The National Catholic Review
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

Walter Bonam | 8/13/2008 - 1:49pm
Fr. Kavanaugh avoids one of the defining sins of our time, that of oversimplification. Debates will continue on the efficacy of criminalization as an antidote to the practice of abortion, but I agree heartily that it would be folly to put all of our eggs in that one basket. I hope that someone on Obama's staff will bring Fr. Kavanaugh's article to his attention, and that he will respond favorably to the concerns expressed therein. I was heartened to learn just now via NPR that Sen. Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, will be addressing the convention, which is in line with Fr. Kavanaugh's suggestion #2. The ideal candidate and the ideal party do not exist in the real world, where we often have to settle for doing all we can to make actual parties and candidates responsive to our concerns. Bravo to Fr. Kavanaugh for his effort in that vein.
KC Mulville | 8/13/2008 - 1:30pm
If there was any doubt about Obama's answer, or any hope that the Democrats would even consider defending life, here's the response: http://www.slate.com/id/2197363/
Brendan | 8/13/2008 - 1:13pm
I suspect that I disagree with Fr. Kavanaugh in regards to a number of prudential political judgements -- in that I think that a conservative approach to many social and economic ills (a truly conservative one, not one in which the government seeks to tilt the scales towards large business interests) is better for both individuals and for the reciprocal relationships of human society than a more "progressive" approach. However, I think his letter to Senator Obama is principled and powerful. And if Obama were to fully and sincerely take his advice, I would be tempted to set aside my political and economic preferences and vote for him simply to show that such a move would be rewarded.
Marty | 8/13/2008 - 12:43pm
How many innocent people have died in illegal wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries? How many people in this country die each year because they are two poor to obtain the necessities of life? How many innocent people die in prison? How many women would bleed to death in back room abortions if Roe vs Wade is reversed? Many Catholics are thinking people and refuse to vote one issue politics. My vote will go to Barack Obama.
Dr, A.J. Carlos | 8/13/2008 - 11:58am
You have no credibility! So abortion tops mass murder, eh? What kind of morals do you have? Priests who have no education in science, modern philosophy (non medieval thomism) and anthropology should keep quiet. Read Rahner, read Lonergan, read Curran, read H. Kung. What is wrong with you? You are not serious. You post an article like this to give dumb Catholics, racist Catholics, an excuse to hide their basic racist fears of a black president. How could you? Are you any better than the bible-thumping evangelists? I do not think so! You should be ashamed of yourself! Go to confession before it is too late! What about this immoral war that people keep quiet about? What about the racist, imperialist policy our nation has taken? How is a dumb McCain any better? Is he against artificial birth control? How stupid!
CLAIRE BANGASSER MS | 8/13/2008 - 10:23am
Dear Fr. Kavanaugh, I thank you for this column which I see as a real attempt at dialogue with us pro-Choice folks. I can see points where I agree with what you say. The fiery reactions of some pro-Life advocates simply fill me with sadness at the absence of willingness to empathize with those who fall outside of their beliefs. For what you wrote, Thank you.
Dr. A.J. Carlos | 8/12/2008 - 11:39pm
Get off the high horse! Who do you think you are? Sanctimonius jackass? What about the thousands being killed in Iraq? What about the disastrous war? What about the church's social policies? A lot of talk asbout helping the poor but little action. If at all. Aren't you all a bunch of hypocrites? Why not think for yourself and not let the more conservative s speak for you? Think of Rahner, Curran, and Kung. Or are you just pretending to be serious? Abortion trumps mass murder? Why don't you join thinking Americans who want to get Bush impeached for war crimes? Haven't you noticed some inconsistencies in your "religious ideas"?
Tom | 8/12/2008 - 11:39pm
I hope the Obama team not only reads but responds positively to this letter. Our 2-term, pro-life president has a record as governor and president that scores pretty low against Catholic teaching. Neither candidate fulfills the principles laid out in "Responsible Citizenship" -- we need to examine all issues and choose the candidate we believe will be most successful in supporting the principles. May God bless us and the candidates and the election process.
chaynes | 8/12/2008 - 8:19pm
Dear Mr. Hitler Would you please reduce the number of people being gassed. Maybe you could also give a sincere talk about how gassing is a complex issue. This gassing business embarasses us liberals and we would rather be talking about new autobahns. Yours truly PS If you want, I can send a long letter that will use big words and be more intellectual.
JAMES OLEARY MR | 8/12/2008 - 5:55pm
I am terrified McCain will win. He is far ahead in the polls of Catholic voters. I would like to believe the Catholic vote isn't a racist vote and just a pro-life vote but I have been personally burned by too many pro-life Catholics to give them any credit for being open-minded enough to see any nuances. They have closed minds so far as I can see. I am afraid, very afraid, McCain will win. I don't have any advice for Obama except to hang in there. I think it's hopeless but at least he can keep his integrity. I go to daily Mass by the way, just in case you think I am not a "real" Catholic.
Thomas Hickey | 8/12/2008 - 12:12pm
As Catholic children we were taught that one of the great gifts bestowed on us is free will. In grammar school, high school and college, we were instructed in Holy Mother Church's criteria by which to exercise our free will. At almost 73 years of age, I am old enough to note that the topic of abortion was never mentioned in the teachings I received. This was so, I believe, because abortion was not even on the horizon of then-possible Catholic life issues. On the other hand, birth control - even unsanctioned practice of the "rhythym" method - was considered a serious sin. Some members of my Bronx-Irish-Catholic generation continue to accept these admonitions; others, depending on their life experience and exposure to other thought systems, have reached different conclusions. In the light of our professed belief in free will, I must ask the following: How dare we impose our Catholic strictures on those who, in accordance with THEIR education, experience and personal condition, exercise THEIR individual free will in choosing to make the very difficult decision to abort or not? To rid their bodies of unlawful invaders injected by rape? To avoid conception (and possible future abortion) or not? Why can't we keep our Catholic noses out of the moral lives of others and - if we're truly intent on preserving life - terminate the political lives of those who cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people via warfare founded on lies and greed, two sinful behaviors I believe we can all agree on.
Richard Kemmer | 8/12/2008 - 12:03pm
"A vociferous cadre in the Democratic Party has for too long wielded a dogmatic veto over any discussion of limiting abortions." Likewise for public education. In neither instance does the "party of compassion" cover itself with glory, having consigned millions of unborn and then born to death or wasted lives because of powerful interests that pay for the Party. Look at the numbers of abortion related providers and teach unionists that are leading and funding the party. Party of compassion? Follow the money.... Ask how much NARAL spends on the Democrat Party. Ask how much the teacher unions spend. After that, you can gauge the likelihood that the position will change. This letter is an exercise in unrealism and futility.
joe | 8/12/2008 - 11:25am
I agree with Mike, saving 50 lives is better than not saving anyone. But who would save more unborn children, McCain or Obama? McCain hints that he would pick conservative Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade and send the abortion debate back to the states. Father Kavanaugh pooh-poohs the impact of such a move, but neither he nor anyone else really knows how many unborn children would be saved each year if Roe were struck down. Obama, on the other hand, might nominate Hillary Clinton for the Supreme Court. But he also promises to work for universal health care and other legislation that could save the lives of many unborn children. In the words of Mark Twain, "you pays your money and you takes your choices."
Rev. Apolionari Ngirwa | 8/12/2008 - 11:22am
It is amzing seing respected personality like John SJ, coming out to address issue of respect of life, and trying to push that burned on Snator Obama. I wish people like Rev. John, who is respected theologians could have shown their concern on Human life respect earlier by addressing issues such mass-killing by bombing the innocent lives of people in Iraque, Afghastan, etc and manority people rotting into the booming prison industry of United States (kind of Ethnic cleansing of its own type). Let us be true and show Christ's concern to all people and stop political season games!
Laura | 8/12/2008 - 10:55am
Obama can't 'generate sufficient change to make folks think life really is worth living and sharing' when he voted against the Born Alive Infants Protection Act and REFUSES to call a born alive baby who by God's grace manages to survive an abortion -- a baby. This is infanticide and it cannot be reconciled with the Catholic Church no matter what you may think of the war in Iraq.
Mary | 8/12/2008 - 2:48am
Maybe Obama would/could generate sufficient change to make folks think life really is worth living and sharing.
Grayson | 8/12/2008 - 1:01am
...and McCain? What about his stance on abortion (OK in rape and incest) and embryonic stem cell research(voted FOR funding). And about his support for an immoral and unnecessary war in Iraq? If Catholics are to adhere to "single issue" politics, neither candidate would be suitable. My vote is going to Obama.
Edward | 8/12/2008 - 12:14am
A well-written presentation of the political situation for Catholics today, particularly apt after the recent piece in the New York Times about Obama's need for an appeal to [swing-voter] Catholics. I think I have loved every John Kavanaugh article I have ever read in this wonderful magazine no matter where I am spiritually or ethically at the time; keep up the good work.
JOSEPH D'ANNA | 8/11/2008 - 11:56pm
The current laws do not force any woman to have an abortion. Outside of rape, there is no good reason for an unwanted pregnancy. Numerous forms of birth control are available. These include abstinence, drugs, IUDs, physical barriers, and sterilization. To my knowledge, only IUDs and drugs may cause failure of a fertilized egg to be implanted in the womb – something that, undoubtedly, happens in the absence of birth control. Yet, the Church opposes all the “unnatural” forms of birth control and favors abstinence – which can hardly be called “natural”. To outsiders, the Church appears to equate “birth control” with “abortion”. In the very least, the Church could preach “responsible procreation” to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and potential abortions – before it “threatens” to impose its morality on all citizens.
Bill Mazzella | 8/11/2008 - 10:35pm
This issue is a bogus issue. Republicans do not care about it except to captitalize on it politically which they have handsomely done. When pro life people start paying attention to all the miscarriages, which they claim have immortal souls, then we can take them seriously. All life should be revered. Not exploited.
JOHN MCCARTHY MR | 8/11/2008 - 8:26pm
Thank you, Fr. Kavanaugh, for a wonderful letter to Senator Obama. I have been working for Obama for the past six months, and your views exactly express mine... John McCarthy
MARIAN GRAY | 8/11/2008 - 7:08pm
I disagree that Senator Mc Cain favors or supports in any way whatsoever, embryonic stem cell research. This wishy-washy attempt to assuage guilt form those who would support anyone or anything that enables even one abortion, will not escape judgment from Jesus. I did not renew my subscription, as there are too many factual errors in articles and too much far left propaganda for my Roman Catholic faith. I suggest everyone buy a copy of a new book by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. “Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life.” A Roman Catholic viewpoint is sorely needed by the wrtiers for AMERICA.
Charles Roth | 8/11/2008 - 5:58pm
If presidential candidate Barack Obama takes up your challenge and in turn challenges the Democratic Party to make room for Democrats for Life and Feminists for Life, he will find a huge groundswell of support from Catholics and others who sense that significantly reducing the number of abortions is an achievable goal.
LAWRENCE DONOHUE MD | 8/11/2008 - 5:30pm
In my thirty years practicing Obstetrics and Gynecology, I never met a medical person that believed abortion was a primarily good thing, only a remedy for a perceived social ill. Perhaps it is time to recognize that attempting to eliminate abortion by legislative means is not reducing the number of abortions being done. Perhaps it is time for “pro choice” and “pro life” people to discern their common values and work together to remove the social evils e.g. stifling poverty, that cause some women to believe that abortion is their only choice. Making abortion the only criterion for selecting our President, may continue the “wars of choice, capital punishment, hunger, homelessness, (inadequate) health care and refugees” without eliminating or even reducing the number of abortions.
Fr. Michael Denk | 8/11/2008 - 5:17pm
Dear John, I sincerely hope Obama does read this. It is such a hard vote because Republicans have been in office for so long now and what has it done to stop abortion? It is rhetoric, but it makes it very difficult for many Catholics to vote for the Democrats when he isn't opposed to the issue of abortion. There are many lives being destroyed because of the poor choices that have been made regarding many of the issues that deal with other aspects of human life that Obama is addressing. Hopefully he will see your letter and have the courage and the wisdom to address your challenge.
ROBERT MCNULTY | 8/11/2008 - 4:36pm
I will address only one narrow lne in this article. The Church has always taught that it is possession of an immortal soul that differentiates us from other creatures. Teaching when God injects this soul has varied. St Thomas Aquinas taught that it was about four months. Recent claims have been made for conception. This raises the immediate question about what happens if twinning occurs 6-8 days later? The Anglican solution is that ensoulment occurs after implanation when the possibility of twinning no longers exists. One's view of the progress of the zygote should deinitely be affected by when life begins i.e. when ensoulment occurs.
Nicholas Clifford | 8/11/2008 - 4:13pm
Will Obama be willing to risk excommunication from the Church of NARAL and its ilk? That is a key question. Another one, it seems to me, and one that John Kavanaugh seems to address, although he does not directly say so, is whether those who oppose abortion on religious grounds, are willing to use secular language to challenge those who would like to think that abortion is a purely "religious" issue, and thus can be dismissed by secularists. For starters, it might be helpful to hammer home a proposition somewhat like this: that to say that abortion means the destruction of human life is not an intellectually vapid argument. One may think it's right, one may think it's wrong, but one can't deny its seriousness. Many people (perhaps Obama among them)would prefer not to face it directly, and by and large they've had their way, preferring to talk instead about women's rights, as if that was the only issue. Moreover, it is an entirely secular, not religious, proposition, and cannot (or at least should not) be dismissed as ecclesiastical dogma. As to "half measures" about reducing abortion by providing better services, including pre-natal ones, one might wish to look at Mary Ann Glendon's Abortion and Divorce in Western Law (Harvard University Press) where she backs such steps.
Nicholas Clifford | 8/11/2008 - 4:12pm
Will Obama be willing to risk excommunication from the Church of NARAL and its ilk? That is a key question. Another one, it seems to me, and one that John Kavanaugh seems to address, although he does not directly say so, is whether those who oppose abortion on religious grounds, are willing to use secular language to challenge those who would like to think that abortion is a purely "religious" issue, and thus can be dismissed by secularists. For starters, it might be helpful to hammer home a proposition somewhat like this: that to say that abortion means the destruction of human life is not an intellectually vapid argument. One may think it's right, one may think it's wrong, but one can't deny its seriousness. Many people (perhaps Obama among them)would prefer not to face it directly, and by and large they've had their way, preferring to talk instead about women's rights, as if that was the only issue. Moreover, it is an entirely secular, not religious, proposition, and cannot (or at least should not) be dismissed as ecclesiastical dogma. As to "half measures" about reducing abortion by providing better services, including pre-natal ones, one might wish to look at Mary Ann Glendon's Abortion and Divorce in Western Law (Harvard University Press) where she backs such steps.
Nicholas Clifford | 8/11/2008 - 4:11pm
Will Obama be willing to risk excommunication from the Church of NARAL and its ilk? That is a key question. Another one, it seems to me, and one that John Kavanaugh seems to address, although he does not directly say so, is whether those who oppose abortion on religious grounds, are willing to use secular language to challenge those who would like to think that abortion is a purely "religious" issue, and thus can be dismissed by secularists. For starters, it might be helpful to hammer home a proposition somewhat like this: that to say that abortion means the destruction of human life is not an intellectually vapid argument. One may think it's right, one may think it's wrong, but one can't deny its seriousness. Many people (perhaps Obama among them)would prefer not to face it directly, and by and large they've had their way, preferring to talk instead about women's rights, as if that was the only issue. Moreover, it is an entirely secular, not religious, proposition, and cannot (or at least should not) be dismissed as ecclesiastical dogma. As to "half measures" about reducing abortion by providing better services, including pre-natal ones, one might wish to look at Mary Ann Glendon's Abortion and Divorce in Western Law (Harvard University Press) where she backs such steps.
Mike | 8/11/2008 - 4:08pm
In response to the commment by James, comment #1. Unfortunately there are to many Catholics who believe if there are 100 lives to be saved but we cannot save all 100 lives, then we should save none. 100% or none at all. I think saving 50 lives would be wonderful.
Harold Kimble | 8/11/2008 - 3:15pm
Legal does not necessarily equate to moral. The choice of the hierarchy to protest Roe v. Wade has caused many to believe that this is Church meddling in secular issues. Alcohol is legal, but there are those who should never drink. The same applies to abortion; it may be legal but is never right. The existence of a law does not compel women to seek abortions. Address the issues pressuring women to these centers of death. With no clients, these places would have to shut down.
Mara | 8/11/2008 - 1:57pm
This appears to be a thoughtful considerate piece to Senator Obama. But it is flat out untrue that Senator Obama supports partial-birth abortion or stands "against lifesaving therapy for newborns surviving an abortion attempt." Senator Obama voted "present" on that piece of legislation in the IL Senate because it would have been found unconstitutional as it was written and the health care for infants born in such cases was already required in IL. Sen. Obama has said on multiple occasions that he would have voted in favor of the Federal version of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. We can have legitimate disagreements on policy, but I hope that Christian and Catholic believers would stop spreading misinformation about Senator Obama's record. Learn more and get the facts at: www.putawayfalsehood.com
Velia Calcara | 8/11/2008 - 1:38pm
It will always surprises me that just one -or a few issues, that has to be decided by the Supreme Court of our nation makes people vote (or not to vote) for a presidential candidate. I am not going to get into the pro-life pro-choice issue, but the fact that a priest denies communion to somebody because of his support for a candidate seems to me rather an act of discrimination that Jesus would never aprove. It has been said "Religion is the opium of the nations", and it was said because of the tremendous power of mass manipulation that religion has; and it was true during the last two presidential elections. We are facing again a tough choice -due to moral and religious beliefs, when it comes to vote for a candiate; but let's do our homework as responsible citizens. Many of us regreted our bad voting choices in the past... do we need to put ourselves in the same position again? We had payed a very high price (not just financially) for those mistakes. Cristians say that God is in control, yet when it comes to explain bad things happening often times we hear that He gives us "Power of choice" and, as far as I know, WE decide who to vote for. Amen
ROSALINO DIZON MS | 8/11/2008 - 11:42am
America Magazine, “Dear Senator Obama,” tells me you live up to, among other things, the ideals of “e pluribus unum” that is synonymous with America. Thanks for fostering the interreligious dialogue that Father Daniel J. Harrington touched upon in a “Word” column of your August 4, 2008 issue.
James | 8/10/2008 - 12:07am
America Magazine, I continue to be disappointed by your editors and those who write in your magazine. This is a Catholic Magazine! We do not want to "reduce" abortion. Rather, we want to "eliminate and end" all abortions. Seriously, this is not OK to do this. Wake up, half measures are not enough.
Ben Brinkman | 8/8/2008 - 11:34pm
I know nothing about the author of this article, but Kmiec is a disgrace. He was an ardent supporter of Mitt Romney, horrible on all the issues for which Kmiec now ostensibly supports Kmiec. His position is completely untenable and he refuses to debate it anywhere.

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