John F. Kavanaugh
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I am writing this open letter to you, Senator, on the outside chance that one of your National Catholic Advisory Council members might read America and pass it on to you.

You have an abortion problem, especially with pro-life Catholics who would like to vote for you—something to keep in mind when you ponder the fact that there has been up to a 15 percent rise in Catholics voting Republican in the past two elections.

Catholic voters do not think monolithically. That should come as no surprise to you, since you have many Senate colleagues with a Catholic background who have supported every bill insuring a “woman’s right to choose.” But if you are interested in the respectful hearing of opposing positions, as you often note, it will be valuable for you to have serious conversations with groups like Democrats for Life of America and Feminists for Life.

There are some Catholics who will vote for you, hoping that your programs may do more for the unborn than rhetoric or a promise by Supreme Court nominees who would just return the decision to the states. They will vote for you, not because of your position on abortion, but despite it, realizing that your approach to wars of choice, capital punishment, hunger, homelessness, health care and refugees might better serve the lives of “the least” of our brothers and sisters.

There are some Catholics who will vote for you because your liberal agenda appeals to them and they refuse to vote for any Republican. There are other Catholics who will never vote for you—a few because of the abortion issue alone, but many more because they are irreversibly Republican and distrust all Democratic policies. As one prominent pro-life Republican put it, he would have voted “holding his nose” for the pro-choice Rudolph W. Giuliani because of Giuliani’s other Republican positions.

There is a third group who are truly undecided or are tending away from you because they think you not only defend partial-birth abortion but also are against lifesaving therapy for newborns surviving an abortion attempt. You are going to be hit with ads about your vote in the Illinois State Legislature against the Induced Infant Liability Act.

I know you have tried to explain this in your Relevant magazine interview, but you seemed evasive. Can you just simply affirm your conviction that any newborn, even after an abortion attempt, should be given effective life-sustaining treatment? Perhaps your seeming ambivalence is related to your position on late-term abortions and partial-birth abortions. Second- and third-trimester abortions comprise a small percentage of all abortions, but they are horrific. Anybody who thinks not, does not think. But even your gentle qualification of the mental health exception was met with a storm of protest from the National Abortion Rights Action League, and you seemed to wilt.

I know you do not want to criminalize abortion, that you think it is a profound moral issue and that you think a father’s responsibility continues after conception, as you said on Father’s Day this year. I know also that you think our young ones should be taught more about the seriousness and sacredness of sexuality. But more is required if you are to reach the group of Catholics (and other Christians) I have been talking about. Here are three suggestions:

1. Support the Rev. Jim Wallis’s “abortion-reduction agenda,” with its economic support for pregnant women and greater access to adoption as part of the Democratic platform.

2. If you are interested in diversity and mutual respect, give a place at the Democratic convention for Democrats for Life to show you are unafraid of difference and debate.

3. Engage the arguments and evidence offered in opposition to second- and third-trimester abortions. You may find that the position of most American men and women is quite different from Naral’s. The earlier stages of embryonic and fetal development are more contested. But even your Republican opponent supports embryonic stem cell research. Ask him, and all the Catholics who will vote for him, how this fits into their professed commitments.

Perhaps you owe some courageous people like Douglas Kmiec a bit of reciprocation. Kmiec, a pro-life Catholic law professor who served in the Reagan and Bush administrations, announced his support of you because of your approach to war, poverty and immigration. Because of this stand, he has been denied Communion at least once. Are you willing to risk excommunication from the church of Naral for a principled position on abortion?

Maybe they will call you that terrible name “flip-flopper.” But remember this: anyone who refuses to change a judgment in the face of irrefutable data is either a fool or a toady. And you, clearly, are neither. As I see you move more and more to the middle in matters of the economy and the war in Afghanistan, I wait. Will you move a bit to the middle on this matter of abortion?

A vociferous cadre in the Democratic Party has for too long wielded a dogmatic veto over any discussion of limiting abortions. With your commitment to reasoned, evidence-based and respectful discourse, are you able to challenge your party to welcome pro-life Catholics into its supposed big tent?

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Comments

Mary Hamilton | 3/19/2009 - 5:00pm
With restrictions on overseas funding for abortion removed might an approach preventing U.S. funds being given to a country which legislates the number of children a woman may have or requires sterilization or abortion after a government specified number of pregnancies The clause removed is called the Mexico city clause, I believe.
Sues Krebs | 11/25/2008 - 8:41am
Do we go back to an era where desperate women died because of botched proceedures and self-attempted solutions? These women still exist. Mothers who feel abandoned by their families and friends because they showed up expecting and weren't married. You're not going to remove the way illegimate children are treated with the wave of a hand. And what about women who have had their dignities assaulted(winding up pregnant because someone violated their right to self determination). Are they suppose to suffer twice for abuse? I am not saying it's a perfect solution but what about them? Do you know how mothers suffer when their bodies naturally abort the fetus. Or when it dies before birth begins in the mother's womb do to some genetic factor? What about the child that lives one week after birth and then dies! Is that any less painful for the mother or parents?
Bridget | 11/6/2008 - 6:44pm
To comment 2 - Are you saying the church does nothing to reduce abortions? Secondly, the limitations currently in place are in grave jeapordy including the unthinkable partial birth abortions.
MICHAEL LYDON | 10/2/2008 - 4:21pm
Fr. Kavanaugh correctly identifies Obama's "abortion problem." He rightly challenges Obama with the question: "Are you willing to risk excommunication from the church of Naral for a principled position on abortion?" But he does challenge Obama's sponsorship of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) which Obama apparently promised to sign into at his earliest opportunity? FOCA will federally obliterate many federal safeguards and state qualifications that currently regulate our extremely permissive abortion law. It may even dictate that Catholic hospital personnel must perform abortion on demand or lose federal funding. Obama could probably gain many Catholic and Evangelical votes, including this writer's, if he would only drop his sponsorship of FOCA, thereby showing some moderation of his pro-abortion agenda.
DE Mosman | 9/24/2008 - 10:39am
It is demonstrable that the more government does in the arena of help for the underpriviliged -- the worse their lot in life becomes. Abortions up; births out of wedlock up; single parent families up and off the scale with respect to Afri-American families. Jesus taught compassionate help to the underprivileged. Not the form of help, i.e., of politically motivated government pity and welfare which is accepted but always resented. Compassion is always up close and personal and a fit approach for Catholicism. Pope John Paul II words in Evangelium Vitae that "Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is ... a grave and clear opposition to oppose them... It is therefore never licit ... to take part in a propanganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it." Parse the immorality by comparative anylysis any way you desire to make voting for pro-abortion candidates acceptable -- but Catholic voters for pro-choice candidates intend to profit from the fruit of the poisonous tree. Such Catholics are no different than those providing the "Mafia hitman" with the wherewithal to carry out the murder while simultaneously claiming neither responsibility nor accountability. DE Mosman
Janice Johnson | 9/19/2008 - 2:55pm
I believe it would be greatly helpful to the Faithful for "America" to do a follow-up essay to Fr. Kavannaugh's letter to Obama, on current philosophies and political policies that are of intense concern to persons with disabilities and their families. For example, the philosophy of utilitarianism of Peter Singer which finds approval in the public square and is extremely frightening to persons in the disability rights groups. As the mother of adult children having autism and being a retired social worker, I've long been an advocate for the most vulnerable in our society. With the grave economic and medical care crises, they are more expendable and vulnerable than ever. The slippery slope is in progress. For the first time since I voted in 1960, I will not vote for the democratic candidate. I believe that Obama's votes in the Illinois legislature and his 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America are indicative of his disregard for the sacredness of all human life. I have yet to see anything in his campaign to indicate otherwise.
Mary Valentine | 9/18/2008 - 1:05pm
Our opinions are many times formed because of our heart's desires and the support of a society that wants its own way. I too am concerned for the health of women and saving lives but I no longer throw myself under the bus when it comes to issues that are clearly outside of Catholic teaching. The Catechism is clear in Paragraph 2271: "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish. God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes." You may ask where is my compassion for those who have to live out a pregnancy they did not ask for or for the situation that could cause death to the mother? That is where our faith is supposed to come in and what we should, as Christians, be advocating. "It means trusting God in every circumstance, even in adversity" (CCC 227). If we argue that people have to suffer because of our insistence on protecting the unborn, then that is a realization of one recent saint -- Saint Gianna. She trusted her troubled pregnancy to God, suffered, but left a legacy and commitment to life. Her adversity was not one she had planned but she gave her future to God to make the decision. "God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end" (CCC 2258). That is something we Americans have great difficulty in accepting.
Rich Thompson | 9/15/2008 - 3:10pm
Where is the call for the republican party to listen to opposing views? I'm a committed Christian and I am in favor of abortion rights. I see no bible support for a ban on abortions. Historically, the church has viewed life as beginning sometime around the quickening (the end of the first trimester). Roe v. Wade is explicitly more consistent with traditional Christianity in this regard than are its opponents. I also note that horrific as third-term abortions may be, they are far better than the alternative. As a point in fact, most of those abortions occur to save the life of the mother or in cases where the fetus is simply not going to be viable. Whether they intend it or not, those who want to ban "late-term abortions" are advocating a position that will result in the death of women. These women are now having their lives saved in some cases by abortions. Under a ban on late term abortions, they would be forced, by the government, to die, so that a fetus without a brain could be born. That strikes me as deeply horrific. I can't think of a moral cause more important to me than saving the lives of the women I care about. not all of the morality in this issue is on the "pro-life" side of things.
Edison Woods | 9/14/2008 - 5:07pm
No sincere Catholic that is to say a practicing one can honestly support a presidential candidate who is in favor of abortion in any form. The above is the hard line position on abortion. But sincere Catholics are in this election year cot between a rock and a hard place. They do not support abortion but equally they do not support a military invasion of a foreign country. Even if that invasion is to remove a ruthless dictator. Iraq is a Islamic country whose history is not that of the United States which is Christian. The two can never really have a meeting of minds to say nothing of hearts. This is a fact of life which only Jesus Christ can change by his return.
Edison Woods | 9/14/2008 - 5:04pm
Abortion can not be criminalized by Mr. Obama because it already is, first and formost in the eyes of God. May God forgive us that we actually debate the life and death of unborn children in this country. Did we not fight a second world war to prevent tyrannical governments from murdering their citizens at will to say nothing of the rest of the world. Surely in the land of the brave and the free the lives of the unborn should receive protection without question. If not then the United States is no longer a champion of justice but merely a promoter of political expediency.
DOUGLAS FIELD | 9/13/2008 - 11:41pm
WHERE ALSO ARE AMERICA'S RELIUGIOUS LEADERS ?? SENATOR OBAMA,PLEASE GIVE AMERICA ~ A DOSE OF REALITY CONCERNING THIS US HORROR ??? LETS ALL HOPE OUR MEDIA FRIENDS CONTINUE TO ALSO SHOW AN INTEREST IN REPORTING ON THIS AMERICAN HORROR FACING THESE (TENS OF THOUSANDS) FORGOTTEN AND TRAPPED POORER AMERICANS, AND HOW THIS PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDER HANDLES THIS VERY SERIOUS ISSUE FACING AMERICA'S LATINO AND BLACK AMERICAN COMMUNITIES ?? WITH 80% OF THE BLACK AMERICAN VOTERS SAYING THEY SUPPORT SENATOR OBAMA IN THIS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, IT IS ONLY FAIR FOR EVERYONE TO KNOW PRIOR BEING ELECTED OUR NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES HOW THIS DEMOCRATIC SENATOR TRULY FEELS ABOUT THIS AMERICAN JUDICIAL HORROR CONTINUING TO INFLICT GRAVE HARM ON THE BLACK AMERICAN FAMILIES AND THEIR COMMUNITIES NATIONWIDE ??? *** WHEN GOD'S FACE BECAME VERY RED *** THE US SUPREME COURT GAVE ENEMY COMBATANTS FEDERAL APPEAL HC RIGHTS LAWYERS AND PROPER ACCESS TO US FEDERAL COURTS,AND POORER AMERICANS (MANY EVEN ON DEATH ROW) ARE DENIED PROPER FEDERAL APPEAL LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO OUR US FEDERAL COURTS OF APPEAL, AND ROTTING IN AMERICAN PRISONS NATIONWIDE ????? ***THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE $LOWLY FINDING OUT HOW EA$Y IT I$ FOR MIDDLE CLA$$ AND WORKING POOR AMERICAN$ TO FALL VICTIM TO OUR U$ MONETARY JUDICIAL $Y$TEM. ****WHEN THE US INNOCENT WERE ABANDONED BY THE GUILTY **** The prison experts have reported that there are 100,000 innocent Americans currently being falsely imprisoned along with the 2,300,000 total US prison population nationwide. Since our US Congress has never afforded poor prison inmates federal appeal legal counsel for their federal retrials,they have effectively closed the doors on these tens of thousands of innocent citizens ever being capable of possibly exonerating themselves to regain their freedom through being granted new retrials. This same exact unjust situation was happening in our Southern States when poor and mostly uneducated Black Americans were being falsely imprisoned for endless decades without the needed educational skills to properly submit their own written federal trial appeals. **INNOCENT AMERICANS ARE DENIED REAL HC RIGHTS WITH THEIR FEDERAL APPEALS !! This devious and deceptive judicial process of making our poor and innocent prison inmates formulate and write their own federal appeal legal cases for possible retrials on their state criminal cases,is still in effect today even though everyone in our US judicial system knows that without proper legal representation, these tens of thousands of innocent prison inmates will be denied their rightful opportunities of ever being granted new trials from our federal appeal judges!! Sadly, the true US *legal* Federal Appeal situation that occurs when any of our uneducated American prison inmates are forced to attempt to submit their own written Federal Appeals (from our prisons nationwide) without the assistance of proper legal counsel, is that they all are in reality being denied their legitimate rights for Habeas Corpus and will win any future Supreme Court Case concerning this injustice! For our judicial system and our US Congressional Leaders Of The Free World to continue to pretend that this is a real and fair opportunity for our American Middle Class and Working Poor Citizens, only delays the very needed future change of Federal Financing of all these Federal appeals becoming a normal formula of Our American judicial system. It was not so very long ago that Public Defenders became a Reality in this country.Prior that legal reality taking place, their were also some who thought giving anyone charged with a crime a free lawyer was a waste of taxpayers $$. This FACADE and HORROR of our Federal Appeal proce$$ is not worthy of the Greatest Country In The World! ***GREAT SOCIETIES THAT DO NOT PROTECT EVEN THEIR INNOCENT, BECOME THE GUILTY! A MUST READ ABOUT AMERICAN INJUSTICE: 1) YAHOO AND 2) GOOGLE MANNY GONZALES THE KI
DOUGLAS FIELD | 9/13/2008 - 11:39pm
SENATOR OBAMA,PLEASE GIVE AMERICA ~ A DOSE OF REALITY CONCERNING THIS US HORROR ??? LETS ALL HOPE OUR MEDIA FRIENDS CONTINUE TO ALSO SHOW AN INTEREST IN REPORTING ON THIS AMERICAN HORROR FACING THESE (TENS OF THOUSANDS) FORGOTTEN AND TRAPPED POORER AMERICANS, AND HOW THIS PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDER HANDLES THIS VERY SERIOUS ISSUE FACING AMERICA'S LATINO AND BLACK AMERICAN COMMUNITIES ???? WITH 80% OF THE BLACK AMERICAN VOTERS SAYING THEY SUPPORT SENATOR OBAMA IN THIS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, IT IS ONLY FAIR FOR EVERYONE TO KNOW PRIOR BEING ELECTED OUR NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES HOW THIS DEMOCRATIC SENATOR TRULY FEELS ABOUT THIS AMERICAN JUDICIAL HORROR CONTINUING TO INFLICT GRAVE HARM ON THE BLACK AMERICAN FAMILIES AND THEIR COMMUNITIES NATIONWIDE ?? *** WHEN GOD'S FACE BECAME VERY RED *** THE US SUPREME COURT GAVE ENEMY COMBATANTS FEDERAL APPEAL HC RIGHTS LAWYERS AND PROPER ACCESS TO US FEDERAL COURTS,AND POORER AMERICANS (MANY EVEN ON DEATH ROW) ARE DENIED PROPER FEDERAL APPEAL LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO OUR US FEDERAL COURTS OF APPEAL, AND ROTTING IN AMERICAN PRISONS NATIONWIDE ??? ***THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE $LOWLY FINDING OUT HOW EA$Y IT I$ FOR MIDDLE CLA$$ AND WORKING POOR AMERICAN$ TO FALL VICTIM TO OUR U$ MONETARY JUDICIAL $Y$TEM. ****WHEN THE US INNOCENT WERE ABANDONED BY THE GUILTY **** The prison experts have reported that there are 100,000 innocent Americans currently being falsely imprisoned along with the 2,300,000 total US prison population nationwide. Since our US Congress has never afforded poor prison inmates federal appeal legal counsel for their federal retrials,they have effectively closed the doors on these tens of thousands of innocent citizens ever being capable of possibly exonerating themselves to regain their freedom through being granted new retrials. This same exact unjust situation was happening in our Southern States when poor and mostly uneducated Black Americans were being falsely imprisoned for endless decades without the needed educational skills to properly submit their own written federal trial appeals. **INNOCENT AMERICANS ARE DENIED REAL HC RIGHTS WITH THEIR FEDERAL APPEALS !! This devious and deceptive judicial process of making our poor and innocent prison inmates formulate and write their own federal appeal legal cases for possible retrials on their state criminal cases,is still in effect today even though everyone in our US judicial system knows that without proper legal representation, these tens of thousands of innocent prison inmates will be denied their rightful opportunities of ever being granted new trials from our federal appeal judges!! Sadly, the true US *legal* Federal Appeal situation that occurs when any of our uneducated American prison inmates are forced to attempt to submit their own written Federal Appeals (from our prisons nationwide) without the assistance of proper legal counsel, is that they all are in reality being denied their legitimate rights for Habeas Corpus and will win any future Supreme Court Case concerning this injustice! For our judicial system and our US Congressional Leaders Of The Free World to continue to pretend that this is a real and fair opportunity for our American Middle Class and Working Poor Citizens, only delays the very needed future change of Federal Financing of all these Federal appeals becoming a normal formula of Our American judicial system. It was not so very long ago that Public Defenders became a Reality in this country.Prior that legal reality taking place, their were also some who thought giving anyone charged with a crime a free lawyer was a waste of taxpayers $$. This FACADE and HORROR of our Federal Appeal proce$$ is not worthy of the Greatest Country In The World! ***GREAT SOCIETIES THAT DO NOT PROTECT EVEN THEIR INNOCENT, BECOME THE GUILTY! A MUST READ ABOUT AMERICAN INJUSTICE: 1) YAHOO AND 2) GOOGLE MANNY GONZALES THE KID THAT EVERYONE FORGOT IN THE CA PRISON SYSTEM. *
Skye Leslie | 9/5/2008 - 6:20pm
Dear Father Kavanaugh; I was pleased to read your letter to Senator Obama based on the level of respect you displayed in your writing and your willingness not to indict. I am a convert to Catholicism. The mystery and the liturgy turn my soul upside down and frequently create encounters with the spiritual which I have never experienced before. And . . . I love Jesus. There are many reasons for this love - given the context and the windows through which I view him. My heart and my desire "to create in me a new heart, O Lord" on a daily basis comes from my reading of the Gospels and the profound yet simple way in which Jesus moved through crowds healing, exhorting and moving his people into action and community. When I think of Christ, I think of community above all things. The fact that Catholics and other people of faith continue 2,000 years after his death to gather in profession of faith and a dedication to the followings of Christ is, it goes without saying, testament to the influence of Jesus. When I read the Gospels, I am always convinced that Christ was the ultimate psychologist. He knew that behaviors and choices in behaviors were not causes but, rather, results. Results, most often, I think, of the failure of individuals to form communities where agape love really flowed. I am opposed to abortion. I believe in life from the moment of conception. I also believe I live in a world where abortion is not a cause but a result of a society where individuals have failed to love with integrity, where communities cannot long hold together in the love which Christ taught, where the very governments which lead us are filled with people who have walked so far from the heart of Christ (whether they are Christian or not), where priests (and please forgive me) have walked so far outside their vows they've actually harmed children sexually. I don't think Christ is fooling around when he speaks to us of caring for one another as he cares for us. I do not believe in capital punishment. This is an easy stance for me to take because I believe that if I supported capital punishment - each death would be one I, by proxy, participated in. I have also stood outside the abortion clinic in Portland, Oregon and watched good and faithful (I'm sure) Catholics pray the Rosary as women entered to terminate their pregnancies. One day, I walked up to these individuals and asked "would any of you be willing to take one of these women home, provide for her and take her to the place of delivery, offer her sanctuary after the birth as she got her life back together." Not one person said yes. And I think it is this, in this day and age - the sacred value of love; love of God, love from and between parents and children; the romantic love which blossoms between a man and women and stirs sexual desire - love of our communities and a love of diversity; love of reconciliation and a love of healing; love for the poor, the lost, the drug addict, the abused and marginalized - until we've been taught to love in this way - abortion will continue - because we are addressing the result and not the cause. Thank you so much for your time. Respectfully, Skye Leslie
Marilyn Veomett | 9/5/2008 - 1:44pm
A candidate's positions on issues may be important, but often they are party rhetoric and may have marginal impact on what a president does in office. We do not know what challenges, small and large, our next president will face. When voting for a presidential candidate, I am interested in the candidate's personal qualities, their values, world view, temperament, and behavior toward others, not just their official party positions. I want to know which candidate most displays honesty, trustworthiness, love, and compassion. I want to know which candidate is more likely to consider the good of ALL in making decisions. I don't know the many choices or challenges the next president will face. I do know which candidate I feel has the personal qualities to make choices and deal with challenges in a way that will most benefit the good of all.
Maureen O'Connor Kavanaugh | 9/5/2008 - 12:37am
Clearly Senator Obama did not stand up to his party on this critical moral issue. So what does this reveal about Senator Barrack Obama - a lack of courage or refusal to acknowledge much less defend the youngest and most vulnerable humans among us?
Alfred S. | 9/1/2008 - 11:06am
Saying that the state doesn't do the choosing (to terminate an unwanted pregnancy) and therefore is absolved of the kind of guilt Hitler had is not a satisfying counterpoint. So selective genocide would have been palatable in Nazi Germany if the government had allowed Aryans to choose to kill Jews and other undesirables, as long as the government itself didn't kill anyone? And the U.S. government would not have been responsible for slavery if the Dred Scott decision had said simply that Americans had the right to choose to own slaves?
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Larry Blume | 8/31/2008 - 3:10am
Neither St Thomas or nor the Catholic Church has ever condoned abortion. The argument that the "theologian" Nancy Pelosi and other critics of the Church's teaching make distort early theologians conjecturing when an abortion was also "murder", that is, when the life being terminated was a person. None of these theologians, no matter where they fell on this issue, ever argued that abortion was at any time anything but a grave sin.
Michael Bindner | 8/27/2008 - 2:25am
The 1.3 million figure for abortions is a bit inflated, as it likely includes natural miscarriages which are treated with a DNC and classified medically as abortions. Many of the abortions performed by Planned Parenthood are likely in that class,since they provide a full range of obstetric services to poor women. As to comparisons to Hitler - you would be correct if the United States Government decided who got abortions and performed them. That is not quite what happens. If it did, there would be great force to stop it. It is all well and good to say you want to ban abortion. The sticking point is how. The current set of proposals that pro-lifers talk about (criminalization and letting the states handle it) simply won't work and would do real damage.
Michael Bindner | 8/27/2008 - 2:14am
Alfred, It's funny that you mention the South, who along with slavery fought for the unfettered right of state majorities to make law without federal interference. The standard "fix" for Roe, returning power to the states, would be a serious step back toward the error of the Southern position. No one who would support such a position has any business on the Court. I challenge Pro-Life politicians to be up front on what they would do legislatively about abortion if given the chance. The silence will be deafening, as most of these take money from a largely pro-choice group of donors who would stop funding them if they really did, or even proposed, any real legislation on abortion. There are other ways to stop abortion than criminalizing its practice (which, incidentally would recreate both back alley and self induced abortion for the poor while the rich would travel to Canada or legal abortion states). The most promising cure to the abortion problem is a living wage to families. You won't see that out of Republicans, who instead enacted welfare limits that actually encourage abortion. By their fruits shall you know them. It matters less what people say. It is what they do that matters. What the GOP and Clinton did regarding welfare cries to Heaven for vengence.
Jennifer Wingate | 8/24/2008 - 11:30am
I am a passionate supporter of Senator Obama's candidacy, and I have even for the first time in my 18 year voting history, sent contributions to a presidential campaign. I have studied what the Iraq War has done to our Chaldean Catholic family in Iraq (as all wars do destroy the lives of Catholics and turn Catholic against Catholic.) I also have a son who is autistic and Obama's plan to help autistic children and their families is outstanding. I do however, have a problem with his stance on abortion. I was abandoned by my son's father in the first trimester of my pregnancy. I know what it's like to struggle, wonder how on earth am I going to support this child, especially when my job was just as a waitress. Eventually I lost the job altogether. But I chose to carry the child, to keep him, even though I knew right from the womb my son would probably have problems (ultrasounds showed this, as well as blood tests.) When I was in my last trimester, our state was up for a vote on the "partial birth abortion" issue. It was like, the state was voting on whether or not I was carrying a human person. My son was born at the end of October, the vote was in November. My son is now 8 years old, and a happy child. God has blessed me. So,as a supporter of Obama, I will send him this letter you wrote. He's a reasonable man. But we have to pray, at the same time, for him to change his heart.
Daniel Callahan | 8/23/2008 - 12:57pm
Thank you Fr. John and America Magazine for publishing this well crafted and perhaps strategic article. I pray it is read and factored in to the political reasoning of this presidential campaign. Perhaps with the inclusion of Sen Biden as his running mate, Obama will have an open ear and wise rendoring of the reasoning so well presented in this article.
Alfred S. | 8/22/2008 - 5:05pm
Re one issue voting: The late Cardinal Bernardin's "seamless garment" should always be taken into account and certainly it is reasonable to cast one's vote in a way that will do the most good, all things considered. Still, idly, I've wondered what the arguments would have been before the Civil War if some had argued that slavery was not the only issue that faced the country. Had there been a preponderance of other morally good issues that Lincoln's opponent favored, would that fact have justified a vote against Lincoln? (Apology in advance: it's hard not to cave in to the dictates of Godwin's law; maybe I should use Herod somehow) More analogously, what if Hitler had been running for election on a platform that included the right of Arians to rid themselves of the Jewish population? If Hitler had favored a long list of socially good things otherwise, could this one issue be overlooked in good conscience? What's the difference between those situations and the present day issue of elective abortions? Someone counter my scruple.
John T. Tierney | 8/21/2008 - 1:44pm
Senator Barack Obama John C. Klucynoki Fedaral Office Bldg. 2300 S. Dearbourn St. Suite 3900 Chicago, IL 60604 Dear Senator Obama, Last Father’s Day I was contemplating how we are now in an extremely interesting presidential campaign and how I was going to be beat up on by my little hearted friends for voting on what is seemingly an excuse to start labeling me as pro-choice are even worse as pro-abortion, I am pro-life. As I see it, to put a label on you as pro-abortion is black and white thinking and that is psychologically scary. I don’t know one person who is for abortion. I also think that your position on this issue does not reflect your true values. It strikes me that you are dealing with a law that is inconsistent and needs to be altered. Please press for legislation to have our family values included in the law of the land so that it is consistent and includes us in our search for justice in this great land. As you are aware God gave Moses the 10 commandments. They are family values which makes sex outside of marriage adultery. Since the old law on abortion is unconstitutional, but still there as a precedent, the only way we can have the Supreme Court change is to have a father of the child sue the mother while she is pregnant to stop her from aborting the child and put the baby up for adoption. The court would have 9 months to act. Here is my wish for next Fathers Day; I need your help on the issue of abortion in our country. God in my opinion gave both fathers and mothers the responsibility to take care of His children. We fathers are left out of the decision making process of what do with unwanted pregnancies. It should not be the sole right of a woman to be able to determine the fate of a fertilized egg when it was a shared creation by both man and woman. I think even Adam wants his due process on this point. As a husband and father of three children I sense that you can relate to the value of educating others and upholding the rights of a woman. I applaud your contributions to helping unwed mothers and even helping families plan and control the size of their families as well as addressing the men in your race about accepting responsibility. Most importantly I believe you are interested in bringing the abortion problem down to zero with education so that it doesn’t happen again and the law of the land as it stands now is eventually abolished. As a co-participant in this creation the likely hood of abortion if we have our input is more likely to lessen this evil act. I was taught as a Catholic that unlike our legal system we Christians are not guilty of sin unless we are aware of the sin and the problem it causes and how it affects us as humans. My reading of Genesis, by the way, does not put a woman subservient to a man: it puts her on equal ground. I also felt that in our relationship there was a “we” that needed to be negotiated when we shared our gifts from God. It is missing in the present law. When I had intercourse with my wife to increase and multiply as scripture reads, it was my sperm that was attracted to the unfertilized egg and fertilized it. After the egg is attached to the womb it is alive and developing. I certainly did not influence this phenomenon. When I think about this miracle I marvel at the hand of God blessing this act. I instinctively feel and believe the whole process of creation starts here and I think you can relate to it also. The egg is life, it is precious and it has value to become human. After we had the babies it was my job to protect them all and provide for them, I would like for the courts to recognize this responsibility. There is, I think, a misconception about the role of a woman in our society as a married woman that needs to be clarified as it pertains to abortion. My wife was the nurturer of these children. Nurture, in my mind, does not include taking a fertilized egg that is attached to the mother’s womb and disr
ed knauf | 8/20/2008 - 10:53am
There is simply no equivalent moral issue in politics today. Our nation has permitted the slaughter of 40 million unborn God-created human beings since 1973. 40 million! Candidate Obama is, without question, the most pro-abortion candidate in history, as is evidenced by his vote in Illinois to deny the right to life even to infants who survive an abortion. I'm sorry, but if a candidate doesn't get this issue right, then one cannot, in good conscience, vote for him or her.
Joe K. | 8/19/2008 - 6:50pm
I am not a single issue voter. I will vote for 1.3 million issues per year, every year since Roe! Save 50 lives? 100 lives? 1000 lives? We are talking about 1.3 million human lives every year! Say it slowly and listen to it role off of your tongue through your mouth. 1.3 million human lives are exterminated every year! 1.3 million human lives! 1.3 million human lives.
Bill Kurtz | 8/19/2008 - 5:24pm
My compliments on a well-written piece. Those who think this time, the Republicans really, really will deliver on this issue remind me of Tinkerbell. The bottom line on the GOP was provided by Dick Cheney at the end of 2002, when he told Paul O'Neill, the outgoing Treasury secretary, that another tax cut was in the works. O'Neill voiced concern, citing the growing deficit and the looming Iraq War. "Reagan proved deficits don't matter," Cheney replied, adding that the Republicans had just won the off-year elections. "This is a reward for our base," Cheney said. Note that the reward wasn't a renewed push against abortion, an anti-gay crusade, or anything of that sort. As Thomas Frank put it, social conservatives vote against abortion, and get tax cuts for rich people.
Edward D. Ryan | 8/19/2008 - 2:50pm
Fr. Kavanagh's comment that seecond and third trimester abortions are "horrific" implies that it is the method of killing the fetus not the killing that is abhorrent. As to encouraging adoptions, a few years ago an organization in New York offered to accept feuses with Down syndrome for adoption because they had more willing adopters than children. Not many mothers accepted. Today in the United States according to two studies found on Google 90% of all fetuses with Down syndrome are killed before birth. The only way to reduce the number of abortions is to ban them, This won't happen soon, but someday it will. Until that happens,there is no moral justification for voting for any pro abortion politician. Catholics who do so are kidding themselves.
hal newman | 8/18/2008 - 5:31pm
Father John Kavanaugh's open letter to Barack Obama seems to me testy and insincere, and it raises more questions than it answers. Some follow. Is abortion ever allowable? If so, who decides when? If not why conservatives get by saying that abortion is wrong except in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother? Such a "pro-lifer" could get an abortion with a note from a doctor. (Does anyone think there'd be trouble getting doctor approval?) Are liberals too honest or too dumb to use the same subterfuge? Our Church's current "offical" position is that life begins at conception. Other Americans, some of them Catholic, believe that human life begins later in the pregnancy; others not until the actual birth. (Reportedly, Saint Thomas Aquinas felt human life began at the time of the first discernable movement in the womb.) Here is the key: it all comes down to what a person believes. But what I believe, or you believe, or they believe should not be the basis of government running religion. I will discuss abortion with anyone, and try with all my abliity to convince them abortion is always wrong, but I will newer support government force. We are a pluralistic society with a constitution still in place, and people of goodwill can differ. Would Mitt Romney, a leading candidate for the Republican vice-presidential post, get the same type open letter? Running for govenor of Massachusetts Mr. Romney was "pro-choice", now on the national scene he is "pro-lfe", yet the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) to which he belongs allows abortion after certain prayers, reflections, and consolations. I wonder. Only in a totalitarian state will moral issues be decided by the government,and then only most imperfectly. Perhaps someday we can put aside the rancor and vilification surrounding abortion. Perhaps we can stop the political grandstanding. And perhaps we can seek a solution through quiet intellectural discussion. The innocent unborn deserve no less. Hal Newman 460 Schmeizer Lane Boise, ID 83706 (208) 859-5456
DR DAVID OBRIEN | 8/18/2008 - 9:21am
Good piece but: a) are pro-lifers to be held to same standards of accountability for their contribution to division, distrust and paralysis----if our politics gave us Clinton theirs gave us Reagan and Bush(es)and all tat came with them-----b) if we Obama backers need to speak up for life, and we do, pro life critics need to explain their political (not just personal) opposition to birth control and their extremism disallowing exceptions for rape, incest, and life and health of mother; c) rick warrens posing of the question as human rights for unborn babies shows the difference between posture (Dennis OBriens 2004 point) and policy-----one need only think for a moment about the legal, political and cultural nightmare that would be created by assigning legal personhood to the unborn-----think about it and you are back to a basic position that should be consensus Catholic position: abortion is a serious moral evil, we are required in love to do all we can to reduce and eliminate the choice of abortion, but how we do that, in law, politics and society, is open to debate, a debate on which we need tol be accountable to church teaching (and be careful here) and to one another; d) aand what about the moral agency and legitimate moral autonomy of women? need that be mentioned?----dave obrien
Roland Benoit | 8/18/2008 - 1:24am
Thank you, Father Kavanaugh for addressing this issue in a balanced argument. I hope the article will reach Senator Obama and more than that effect some change. Further may it be shared and distributed to many who are trying to make a sound decision on who deserves their vote.
John D. Fitzmorris, Jr | 8/16/2008 - 1:40pm
John Kavanaugh displays once again his unique ability to cut to the heart of the matter and twick the conscience of the powerful. It is ironic that we are presented with these kinds of morally distasteful choices between those who would get rid of the inconvenient yet to be born and those who would dispose of the inconvenient living. Maybe if more of us would have John Kavanaugh's wisdom to confront both side with the wisdom of Christ, we perhaps twick more consciences. Now let's see an opne letter to John McCaine and his ilk.
Sarah Burkey | 8/16/2008 - 12:33pm
Responding to comments #1 and #2: It may look like the important thing to do is save 50% of lives, however we can push for that, and I would certainly support incremental pro-life victories, but I think our stance should never be presented as 50%. It appears as if we are willing to compromise, as if abortion is not so bad if it happens early. Think about a social evil that has been abolished: slavery, or killing Jews in Germany. Would you vote for a candidate who supported limited slavery, or the murder of only the elderly Jews? No, you would vehemently oppose such a person. Not to say that I vehemently oppose Barack Obama, but why don't I? I wonder if I ought to? How can abortion take a backseat; how can the battle be compromised if we really believe it is legalized murder? Slavery sure had a lot of supporters who just didn't understand that Africans were people too, and whose economy appeared to depend upon it. I think that such an approach coming from a Catholic priest is really detrimental to the Church, and misleading about who Jesus is. If we are to be primarily faithful, not successful, in our path to holiness, then our fight for justice should be without blemish or reproach. We can not compromise with the evil lie that abortion is ever valid or holds any place in a free society. It's more important to be a witness to the truth than to play the politics game to get a politician to soften his blows. Let's not back down from the truth - abortion kills!
Sarah Burkey | 8/16/2008 - 2:28am
Responding to comments #1 and #2: It may look like the important thing to do is save 50% of lives, however we can push for that, and I would certainly support incremental pro-life victories, but I think our stance should never be presented as 50%. It appears as if we are willing to compromise, as if abortion is not so bad if it happens early. Think about a social evil that has been abolished: slavery, or killing Jews in Germany. Would you vote for a candidate who supported limited slavery, or the murder of only the elderly Jews? No, you would vehemently oppose such a person. Not to say that I vehemently oppose Barack Obama, but why don't I? I wonder if I ought to? How can abortion take a backseat; how can the battle be compromised if we really believe it is legalized murder? Slavery sure had a lot of supporters who just didn't understand that Africans were people too, and whose economy appeared to depend upon it. I think that such an approach coming from a Catholic priest is really detrimental to the Church, and misleading about who Jesus is. If we are to be primarily faithful, not successful, in our path to holiness, then our fight for justice should be without blemish or reproach. We can not compromise with the evil lie that abortion is ever valid or holds any place in a free society. It's more important to be a witness to the truth than to play the politics game to get a politician to soften his blows. Let's not back down from the truth - abortion kills!
Allen Lysne | 8/15/2008 - 5:49pm
I am sorry, but as a Catholic (Byzantine Rite) I also cannot be a one-issue person, ie, abortion. I am having a horrible time trying to see which candidate is the lesser of 2 evils. Where are the good, qualified Christian men this year? We do not have a candidate in either party that qualifies.
Rev Jaime Barona | 8/15/2008 - 2:04pm
As this battle of the votes continues, the candidates intention to "please" everyone who can vote for their agendas goes on. Everyone knows the super importance of this coming election. Everyone knows the multitude of important and crucual issues we face as a country, leader of the world. Obama seems to be the voice of "change". It has been a very enticing alternative. We have already suffered enough the horrors of the neo-coms mentality, the kidnapping of the amrican common sense and the shame in the lost of the international respect for us, the injustice of an immigration system that is broken and the open persecution and abuses of human rights in America. Obama looked like the agent for change But when a learned that he support partial birth abortion my sense of "change" turned 360 dregrees. I will not vote for Obama now when I know his philosophy about respect for the sanctity of life. If he thinks that he might restore this country to be the internation herald of peace and justice for all under the assumption of irrespect to human dignity, he is either a fool or complete ingnorant. Wich in fact I do not think so. I hope and pray he listen to us, the good american citizen.
Ed Knauf | 8/15/2008 - 1:18pm
If a Presidential candidate were to express opposition to laws designed to end the annual killing of, say, one million Jews, or one million Irish, or one million of ANYONE, that candidate would not stand a chance of election. Your article implies that a candidate who opposes laws designed to end the annual slaughter of one million unborn children might, given some faint inclination toward compromise, be worthy of one's vote. Like so many other arguments from the left side of the Catholic "big tent," you weigh other Catholic social justice positions against support for "abortion rights" as if they could be deemed equivalent or even of more importance. So, let me get this straight: a candidate who supports the annual slaughter of Jews or Irish or ANYONE might be OK given their correct position on a variety of other social issues, as long as that candidate makes a gesture toward reducing that annual carnage. Let's be very clear here: you cannot possibly really think the unborn babies being slaughtered are human persons worthy of protection, because if you truly did, the presupposition of your article (that a pro-choice candidate might EVER be worthy of election) would be ludicrous. In addition, I point out that your article very clearly implies (very nearly states) that the lives of second or third trimester unborn babies are more valuable and more worthy of protection than first trimester babies. All I can say, Father, is shame on you.
MICHAEL CALLAHAN MR | 8/15/2008 - 9:44am
Dear Father Kavanaugh, Thank you for addressING the issues of many Catholics who HOPE that they can vote in this election for real change and not continue other policies that are NOT Pro-life. Is there a direct way we can send this to the Obama Campaign. You make it possible to have a real dialogue on the depth of the issues this year. I am grateful for your continued hard work for us all to bring about CHANGE THAT WE HOPE FOR AND THAT WE CAN BE TRULY PRO-LIFE.
Michael Bindner | 8/14/2008 - 10:07pm
The judicial solution to abortion that Mr. Plante speaks of will never happen and should not. Justices Alito and Roberts had the opportunity to join in the Scalia concurrence on partial birth abortion - they did not do so. They can be counted on to be Kennedy conservatives rather than Scalia conservatives. The remedy which the pro-life movement seeks would gut the minority protections contained in the 14th Amendment, thereby undoing much more than Roe. That would fundamentally alter the nature of the Republic and would be unacceptable. Obama should make this point to, as it is often missed. As a black candidate, it would have resonance for him to defend the body of law which allows the federal government to overturn local majorities when they seek to impose their will or their power on their neighbors. The answer is in the National legislature, which can alter the terms of citizenship and personhood under the 14th Amendment's enforcement provisions. The states are not competent to take this action constitutionally, nor should they be. Restated more clearly, the Congress can at any time move the start of legal recognition to sometime in the second trimester. It so far has chosen not to (as the GOP knows what would happen to its donations if it offended rich pro-choice donors and placated their energized pro-life volunteers and small donors - who would no longer be hungry enough to volunteer over the issue).
Mary L. | 8/14/2008 - 6:10pm
Fr.Kavanaugh's letter to Obama states eloquently how I feel about this whole election campaign. Damned if I do and damned if I don't - I abhor abortion and partial-birth abortion - it is a true horror that must end. But I cannot vote on one issue only - we must have a leader who will seriously address some of our other domestic issues on poverty, education, and health care. I will continue to soak up as much information as I can on each candidate and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit on election day.
jose maria oliu carbonell | 8/14/2008 - 5:43pm
Es para mi un placer leer esta carta y ver lo valiente que son los Jesuitas en otras partes del mundo, con gran dolor veo la situación de los Jesuitas en mi país, y este articulo me dice despues de leerlo, Adelante Con Fe, jose maria oliu carbonell, ex alumno jesuita, 11 años, del Colegio Sagrado Coraczón , ex Seminario, Montevideo Uruguay
Diane Roberts | 8/14/2008 - 2:56pm
I am just amased at all of you!! Since when was it the lords decission to make you the deciders of other peoples lives? One question that stands out 100% in my mind would be- Who would take care of all of these unborn lives you want to save? Have you ever taken that into consideration? Should it be the responsability of the states? Should it be the responsability of the catholic church and the persons who pass the law? WHO??? Tax payers!!! Then let them sit in adoption homes and become wards of the state becuase the USA makes it so difficult for a family to adopt a child especially a newborn? Have you seen how many childre are out there now with no homes, no familes, living on the streets with their parents because of lack of jobs!!! How is that a better life? I am not saying I don't agree with the fact that we have to many abortions but "we" do not know of the situation as to why the women is making the choice she is. If you have a women that is a hooker, drug adict ect,. and abuses the right then yes they should put a stop to women that abuse that right! I think you all need to sit back and come back to reality. We are not living in a fantisy world here!!!
Ron Plante | 8/14/2008 - 2:01am
Fr. Denk, You ask what Republican's have done to eliminate abortion? While I admit that they squandered much of the power they held when they had control of Congress, I'm sure that I do not have to tell you that the abortion battle is not being fought in the Executive Branch, or the Legislative Branch, but in the Judicial Branch of our government. What pro-abortion people fear the most is for a true conservative (not John McCain) to be elected, because he/she would nominate a conservative to the supreme court. President Bush has given us Chief Justice John Roberts, and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. Previous Republican Presidents have given us Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. The "Left" knows that a shift of one more conservative justice could set the stage for reversing Roe v. Wade. I find it a travesty that any Christian could support the Democrat Party, which has Pro-Abortion (pro-choice) as a major plank in it's platform. The commandment is "Thou shall not murder", not "thou shall not kill." Abortion, especially partial birth abortion, is Murder.
ROBERT HARRIGAN MRS | 8/13/2008 - 8:29pm
I am with Joe, comment #9; when will the church stop equating birth control and abortion as equal evils? I dont think they are and pay no attention to the birth control rules. Abortion is certainly a moral evil; but making it a civil crime doesnt end it; it drives it underground. Each person is morally responsible for his/her own acts. The church should oppose abortion in a responsible way by teaching about responsible sex,to BOTH men and women, permitting birth control, and extending a helping, nonjudgemental hand to women faced with a problematic pregnancy. Tricia Harrigan
Michael Bindner | 8/13/2008 - 6:22pm
Whether "abortion survivors" should be given life saving intervention depends on their chances of survival and the level of intervention required. Morally, the standard is the same - extraordinary measures are not required outside of normal nutrition and hydration. They can of course be provided optionally, but it should not be made mandatory.
Michael Bindner | 8/13/2008 - 6:10pm
Fr. Cavanaugh provides good advice. I would add to it proposing a tax subsidized living wage, so that each family receives $500 per month for each child and providing a principled defense of the pro-choice position. John Kerry justified his political stance in pluralistic terms. This is not adequate in the least. A better strategy is to castigate the pro-life movement for not outlining the measures it would take to protect those lives it advocates and to then explain why these measures will not work. Until there is a "pro-life" legislative proposal, progressive Catholics refuse to refrain from Communion for not supporting it.
Scott Brazil | 8/13/2008 - 3:22pm
Thank you for the passionately argued letter, John. Let's hope your words are taken seriously by Sen. Obama's team.

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