pro-life. He said Governor Romney would oppose abortion except for cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. (He did not mention that Romney had added “health of the mother,” which would have been a very big loop hole, but Romney may have subtracted that recently.) He then attacked the Obama administration for denying religious freedom to the Catholic Church and criticized Biden for not chiding the Chinese, during a visit there, for their one-child policy.

Here both Raddatz and Biden passed up the opportunity to ask whether Romney or Ryan would go to China and chastise them for their one-child policy.

Vice President Biden said that his religion defines who he is, and the church had formed his social justice doctrine. “The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can’t take care of themselves.” Meanwhile he accepts the church’s judgment that life begins at conception, but refuses to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews. He repeated the mantra of the “pro-choice” movements that women have an absolute right to control their own bodies.

Biden should have turned to the Democratic platform, which certainly backs the right to abortion but also makes the case that abortion is basically an economic problem. Women are more willing to bear a child when they know they have financial resources to care for it.

The position that grants absolute power to the mother to kill her child in the womb treats a child like property, to be discarded like a garment that has gone out of style. His or her future also belongs to the community, which has an obligation to welcome the child into its midst. At the same time, Biden (or Raddatz) should have asked Ryan, If abortion is outlawed what punishment should the law impose? If it is really “murder” those states with the death penalty, logically, could send either the mother or the abortionist to death row. I have yet to hear a Catholic spokesman spell out how the mother and doctor should be penalized.

One exception. Frank Canavan, S.J., a conservative political science professor at Fordham with whom I often disagreed, writing in the National Review, proposed a law that would deny financial payment to any doctor who performed an abortion. Doctors, he argued, are very attached to their fees. Few would perform that operation as an act of pure charity.

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.



Tim O'Leary | 10/16/2012 - 10:49am
Amy #24
It is very simplistic and totally misleading to say that the pro-lifers (female or only male?) are solely against abortion because they are against feminism. When it is the case, it is more the other way around - the problem with a strain of feminism is that it's central tenet is abortion!
Your argument is on par with saying the evangelical abolitionists of slavery were really only interested in bringing down the South’s agricultural system. Or that Abraham Lincoln only opposed slavery to get elected. Completely backwards, and you know it! You are demeaning the nobility of the cause for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

I for one would be all for supporting a pro-life women for President or any office, and, would gladly follow a women who showed a similar zeal for the unborn girls (and boys) that Martin Luther King, Jr. showed for civil rights of African Americans (and others). And I do support every non-legislative means to support women to bring their baby to term, as I know most pro-life men and women do.

The throwaway argument you make that both Biden and Ryan should refrain from communion (I don’t think you really believe that), captures the crux of the problem on this site regarding abortion. The moral equivalence is the essence of the duplicity. There is of course not a scintilla of evidence that Ryan would do anything that would harm the care of pregnant women. This is all a façade to keep the abortion-industrial complex in power.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 10/16/2012 - 9:32am
@Tim, I know a lot of people in the "pro-life" movement are women and not all of the people in the movement are there for the cheap thrills. Moreover, not all the people on the "pro-choice" side are there because they are indifferent to unborn children's lives. (Say what you like about the LCWR, but if you say they're "indifferent to children's lives," you'll just sound like a kook.)

As far as I can tell, both sides collude in permitting a million abortions a year. There are a lot of things that could be done that would dramatically decrease the incidence of abortion. But the left thinks the abortion issue is about sex (which they support), while the right thinks it's about feminism (which they oppose.) While the adults fight and vent and rage about their adult preoccupations, the unborn just keep getting thrown under the bus. That's why there are a million abortions a year.

For my money, neither side should be going to communion. If Biden refuses to consider legislative restrictions on abortion because he's afraid of offending his Hollywood donors, he should refrain. If Ryan refuses to support government spending to support unborn children and their mothers because he's afraid of offending the religious right, he should refrain too.

Pace Professor Aquinas, almost no phenomenon has one unique cause. Ordinarily, several conditions have to be met before a thing can happen. Abortion happens because both sides find it more convenient than some very obvious alternatives.
Marie Rehbein | 10/15/2012 - 11:13pm
So right, Amy #19.  The reason nothing sensible gets done is because the men like this issue for its political value.
Tim O'Leary | 10/15/2012 - 10:28pm
But Amy (19).
Don't you know that the majority of prolife activists are women? And the subset of women who have had a child are the most pro-life of all. Most men are pro-abortion. Violence as a method of solving obstacles is definitely more on the male side. It is men who accompany their girlfriends (soon to be ex-girlfriends) to the abortuary and even pay the killer. It is men who gain the most in their sex lives by the free license of abortion.

Note that all my witnesses in #10 above are women (I hope people clicked the links and didn't just avoid their powerful testimony). Am I to suppose that these women should not have been protected by law, that they are just acceptable casualties of sexual freedom? Shouldn't we at least protect anyone who is in the third trimester? Will any pro-choice politician support a law to stop 3rd trimester abortions? Even that?

I am all for economic and other support for pregnant women to carry their baby to term. Most prolife people are (note Birthright, Project Rachel, Feminists for Life, etc.).

I also agree that a legal protection for the unborn is still far off, and even if enacted, will only be successful at the margins. And this election will at best have only modest impact for the prolife movement. In the end, like slavery, this horror will only end when hearts and minds are changed. But, like slavery, the pro-choice position in our laws is a contradiction to our humanity. Laws against murder do not stop murder. But, we still need laws against murder.

Crystal #11
An abortionist is one who earns his/her living by doing abortions, not an occasional one for ''hard'' cases, but as a primary part of their practice. The Hippocratic oath abjures abortion and euthanasia. Doctors can be evil to. Dr. Mengele took it before he turned Nazi. Dr. Bernard Nathanson aborted thousands before he converted. You should read his testimony.

Michael Barberi | 10/15/2012 - 8:01pm
For once, I mostly agree with Tim O'Leary, and others who are commenting on Fr. Schroth's implicit and explicit conclusion that Ryan is far worse a Catholic than Biden when it comes to the social and ethical teachings of the Catholic Church. Both Biden and Ryan support abortion with circumstances, a reform I support, but Fr. Schroth completely ignores. Abortion with circumstances is not the Church's teachings, so why is one candidate "more Catholic" than the other?

Consider that Biden is pro-choice for others, but is pro-life with circumstances for himself. Biden also supports the continuation of Roe v. Wade, while Ryan is likely for over-turning it. 

The best argument for government reform is Tim's suggestion with expansion. The government should fund the cost of full health care coverage for pre-natal, delivery and post-natal care, as well as salary continuance for 6 weeks (if employed), unemployment benefits (for those unemployed) and welfare income benefits (for those on welfare) who decide to carry the fetus to term and give the child up for adoption. If there are adopton costs, the govenment should cover this as well. At least that would be a good first step in the right direction.

Overturning Roe v. Wade may not ocurr in the immediate future, making punitive consequences against physicians (license revocation or non-reimbursement for abortion services) wishful thinking.

Frankly, I think Biden disrespects the Catholic Church's social teachings more than Ryan. While Ryan's economic plan is not perfect, it is also not completely clear it is Romney's plan. Obama's economic plan will be more of the same failed policies. As Biden said (in paraphrase), the middle class have been buried for the past 4 years. Will someone tell Biden that his administration has been in charge for the past 4 years. 

The Catholic Church should put forth a responsible and realistic economic plan and not just criticism in abstraction. Offering guiding principles is a good thing but it is not good when such principles and conclusions about candidates are based on incomplete facts and misinformation. As Cardinal Ratzinger once said, a candidate is not defined by one issue because there are many important issues that define a candidate. There are few political candidates that completely agree with the Church teachings. Some are pro-life but are for same sex marriage. Some are pro-choice but are for more money for the poor. Some are pro-life (abortion with circumstances) but are for contraception but not a mandate, while others are pro-life and for a contraception mandate. Hence, the principle of proportionality must be exercised based on full knowledge of all issues. In the end, there are few right or wrong decisions when it comes to voting. 

What we need is a balanced and practical appraisal of each candidate's position. I don't believe the Church is doing that. When it comes to politics, many will see what they want to see in any debate or argument.

ron chandonia | 10/15/2012 - 6:09pm
Evidently the name Kermit Gosnell does not ring a bell for Crystal Watson.
Crystal Watson | 10/15/2012 - 4:32pm
 I'm tired of the characterization of doctors as the villains of abortion.  There is no such thing as an "abortionist" - no one goes to medical school to become one - there are just GPs and gynecologists who work in the area of women's reproductive heath, which includes pap smears and beast cancer checks and pre-natal care. The fact that some doctors at clinics that do provide abortions have been harrassed and even murdered would seem to show that they aren't just in it for the money.
Tim O'Leary | 10/15/2012 - 4:21pm
Fr. Schroth wrote a completely dishonest piece, worse than Biden for its duplicity. Biden is honest when he says he knows the Church teaches the humanity of the unborn from conception. He was also candid in that he will do nothing to protect them as he doesn't see protecting those types of humans as part of the government's role. They need to get a little older to meet the Democrat's subsidiarity/solidarity threshold.

Procuring an abortion carries an automatic excommunication for Catholics, and cannot at all be equated an adjustment of tax rates or sending certain entitlements to the states.

As regards the Chinese policy, it wasn't that Biden didn't criticize it. He said: “But as I was talking to some of your leaders, you share a similar concern here in China. You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand — I'm not second-guessing — of one child per family. The result being that you're in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.”
Listen to his use of the economic terms ''safety net'' and “sustainability,” as if the murder of millions for the sole reason they are females deserved the criticism that it was unsustainable. As I said before, the definition of a cynic is knowing the price of everything and the true value of nothing.
Crystal #8
Less than 1% of abortions are done for the health of the mother. Would you be willing to fine doctors who performed abortions on completely healthy women for the sole reason that the fetus was female? What an inversion of feminism!
Or what about the women survivors of abortion attempts on their lives? Here are three examples. Couldn’t we at least promise them full healthcare if they get past the abortionist’s scalpel? The Democrats wouldn’t even do that: Melissa Ohden’s story. Claire Culwell’s story. Gianna Jessen’s story.
Michael Barberi | 10/16/2012 - 8:33pm
The cause of most abortions in the U.S. is highly related to the number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies among non-married females. The cause of most unplanned pregnancies is the lack of contraception and the incorrect use of it. The choice to take a pregnancy to full term and give the child up to adoption versus direct abortion, is a personal and moral decision by the woman (and sometimes between the woman and the man). For Christians and Jews, the teaching is clear. Abortion for most Christian and Jewish religions is only allowed in the cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. The Catholic Church does not recognize abortion with circumstances. Hopefully that will eventually change.

This does not dismiss addressing the related issues of poverty, the stigma of illegitimacy, a fatherless household, hardship, the lack of faith and the Western liberal secular culture. 

As many have pointed out, we live in a pluraistic society where abortion is legal. Until the belief that life begins at conception is embraced by science, the non-religious, and socieity, and we continue to separate a "right to choose" from "the killing of an innocent person", then the law will continue to facilitate abortions.

Ryan likely favors appealing Roe v. Wade than Biden. Whether that will ever happen is anyone's guess. In the meantime, we can only hope that certain forms of abortion are made illegal (e.g., late term and for the sex of the child which is hard to prove) and make widely available generous govenment-funded pregnancy and adoption benefits. Ditto for contraception with exceptions for religious freedom. At least the number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies can be significantly reduced in our multi-religious, multi-cultural society.
Tom Maher | 10/16/2012 - 2:07am
Well the usual back and forth fails to see that abortion is in the process of being expanded.  This is not 1973 anymore.  Times have changed and a new push is on for abortion on demand - governemnt financing of abortions nationwide which will greatly increase the number of abortions.  Abortions will become routine and frequent. The abortion industry will expand and become a growth industry.  It is likely that abortion will become a part of health care in the United States which will make health insuranced and goverment health cost even more expensive. 

The growth of abortion is avoidable.. But as the article and comments show abortions are being intellectualized and rationized in marxist terms as a necessary way of assisting the poor and needy with the Democratic party leading the way for expansion of abortions by governement financing and new governemnt programs.

Catholics are not doing thier part in keeping government from financing abortions.  Ironically the overwhelming majority of Americans do not want abortions fianced by the governement.  Abortions should not be allowed to become another entitlement.. But elements in the Church make the simple task of saying no to abortions impossible by rationalizing that becasue people are poor or needy abortions should be provided to them. Fuzzy materialistic thinking by Catholic intellectuals make abortions a solution for poverty rather than see abortion as a morally objectionalbe and destructive action.  taking of life action that should not be expanded by goverenmnt financing.  Catholics are not alert to the immeadiate poltical moves being made to mpleement government sponsored abortion on demand.
David Smith | 10/16/2012 - 1:06am
This conversation has become dark and depressing.  Millions of killed children have disappeared under the rubble of political rhetoric.  And in a Catholic forum.  Something is badly broken in this church.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 10/15/2012 - 8:50pm
If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, abortion will remain legal for the foreseeable future in California and New York and several other states. It won't become impossible to procure one; it will simply be more expensive and inconvenient.

Millions of unborn children are being killed by friendly fire from the so-called "pro-life" movement. A very large component of the "pro-life" movement is determined to frame abortion as radical feminist brief-case-carrying baby-hating orc-women perpetrating mayhem on their progeny for the fun of it or at least out of un-Marian enthusiasm for professional ambition. This bizarre neurosis prevents them from supporting simple obvious expedients which could reduce abortion enormously even in the present legal situation.

The briefcase-carrying she-orcs don't really have many abortions; she-orcs know how to use birth control. Most abortions are performed on ordinary, working women who like babies, don't mind being pregnant and could easily be persuaded to have another child. Most of them have genuinely lousy jobs, which they hate. Offer them a modest child-support payment for the period during which the child is resident in utero and 90% of them will jump at the chance.

But as long as abortion is just some sick male political psycho-drama about pushing women around and putting them in handcuffs and locking them up in jail and intimidating them into terrible marriages to, who knows what, punish them for having sex? show them who's boss? avenge yourself on the girl who got into Princeton instead of you? As long as that's what it is, the "pro-life" movement is just as hypocritical as Joe Biden.

Crystal Watson | 10/15/2012 - 7:37pm

No that is not what I believe.  I'm not sure when a fetus becomes a "person" but I'm not for abortion, I wouldn't ever have one myself.  But I think crinminalizing it will only cause more problems than it will solve.
Crystal Watson | 10/15/2012 - 7:34pm
I just think that demonizing doctors does nothing but stoke hatred that sometimes leads to violence.
Crystal Watson | 10/15/2012 - 6:50pm
No, I hadn't heard of him.  I would guess he's not typical of most doctors.
CM | 10/15/2012 - 2:16pm
Just as a response to JR Cosgrove's point above: Fr. Canavan passed away in 2009, and was, in point of fact, a contributor to "America," where he served as an Associate Editor during the 1960s.
David Smith | 10/15/2012 - 7:28pm
Crystal, would it be correct to say that you believe that until the umbilical cord is cut, no person exists?
6466379 | 10/15/2012 - 5:25pm
Yes, Mr. Vice President, your religion (Catholic) does define who you are, not really. Either you are  catechetically flawed (culpably I think as you are in a position to uncover Catholic teaching easily) but choose instead to live in the comfort zone of amorality. Or you are a fallen-away Catholic, a "Cafeteria Catholic" picking and choosing what you believe, motivated by political experiency, not deeply imbued with Catholic Faith to the marrow of your soul. You are definitely not "totus catholicus."  The simple truth Joe!
Amy Ho-Ohn | 10/15/2012 - 3:06pm
(Elected to the papacy by a conclave doesn't count, BTW.)
james belna | 10/15/2012 - 3:47pm
As Congressman Ryan pointed out in the debate, Vice President Biden did not merely fail to chide China - he actually went to China and said that he sympathized and wouldn't second guess their one-child policy of forced abortions and sterilizations.
J Cosgrove | 10/15/2012 - 2:30pm

Thank you very much.  I didn't know that.
Crystal Watson | 10/15/2012 - 3:24pm
Many abortions are performed for the health of the mother. To assume doctors would allow a woman to die rather than do a procedire that would save her because they wouldn't be paid is pretty cynical.
Tom Maher | 10/15/2012 - 2:03pm
Father Scroth's view that he projects onto journalist that Biden and Ryan represent two  wings of the Catholic Church is false and misleading.  Father Scroth attempts to give Joe Biden's expressed politcal views on abortion legitimacy and parity in the Catholic Church are false. Joe Biden's acceptance of abortion as a legal right that should be allowed to encuraged to expand.  

For very obvious political reasons Joe Biden as the Democratic party VP nominee showed himself to be a completely loyal Democrat on the subject of abortion. A majority of the Democratic party base has been solidly pro-abortion for years,  But this year in the 2010 Democratic Party Platform the Democratic party went on record for  the expansion of number or abortions by calling for the first time goverenment funding of abortions to anyone who could not affort an abortion..  In other words the mosr radical abortion proposal of abortion on demand.   Now for the first time reflecting the political composition of the Democratic party, the democratic party calls for taxpayer financing of abortion on demand.  As a loyal Democrat and VP nominee Joe Biden supports this radical expansion of the number and frequency of abortions under the guies as another governemnt programs for the poor and needy.  But this is a false way to serve the poor and the needy.  And it is not Catholic.   

But Father Schoth analysis fails to mention Joe Biden also deliveing a very significant pro-abortion political message in response to the question on abortion.  Biden warned the audience that a Romney adminstration would appoint Supreme Court Justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade,  the Supreme Court decision that makes abortions legal nationwide.  Biden stated a Obama adminstration would not appoint appoint Supreme Court Justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.  Biden actively protected the Obama admistrations as protector of the statue quo on abortion.

If Roe v. Wade was overturned the legal  decision on abortions would be returned to the states where some states would make abortions legal and some states would not. Prohibiting abortions is easily enforced by temporary or permanent revolkiing of a doctor.s liscense or the liscese(s) of other participating medical professional.  of course performing an abortion without a valid liscense is currently a criminal act in most states as well as a very bad idea morally and otherwise. 
Amy Ho-Ohn | 10/15/2012 - 3:05pm
Why do people keep expecting politicians to have something spiritually profound to say? Is it related to the way people keep being shocked when politicians turn out not to be good "role models" for youth?

Politics is the art of getting elected. When you ask a politician about his faith, he tells you what his handlers told him will help him get elected. It's not going to be inspiring.

Are there any saints who were politicians? I don't mean Thomas More, I mean any saint who ever ran for office and got elected?
J Cosgrove | 10/15/2012 - 1:32pm
It sounds like America should recruit Fr. Canavan, S.J. to be an authore here.
Marie Rehbein | 10/15/2012 - 12:42pm
The Chinese government has no problem with intruding into the wombs of women, just like the anti-abortion people would like the US government to do, though for the opposite purpose.  China should not be chided for their one child policy; it should be chided for not respecting the right to privacy of it's female population.  The only government policy pertaining to reproduction is hands off no matter what country it is.