The National Catholic Review
A response to John Kavanaugh, S.J.

John Kavanaugh, S.J., is one of those scholars who enriches every dialogue to which he brings his voice. I’ve long admired his provocative scholarship challenging the consumerist orientation of the American culture. The challenging “ethics across the curriculum program” that he directs at St. Louis University illustrates time and again how the Catholic mind must be imaginative as well as interdisciplinary in seeking ways to fully embrace the social teaching of the church. His recent open letter to Senator Obama contains all the usual Kavanaugh elements: wisdom, civility, prudence and most of all, insight informed by Christ’s own witness.

Father Kavanaugh’s purpose in writing Senator Obama was to alert him to what he called “his abortion problem.” Having raised this topic with the senator myself in person, and having made it my principal reservation in giving him my public endorsement, I concur.  In fact, Father Kavanaugh thoughtfully noted that my endorsement—which I would give again—has nevertheless come at a considerable cost for me: the loss of collegial friendships from the Reagan and Bush administrations; harsh, even brutal, blog commentary that embarrasses my family and myself; and even the denial of communion by a zealous prelate.

Why endure all that? Because Senator Obama is not only ready to lead, he is leading. He inspires America and foreign nations alike with his integrity, intelligence, and call for change to meet great needs precipitated by unjustified war, corporate profiteering and a self-centered autonomy that aggravates, rather than elevates, the human condition.

Father Kavanaugh’s “to do list” for Senator Obama has received substantial attention. For example, Kavanaugh recommended that Senator Obama support Jim Wallis’ abortion reduction agenda that focuses on giving economic support for pregnant women and greater access to adoption. The senator did Kavanaugh one better: he sent his staff to the platform drafting table to highlight and strongly endorsed prenatal care, maternity funding, income support and greater access to adoption. Unfortunately, the Democrats’ platform continues to endorse Roe v. Wade, but at least now this tragic moral choice is not one-sided. Some have pointed out that the old language of “safe, legal and rare” is gone. Good riddance. That language had become a mindless mantra, not a tangible step that could positively incline an expectant mother to choose life. Pro-life Catholics are looking for a viable path toward abortion reduction, not a simple slogan.  

By contrast, the GOP platform seems all slogan and no personal commitment. Going into Minneapolis, the Republicans re-stated their support for a Human Life Amendment (on no one’s political radar) and blamed “activist judges” for pretty much everything (grossly overstated and unfair to the existing bench). At the same time, they deliberately removed language calling for the reduction in the incidence of abortion. In this inversion of subsidiarity, there is no point for an individual to contribute to the common good until large institutional actors remake the universe. Not only is the perfect the enemy of the good, it is an all purpose exemption from the social teaching of the church to which, one suspects, the political descendants of Adam Smith think wholly optional.

Kavanaugh also advocated giving a place at the Democratic convention to Democrats for Life. DFL supporter Senator Robert Casey, Jr. gave a prime time address in Denver (rectifying the slight of his late pro-life father in 1992), and presided over an afternoon session held by the DFL and other Obama advisors. The candidate himself in accepting the nomination before 80,000 supporters made explicit reference to the “disagreement over abortion,” but opined that there “surely” must be agreement on reducing the incidence of abortion that is often the consequence of unwanted pregnancy.  These are well-timed and appropriately-focused statements, as indicated by a study released in Denver by Alexia Kelley of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good correlating poverty and abortion. (According to the study, women below the poverty line are four times more likely to have abortion).

A number of the other points in Kavanaugh’s letter are less easily accomplished, but nominating the Catholic Joe Biden for Vice-President underscores the seriousness with which Obama intends to address them. Kavanaugh rightly noted that the Catholic vote as not monolithic. Let me add that insofar as the Catholic vote constitutes up to one-third of the vote cast in battleground States like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, it is also the key to victory. Some Catholics are already strongly in Senator Obama’s column because of his commitment to addressing the social justice deficiencies of the last eight years.

Other Catholic voters are regrettably more difficult to reach because they have been sold the untenable proposition that the only way to honor life in the Catholic tradition is by reversing Roe, even as that does little other than toss the issue back to the states. These are people of sincerity, who are nevertheless being deliberately misled, some would say wrongfully enslaved, by Republican partisans who demonize Obama and those intending to vote for him. Because I was a long-time resident of this part of the Catholic community, I have devoted a great deal of thought to the concerns of this sizeable contingent. In a new book soon to be released, (Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking The Big Questions about Barack Obama, Overlook Press) I suggest some positive ways for these Catholics to find electoral freedom consistent with the bona fide teaching of the church.

But there is also an undecided group of Catholics, who, as Father Kavanaugh notes, is watching and listening to Senator Obama most closely of all, especially with respect to horrific procedures like partial-birth abortion. Senator Obama recognizes that these late term abortions aggravate the moral disorder, and it is important for him to keep exploring in public conversation their proper restraint. To his credit, Senator Obama has indicated that in this context a mental illness exception must mean more than mental distress. In his words, such exception should “be defined by serious clinical mental-health diseases . . . [and] not just a matter of feeling blue.” Senator Obama has taken some flak from abortion right activists for raising this point, but one of the senator’s most admirable traits is his intellectual integrity, not just telling his supporters what they want to hear.

Pro-life Catholics like myself and Father Kavanaugh have no illusions. Politics isn’t bean bag and for several generations the Democrats have been absent without leave from the defense of the unalienable right to life. In 2004, Democrats for Life could scarcely get an audience with the counselors to the nominee. Today, a different type of Democrat is open to the views of all and has already led his party to a better place, more affirming of this precious gift of life to which none of us have entitlement and all of us have an obligation.

Douglas W. Kmiec is the Caruso Family Chair & Professor of Constitutional Law Pepperdine University School of Law.

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Fernando | 6/15/2009 - 10:19pm
It is a personal decission to choose life or death. No sin is greater than the other. Who am I to make anyone obey some of God's princples and I don't obey them all myself. We must all work out the sinful ways in our own life. It's not right to judge anyone who doesn't believe in the Bible or follow it in parts or whole-heartedly. We must do like Jesus - spread the word and not like an enforcer of Hitler's army. Where is the LOVE? Attacking welfare isn't the problem but changing the minds of people in the medical field towards the poor. Truely it takes money to have an abortion and most blacks and hispanics don't have abortions. You are fighting a belief system-"The Problem." I believe what God believes we are human before physical conception;therefore,when the egg and sperm clash together-what was in heaven is now on earth. God made it clear in Jeremiah, "I knew you before conception...". I'm not for abortion but pro-choice. Everyone has a right to choose. It's not a question of if I like their decission but allowing them to decide. I like my freedom to choose whatever! I'm a human first and everything else second.
Jenni | 6/9/2009 - 3:50pm
There is absolutely no need for late term abortions like President Obama claims. If a woman is experiencing emergency health problems late in her pregnancy, a late term abortion could kill her! Late in a pregnacy, the child's skull is large and her bones/muscles are harder to rip apart. In order to dismember and pull out the body parts, a woman's cervix must be forced open and dialated, which is a 24hr minimum-3 day procedure. In the event of an emergency, a woman doesn't have days to wait around for the abortion, let alone the stress it will cause her body and the long-term emotional impact it will have on her for the rest of her life. (We weren't designed to turn on our offspring, our bodies were created to protect, not destroy.) And in the event of a partial birth abortion, why can't the abortionist pull the child the last 3 inches out and allow her to live? Why does he have to stab her in the back of the head and crush her skull as she's being born? How barbaric! How evil! How dare we allow God's creation to be treated as trash! And how dare we allow a man who supports this practice to lead us in the White House! How can there ever be peace in the world when we kill our own children? Abortion pits mothers against their own children as enemies. The terrorist who attacked our country don't even kill their own children! Abortion almost killed my daughter in Jan 2000. It is the most horrific thing to know that no one could've protected my daughter from me. I judged her, thought she would ruin my life... but God knew best. I trusted Him, and now, after getting to know my child, I'd gladly die for her as Christ died for me. She is the love of my life and the greatest blessing from my Lord and Savior! Woe to those who hurt his children. It would be better for them to have a millstone strung around their necks and be tossed into the sea than to touch a single hair upon their heads! Abortion is Satan's greatest tool. Not only does it tear families apart, but it destroys God's creation. It's wiped out 1/3 of my generation and will ultimated lead to the murder of millions of elderly, sick, and disabled people. Because now, there aren't enough of us "wanted" children to care for the baby boomers who only wanted some of us and secondly, we've been taught that the strong don't have to care for the weak... the "unwanted" can be disposed of as we see fit. Don't forget, the elderly's diapers are much bigger, one year in a nursing home can cost more than a 4yr college education, annual cost of meds are through the roof. It's nearly impossible for 2 kids to cover the costs of 2 parents, and who's going to care for those who didn't have kids when they have their own parents to worry about? God will not be mocked. You kill by the sword, you die by the sword. You support the culture of death, and it will only come back to someday claim you. Pope John Paul 2 encouraged the youth to stand up and defend life. Mr. Kmiec, you and President Obama are not my daughter's hero. You have mislead thousands of people for political purposes and my heart breaks for you. I pitty you. You will not be a happy man for selling your soul and you will be held just as accountable for the loss of innocent life as everyone else. How was slavery out lawed? Did they lower the need for slaves or did they get right in there and make it illegal to own slaves? During the Holocaust, did we help Germany lower the need to kill Jews, Catholics, and the disabled? Or did we get right in there and stop the killing? Mr. Kmiec, if President Obama was personally opposed to owning a slave, but didn't think he has a right to force his believes on others and keep slaverly legal, would you have stood next to him? Maybe you should check out and see what a child in the womb looks like, please note the rather human appearance: Mr. Kmiec, you can' be lukewarm... it's either killing or it's not. You either follow God or you do not. I am praying that your eyes be opened. Abortion has deeply hurt many of my friends. They will suffer a lifetime because of their choice to kill their own child. Abortion has many victims, including both women and children, and both deserve to be protected! Sincerely, Jen Nelson 28 Liberty Moore 8
Patricia W. Oliver | 5/7/2009 - 12:31pm
At last: a sane voice who maybe someday can convince the crazies to hate less and empathize more. If some of the above commenters will read Dr. Kmiec's forthcoming book, perhaps they will be able to have less tunnel vision.
James E. Roberts, MD | 3/30/2009 - 10:26pm
As a physician, I don't think I'm vulnerable to "being sold" anything; moreover, we "more difficult to reach" Catholics are not pinning our moral hopes upon the reversal of Roe v Wade, which we fully recognize as passing the issue back to the states; rather, we understand abortion as an intrinsic evil which cannot be obscured by the sophistical use of phrases such as "the perfect being the enemy of the good" (invoked before Smith by Voltaire, no friend of the Catholic Church). Your subtle condescension toward those who will not compromise on ending abortion reduces intelligent, informed Catholics to the status of pitiables who require outreach from the sages who understand President Obama's wisdom. This stance puts the emphasis on "audacity" rather than hope.
Michael Bindner | 11/24/2008 - 12:26pm
My only regret about Biden is that he did not mount a more intelligent defense of the pro-choice position than pluralism. Had he used the remarks I had sent him, you would have seen much more fire on this issue. Instead, the campaign used surrogates to assure that Obama was a safe choice, rather than engaging in the frontal attack the right to live movement so richly deserves as an arm of the Republican Party.
Robert Koch | 11/22/2008 - 10:11pm
Mr. Kmiec wrights, "but nominating the Catholic Joe Biden for Vice-President underscores the seriousness with which Obama intends to address them." I say give me a break, Biden is no different then the other disgraceful pro abortion "Catholic" Senators Kennedy and Kerry. Mr. Kmiec, your going down the "Yellow Brick Road."
cc | 11/6/2008 - 6:56am
In the words "of my sainted grandmother "Hogwash!" Would Jesus have voted for Obama? No. There's a great book written by C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, read it.
Maureen Holleran | 10/23/2008 - 5:07pm
Thank you for posting a number of newsworthy articles that allow practicing Catholics an opportunity to more fully explore this very complex issue. Too often I feel totally coerced as a Catholic to vote Republican when I know neither party has impacted the core issue of why women choose the abortion solution to their percieved problems. I have never believed the solution could be found in legislation. Hopefully politicians will inspire by their example of holy and faithful lives rather than the voting record.
Cristina Rojo | 10/20/2008 - 4:37pm
The problem I have with ultimately overturning Roe vs. Wade is that it could lead to protecting the fetus over the life of the mother. I have three daughters and if one of them could get incarcerated for aborting a pregnancy which was a threat to her life, I would then have to go to Spain, or France, to save her life. Sick pregnant women would then be offered up as martyrs, which has deep mysoginistic roots. The Church is wise but has also had to learn many lessons throughout her history. I remind you of "The Malleus Malleficarum"- or "The Hammer of Witches", in which millions of women were killed. Also, the wisdom of the maternal instinct to abort a fetus with extreme disabilities has something important to say about natural law. Whoever carries the burden has the choice.
Sage Dorrington | 10/20/2008 - 12:39pm
A must read to clarify the missconception that Obama is prolife is a talk that Archbishop Charles Chaput gave, "The Little Murders":
RNTonya | 10/19/2008 - 5:29pm
All the information in the article about democrats for life, is wonderful! There needs to be a balance, not only one party who values human life. As a RN, I can never see a time that a woman's health would benefit from delivering a dead baby, delivery is delivery. Partial Birth Abortion will deliver a large full term, or nearly full term baby, if it is dead or alive is of no concern if a speedy delivery is the goal. A quick delivery can be accomplished with a live baby. We need to focus on adoption, welfare and throwing more money at the mother's is not the answer. I recently had a pregnant mom on life support (dialysis) with her 5th at age 27, the more you have the more you get from the government. We are clearly enabling by supporting people in welfare, for anything other than short term, which I believe was the intent of welfare. Obama voted against the infant born alive bill, despite what his comercials state. His very brief days of experience will attest that his commercial is a lie. We have devalued human life since 1973, and in my town 2 women have left babies in hot cars and the died and got off scott free. What a mess we have become here in America! We need to pray for a president with a REAL respect for human life to be in office, and that is not Obama!
Payday Loan Advocate | 10/14/2008 - 3:52am
Some politicians, such as Barack Obama, are looking to outlaw the payday loan industry. A large part of this intention was stirred by the flawed idea that payday lenders fall under the same moral values as illegal loan sharks. Being misinformed can accumulate some severe consequences. Although this statement is true, they take no notice of the genuine fact that the main source of these consequences is based on a course of action on inaccurate information. Sadly, a number of politicians have successfully passed legislation in their states, city and towns which controls, or even takes away your ability to get a payday loan. Now is the time to take action and educate your friend and family to protect your rights to financial independence.
Fr. Gary Zender | 10/7/2008 - 1:54pm
I very much appreciate Fr. Kavanaugh's open letters to both presidential candidates and how the work for justice and the protection for human life is far from over after Nov. 4th. Douglas Kmiec's comments in reponse to Fr. Kavanaugh's letter is also very thoughtful. While I understand that the Democratic Party has made some progress in regards to the abortion issue, as Professor Kmiec explains, I remain concerned about the "Freedom of Choice Act", which would establish abortion as a fundamental right throughout the nine months of preganancy, and which I understand Senator Obama has promised Planned Parenthood to sign into law. This seems to be a direction that would be unaccetpable for anyone concerned about the portection of human life. Fr. Gary Zender
Payday Loan Advocate | 10/7/2008 - 5:33am
High-level politicians, including Barack Obama, are in quest of limiting the American peoples’ access to on-demand, short term financial support. A number of cities and townships are attempting to enforce limitations on where these lawful businesses can operate. Still worse, is that several states, including Georgia and North Carolina, have effectively forced all-out bans on the trade, with several more trying to follow suit. Citizens all around the nation are looking to have their voices paid attention to by aggressive legislation that would eradicate the payday loan industry nationwide; Obama, and other mislead political officials, are pushing for an absolute ban in the name of personal political gain, in spite of the hundreds of thousands of eventual lost jobs in an already difficult economy. Post Courtesy of Personal Money Store Professional Blogging Team Feed Back: 1-866-641-3406 Home: Blog:
Rob Henry | 10/7/2008 - 2:46am
I find it comical that Douglas Kmiec calls Catholics who want to overturn Roe as being "deliberately misled". He goes on to state that if we were able to get Roe overturned, "that does little other than toss the issue back to the states." Well Doug, I think you are right about that. Your solution is that "Pro-life Catholics are looking for a viable path toward abortion reduction" and can find that with Senator Obama, not with McCain. However, this argument would only be applicable before July 17, 2008, when Senator Obama pledged his allegiance to Planned Parenthood. Since you published this article after this speech (September 8, 2008), you, sir, are either "deliberately misled" or "deliberately misleading". During his speech, he advised "first thing I’d do as president is, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act." [1]. Not sure if you know about this act, but what it will do is "annihilate every single state law limiting or regulating abortion, including the federal ban on partial birth abortion." [2]. Need proof check out reference [3]. Maybe I am missing something, but your argument seems flawed. You are stating that if we have the following choices: - Choosing leaders that will work to overturn Roe, which would push the decision to the individual states. - Choosing leaders that will not work to overturn Roe, but promises to "reduce" the number of abortions by overriding all of the current and possibly future laws that the individual states may pass to reduce or prevent abortion in their respective borders. Of the two choices mentioned above, you are suggesting that "well-informed" Catholics should choose the latter. Knowing this, I can answer my thought above; you, sir, are "deliberately misleading". [1] [2] [3]
Michael Bindner | 10/6/2008 - 9:49am
First, if you consult the Growth and Development entry in the Macropedia of the Encyclopedia Britannica, you will find that life begins at Gastrulation, not conception. Until Gastrulation, the blastocyst is not organized. Each stem cell is like all the others and can be subtracted without harm to the eventual child. Secondly, the focus of abortion policy is not really the rights of the fetus by the methods by which you propose to enforce those rights. It is not morally necessary to support methods which do not work or which cause more harm than they remedy. The methods cited certainly cannot be passed legislatively, even without Roe. As the overturning of Roe would also overturn the federal supremacy in most areas of equal protection law (which has been a conservative fetish since Brown v. Board of Education), a Catholic can reject this strategy in good conscience. Finally, the supremacy of the conscience did not start with Vatican II, but with the Apostle Paul. Read what he says about it in Romans.
Brian Krezman | 10/2/2008 - 1:20pm
I long ago stopped rationalizing the Democratic party's position as anything more than complete submission to the most radical wing of the pro-choice movement. My support for Senator Obama is not due to an illusion that the democrats are more "pro-life." The overall direction of the nation and the danger posed to the future of our republic by the neoconservative philosophy and agenda which gave us George W. Bush are the "grave reasons" why I cannot vote for Sen. McCain. We must have an administration which will clean them out of the White House and the Executive branch. McCain, despite his self-proclaimed "maverick" status, is simply too close to that power center for my comfort. Combine that with his growing signs of anger and confusion as well as the mystifiying selection of Gov. Palin and I am even more sure of my vote.
MICHAEL LYDON | 9/28/2008 - 12:52pm
Powerful evidence of Senator Obama's "lockstep" insistence on a woman's right to choose has been evidenced in these comments. I am afraid, like Pres. Clinton, in 1993, one of Obama's first acts will be to sign the "Freedom of Choice" act into law. Like other pro-life Democrats, I would like to support Senator Obama for his many other thoughtful and prudent stances supporting the common good. But until some breakage occurs in the "church of NARAL" as Fr. Kavanaugh calls it, I cannot vote for Obama with a clean conscience. Nor I can vote for McCain with a clean conscience, given his hawkish reactive temperament and his choice for VP. I am fast concluding I may not be able to vote. Ekim Nodyl, St. Louis MO.
Jim Doyle | 9/24/2008 - 5:15pm
Ouch - what a great article on rationalizing to make things work the way you want to believe. Douglas W. Kmiec makes it all look OK. Somewhere along the line - when all Jesuit University graduates had to get a minor in philosophy, we were taught to think with logic and truth. I missed Mr Kmiec's "way of thinking" course. But - I see many Catholic politicians with similar logic. EG Ken Salazar. They say they believe that life starts at conception, but I will defend a womans right to kill.
Mary | 9/24/2008 - 5:11pm
I am so tired of the same empty phrases of "opening dialogue" and "reducing the number of abortions". I'm nearly 50 years old and seen and heard it all - your words are meaningless to me. Planned Parenthood,NARAL's objective is clear. Meanwhile day after day, year after year, HUMANS are ripped apart literally and no one wants to look right at it. Catholics wake up. Verbal engineering doesn't change the holocaust.
Mary | 9/24/2008 - 5:11pm
I am so tired of the same empty phrases of "opening dialogue" and "reducing the number of abortions". I'm nearly 50 years old and seen and heard it all - your words are meaningless to me. Planned Parenthood,NARAL's objective is clear. Meanwhile day after day, year after year, HUMANS are ripped apart literally and no one wants to look right at it. Catholics wake up. Verbal engineering doesn't change the holocaust.
Mary | 9/24/2008 - 5:07pm
I am so tired of the same empty phrases of "opening dialogue" and "reducing the number of abortions". I'm nearly 50 years old and your words are meaningless Planned Parenthood,NARAL's objective is clear. Meanwhile day after day, year after year, HUMANS are ripped apart literally and no one wants to look right at it. Catholics wake up. Verbal engineering doesn't change the holocaust.
gabriel marcella | 9/24/2008 - 1:21pm
Fr. Kavanaugh is to be commended for generating this dialogue. But I firmly reject Mr. Kmiec's comment of being categorized as "misled" or "wrongfully enslaved" by any political partisans. In our pluralistic society Catholics must participate in the life vs. abortion debate in an informed way and make political choices based on prudence and moral reflection. Mr. Kmiec is a distinguished jurist and public servant who has had privileged access to political power and perhaps even to Senator Obama, whom he champions for the presidency. What assurance can he give us that the political process, with Obama in the White House, will bring about the good that he espouses? We have countless examples of professed Catholics in public life, from the Speaker of the House to the Vice Presidential candidate from Delaware, who have reached the pinnacle of power while consistently voting for abortion for nearly 40 years. They had opportunities along the way for what Fr. Kavanaugh calls "reasoned, evidence-based and respectful discourse" within the Democratic party and a variety of votes in Congress to defend life, but chose abortion in order to achieve political power. I will be waiting to see the "different type of Democrat...more affirming of this precious gift of life" who Mr. Kmiec believes he has found.
Judy Holmes | 9/23/2008 - 3:28pm
This article is one of the best I have read about Catholics, theological principles, abortion and the Democrat and Republican agendas. Please print this for greater exposure for thinking Catholics. Thank you.
Judy Holmes | 9/23/2008 - 3:28pm
This article is one of the best I have read about Catholics, theological principles, abortion and the Democrat and Republican agendas. Please print this for greater exposure for thinking Catholics. Thank you.
Steven Harper | 9/22/2008 - 11:25am
I appreciate high-profile Catholics like Douglas Kmiec who are not afraid to be truth-tellers. For too many American Catholics "pro-life" is limited to "anti-abortion." But Pope John Paul's call to be "authentically pro-life" (Evangelium Vitae)cannot be reduced to such a one-dimensional stance. To preserve the dignity of each human person also means opposition to euthanasia, fetal stem-cell research, the death penalty, and wars of choice, to name some of the pro-life issues that should define us as Catholics. Senator Obama has my full support.
E. Haley | 9/21/2008 - 6:34pm
Thank you, Fr. Kavanaugh and Mr. Kmiec for your thoughtful articles.You remind us that the Catholic pro-life position is fundamental to our faith, but that it is not simplistic. Believing that all life is sacred and holy, Catholics must uphold the dignity and worth of every human being in every stage of life. I'm not so sure the Republicans have been good examples of that. After all, pro-life must be more than rhetoric, it must be practiced. We must take all things into consideration! If we are pro-life, we must see it as immoral that the economic policies of the last 8 years have increased homelessness, poverty, job loss,lives lost in a questionable war, lack of health insurance for so many, the closing of mental health institutions, etc... There is so much at stake! Catholics and other Christians need to concentrate on bringing about the kingdom of God through actively living the Gospel life in such a way that others want to live it with us, rather than concentrating on legislation. You cannot legislate morality! I for one would rather spend time - and money- working for justice in all areas rather than concentrating on Roe vs. Wade. An amendment will not change people's hearts. Nor will the act of a righteous Catholic priest who denies the Eucharist when we all know that Christ invites. I- in very good conscience- support Barak Obama for president.
Dan Sheehan | 9/20/2008 - 3:58pm
Let's assume for a moment that Obama was simply engaging in crowd-pleasing rhetoric when he promised to make signing the Freedom of Choice Act his first action as president. That would make him an insincere panderer, would it not? If he was serious, and would attend to that signing before any other business in his new job, then his priorities are unimaginably skewed. I see so much in Obama that appeals to me, but here is where he loses me.
Charles Bouchard | 9/18/2008 - 1:59pm
We have to get Catholics off this one-track thinking about abortion. It is clear that Roe v. Wade will not be overtuned soon, and even if it were, the problem we have now would simply become 50 problems. What's more, the incidence of abortion will be harder to track because increasing use of the morning after pill. We can't let the Democratic party off the hook for its "value free" approach to choice, but we have to acknowledge that legal abortions are probably here to stay. Rather than relinquishing our moral authority to judges and lawmakers and asking them to do our work for us, we as a Church need to develop a new strategy that reduces sex outside of marriage, provides more support for unwanted pregnancies, and uses moral persuasion to change public attitudes about abortion. If we were able to virtually eliminate smoking by changing public attitudes in just a few years, can't we try to do the same for abortion? Can't we change perceptions so that abortion is seen as the dangerous, demeaning act it is rather than a valiant act of free choice?
J. Kastelic, M.D. | 9/17/2008 - 4:07pm
In 1864 the Democratic platform, in order to restore the Union, reputiated the war and invited the rebellious states back into the Union. In doing so, they conceded to the Confederate states the right to continue their slavery policy. In this pragmatic versus moral issue, using the logic of his article, would Mr.Kmiec have voted for Lincoln?
Agnes | 9/16/2008 - 9:31pm
Abortion is immoral--no law can change that --I think our pastors and Bishop's need to speak more to the individuals that abort( parent and Doctor} than to the legislatures passing laws allowing abortion---Who acts and assists in commiting the immoral act??---they are ones breaking a commandment---Agnes
E. Patrick Mosman | 9/10/2008 - 10:29pm
Leaving the abortion issue, when Mr Kmeic writes "Because Senator Obama is not only ready to lead, he is leading. He inspires America and foreign nations alike with his integrity, intelligence, and call for change to meet great needs precipitated by unjustified war, corporate profiteering and a self-centered autonomy that aggravates, rather than elevates, the human condition." one has to wonder on what basis does he make these claims, especially the claim that Senator Obama is a leader. Has Mr. Kmeic vetted every aspect of of Senator Obama's career? Mr. Obama's resume on leadership is essentially non-existent, as a community organizer, an Illinois political figure(Voting Present over 100 times is hardly the mark of a leader) and a US Senator. Mr. Obama arrived as the gifted speech maker, reading a speech written by speech writers at the 2004 democratic convention. His scripted speeches are crafted by speech writers and read from a teleprompter. His 'off-the-cuff' remarks are full of umms, ahhs gaffes,often wandering off the subject which are never commented on or joked about by his admirers and supporters or the media, perhaps Mr. Kmeic could enlighten the readers of American Magazine with examples of his leadership accomplishments. What do we know about Senator Obama? How well did the media vet Barack H Obama? Did they do the spade work digging into every aspect of his life from birth until today? Did they investigate the political views of his mother and father and his white grandparent's who raised him (says something about his own mother and father's parenting skills)? Did they vet his school days in Indonesia, Hawaii and his time at Columbia with teams of on the spot investigators? What was his GPA at Columbia? Did they investigate fully his confession of being a druggie and when he stopped using drugs? The sound of silence is deafening. All the concern voiced about Governor Sarah Palin's lack of experience is surely intended to mask Senator Barak H. Obama's executive experience which is a blank page unless his time as Chairman of the Chicago based Annenberg Project run actually by former Weather Underground leader and unrepentant terrorist bomber Bill Ayers is included. Together Obama/Ayers are reported to have invested $100,000,000 in the Annenberg Project. What did they accomplish? To date this period of his work experience has been written in invisible ink. And his campaign is going to extreme efforts to insure that the records of this phase of his executive experience are buried and remain invisible. What else is buried about his past, besides Ayers,Wright, Rezco? Could it be the identity of "Frank' his mentor for a period of time in Hawaii? Could the following Frank be the one and shouldn't the American people be told: The secrecy surrounding his past belies his attempt to portray himself as a 'new' and 'different' politician, one worthy to be President of the United States of America.
DE Mosman | 9/10/2008 - 8:44pm
With respect to the science on human life -- perhaps Donald Kmiec and Rev. John Kavanaugh as a point of departure for political gamesmanship, review the following; and stick to the science re human life and forget the ethics and theology . If either can introduce scientific evidence that contradicts these scientists -- let them produce same. In the meantime -- explain why the 5th Commandment does not to that human life. “In 1981 (April 23-24) a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee held hearings on the very question before us here: When does human life begin? Appearing to speak on behalf of the scientific community was a group of internationally known geneticists and biologists who had the same story to tell, namely, that human life begins at conception. Though offered the opportunity to provide opposing evidence -- none came forth. --Dr. Micheline M. Mathews-Roth, Harvard medical School, gave confirming testimony, supported by references from over 20 embryology and other medical textbooks -- that human life began at conception. --"Father of Modern Genetics" Dr. Jerome Lejeune told the lawmakers: "To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion ... it is plain experimental evidence." --Dr. Hymie Gordon, Chairman, Department of Genetics at the Mayo Clinic, added: "By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception." --Dr. McCarthy de Mere, medical doctor and law professor, University of Tennessee, testified: "The exact moment of the beginning of personhood and of the human body is at the moment of conception." --Dr. Alfred Bongiovanni, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, concluded, "I am no more prepared to say that these early stages represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty ... is not a human being." --Dr. Richard V. Jaynes: "To say that the beginning of human life cannot be determined scientifically is utterly ridiculous." --Dr. Landrum Shettles, sometimes called the "Father of In Vitro Fertilization" notes, "Conception confers life and makes that life one of a kind." And on the Supreme Court ruling _Roe v. Wade_, "To deny a truth [about when life begins] should not be made a basis for legalizing abortion." --Professor Eugene Diamond: "...either the Justices were fed a backwoods biology or they were pretending ignorance about a scientific certainty." DE Mosman
Father Mike McLain | 9/10/2008 - 4:07pm
I'm going to side with the bishops who condemn abortion as an always grave evil, and not with a supposedly 'learned constitutional law' teacher. Senator Barack Obama, like most politicians, will in fact say what the voting public wants to hear. Senator Obama's allowance of abortion and his support of the likes of Planned Parenthood, among many other facts, causes me to be repulsed by his nomination for the POTUS. He is being manipulated by the Chicago political machine and other very rich and powerful supporters / manipulators.
Douglas Johnson | 9/10/2008 - 9:37am
The notion that Obama is committed to an "abortion reduction agenda" is pixie dust, sprinkled about to distract the gullible. In truth, he has long been firmly committed to a public policy agenda that, if implemented, will greatly increase the incidence of abortion. Here's an example: One policy that both sides agree actually HAS substantially reduced the number of abortions performed in the United States was the cutoff of Medicaid funding for abortion on demand. There are various empirical studies that demonstrate that many children have been born, who would otherwise have been aborted, because Medicaid funding of abortion has been denied by the federal Hyde Amendment, and by the comparable policies in effect in the majority of states. By the most conservative estimate, the federal Hyde Amendment alone has saved over one million lives since it was first enacted in 1976. Both sides agree that this has occurred -- indeed, the pro-abortion groups like NARAL cite these studies in urging Congress and state legislatures to repeal these pro-life policies, while pro-life groups see this as a success story. Well, then, here is a proven "abortion reduction" policy, so is Obama for it? No, he is not -- Obama advocates repeal of the Hyde Amendment (and as a state senator, he voted against restricting state funding of elective abortions). Moreover, in 2007 Obama gave a speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in which he promised abortion would be covered in his national health care plan, which means that everybody would be required to pay for elective abortion through taxes, mandatory premiums, or both. There is more: Obama is a cosponsor of the "Freedom of Choice Act," which would make partial-birth abortion legal again, and invalidate virtually all state and federal limits on abortion, including parental notification laws. In addition, the "Freedom of Choice Act" provides that "A government may not . . . discriminate against" abortion "in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information." This hardly sounds like a law that will foster "abortion reduction." Nor would it allow states to ban third-trimester abortions for women who are merely "feeling blue" (a recently minted Obama stance that Prof. Kmiec rather pathetically cites as evidence of Obama's moderation on the abortion issue). In 2007, Obama told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing I'd do." Obama has defended a vision of "abortion rights" that is more expansive than that adopted by the Supreme Court or of most defenders of Roe v. Wade. This is illustrated, for example, by Obama's actions in the Illinois state Senate in 2001-2003, when he successfully led the opposition to a bill to merely provide protection for babies who are born alive during abortions. (The bill that Obama opposed was virtually identical to a federal bill that passed Congress without a single dissenting vote in 2002.) Obama said, in 2001, that it would violate Roe v. Wade to recognize what he called a "previable fetus" as a person -- even when that human is entirely born, and alive. Recognizing that most Americans would recoil at his notion even a fully born aborted infant is still covered by Roe v. Wade, Obama has been making demonstrably false claims about the bill ever since, as National Right to Life shows in a thoroughly documented White Paper that we released on August 28, 2008, which can be read or downloaded here: Douglas Johnson Legislative Director National Right to Life Committee Washington, D.C. Legfederal // at // aol - dot - com
JAMES dean | 9/9/2008 - 12:01pm
Doug Kmiec does not make a convincing argument as to why Catholics could vote for Obama.The original letter by Father Kavanaugh was excellent and was intended to provoke the conscience of the candidate.Trying to reconcile Faith with Politics is a fools errand and the reasoning of Kmiec proves this. His thinking leads only to a socializing effect on the crime of abortion ,serving to reduce the responsiblity of the individual in the act.Republicans are far removed from the vision of the Church with perhaps Senator Brownback a notable exception.However ,the time for Catholics to vote for Democrats en masse and with a clean conscience is when they acknowledge that it is wrong to kill unborn children.That every restriction will be put in place and that if a child survives an abortion attempt it will live to tell the tale.Not before.
E. Patrick Mosman | 9/9/2008 - 8:07am
Father Kavanaugh is inspired by Douglas Kmiec and makes a reference to voting for Hitler depending upon his position on abortion. In an earlier post I referenced Cardial Ratzinger's "Conscience and Truth" and here is his reflection on the 'subjective conscience' and Hitler: "What I was only dimly aware of in this conversation became glaringly clear a little later in a dispute among colleagues about the justifying power of the erroneous conscience. Objecting to this thesis, someone countered that if this were so then the Nazi SS would be justified and we should seek them in heaven since they carried out all their atrocities with fanatic conviction and complete certainty of conscience. Another responded with utmost assurance that of course this was indeed the case. There is no doubting the fact that Hitler and his accomplices who were deeply convinced of their cause, could not have acted otherwise. Therefore, the objective terribleness of their deeds notwithstanding, they acted morally, subjectively speaking. Since they followed their albeit mistaken consciences, one would have to recognize their conduct as moral and, as a result, should not doubt their eternal salvation. Since that conversation, I knew with complete certainty that something was wrong with the theory of justifying power of the subjective conscience, that, in other words, a concept of conscience which leads to such conclusions must be false. For, subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples which follow therefrom do not justify man. Some thirty years later, in the terse words of the psychologist, Albert Gorres, I found summarized the perceptions I was trying to articulate. The elaboration of these insights forms the heart of this address. Gorres shows that the feeling of guilt, the capacity to recognize guilt, belongs essentially to the spiritual make-up of man. This feeling of guilt disturbs the false calm of conscience and could be called conscience's complaint against my self- satisfied existence. It is as necessary for man as the physical pain which signifies disturbances of normal bodily functioning. Whoever is no longer capable of perceiving guilt is spiritually ill, a "living corpse, a dramatic character's mask," as Gorres says. "Monsters, among other brutes, are the ones without guilt feelings. Perhaps Hitler did not have any, or Himmler, or Stalin. Maybe Mafia bosses do not have any guilt feelings either, or maybe their remains are just well hidden in the cellar. Even aborted guilt feelings ... All men need guilt feelings." Apparently Rev. Kavanaugh, Mr. Kmeic and others are in awe of Mr. Obama's 'reduce abortion but not eliminate' which is in direct conradiction to Catholic teaching. Bishop Chaput has released a statement regarding Senator Biden's recent statements on abortion to go with his previous one on Rep. Pelosi's misguided attempt to redefine Catholic teaching. .
REV JOHN KAVANAUGH SJ | 9/8/2008 - 3:40pm
I'm inspired by the labors and courage of Douglas Kmiec. It's also encouraging to see the quality and depth of almost all the responses to his article and my open letter to Senator Obama. As suggested, my next column is an open letter to Senator McCain. One nagging question remains, triggered by the correspondents who made illusion to Adolph Hitler. The question can be asked both ways: would we vote for Hitler if he were totally opposed to abortion and would criminalize it? Or would his other positions requite that we resist him? Luckly, we are not faced with such an evil hypothetical scenario. It seems we have four candidates who have high moral aspirations. blessings on all your labors, fr john kavanaugh sj.
Joe Flannery | 9/7/2008 - 7:11pm
Firstly,Obama has gotten this far by telling people want they want to hear.The idea that he challenges people is laughable,he merely nuances a little and then leaves you to believe that he is on your side.He appeals to Intellectuals because he feeds into their over grown egos and when he strokes the same they are more than happy to forego any serious argument.Case in point,Doug Kmiec seems absolutely bowled over with Barack Obama and does a rather poor job of passing him off as a real alternative to those wishing to follow the teachings of Christ .The people on this site who are torn on this issue seem to be very disingenious.If you want to vote for him do so.But dont think reading the Cathechism or the new testament or anything else will in anyway remove the simple truth that you are voting for a person who places no value on unborn life.Be man enough to admit you dont like Republicans, are not so hung up or even angry that Obama will only speak nicely on this subject to humor other Catholics, the less sophisticated ones, and go and vote for him. God alone will know if you voted as a Christian or as a Democrat.If you weighed carefully the life of each unborn child in your conscience and thought Obama was thier greater advocate or the more inclined to give them a chance .God Bless
Eamon Brennan | 9/6/2008 - 9:55pm
I agree with Mr. Kmiec. I oppose the Democractic pro-abortion platform, but support Mr. Obama for what I feel he can otherwise do for the country. If you tell me I can't vote for Obama because of his pro-abortion stance, then you are writing off all of the black Catholics who for the first time in history have the chance of electing one of their own as President. That's just not right.
Mark F | 9/6/2008 - 1:59am
Thank you, Mr. Kmiec. I have agonized over this issue. In addition to the USCCB statements, I've read the entire Catechism, the 16 documents of Vatican II. I've prayed about this issue and I am working my way through the New Testament. The bishop's statement: "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States" reminds Catholics to "take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue." I am mindful of serious corruption and scandals in the GOP in recent years (family values, pro-life politicians involved with prostitutes, being arrested for solicitation in public toilets, and my own Catholic, pro-life congressman resigned after being caught soliciting male congressional pages on the Internet). I was also nauseated to learn that actions by so-called pro-life Congressional conservatives resulted in forced abortions. John McCain supports federal funding for the type of stem cell research opposed by the Catholic Church. The Church teaches this research is murder of an unborn child. Neither Obama or McCain is pro-life. I will vote for Obama, the more pro-life of the two. Not every politician who labels themselves as pro-life is to be trusted. Bless you Mr. Kmiec for taking a well-thought and very moral stand which is mindful of and faithful to Catholic pro-life teaching.
david power | 9/5/2008 - 6:53pm
In the last paragraph the Author describes Barack Obama as more affirming of this precious gift of life.The same person who stated that he would not want his daughter punished with a baby .This seems to me to be code for a one way ticket for any unwelcome little strangers in that house. As for his taking flak for his outspokeness on this issues rest assured that NARAL did some vetting before they gave him their full support ahead of Hillary Clinton who has no mean record when it comes to issues of unborn life.Did they err? Think not.They know their man.Abortion is by no means the only yardstick by which we measure Justice in 2008 just as Slavery would not have been the only one in the past.But it certainly draws a pretty clear line
Joy Viau | 9/4/2008 - 9:07pm
God bless you! If we truly revere life, we must struggle for equal access for those already born, to education, healthcare, spiritual freedom and peaceful existence. Making abortion the only yardstick by which we measure justice is selling humanity short and will prevent us from opening a dialogue for change.
MICHAEL WALSH REV | 9/3/2008 - 5:43pm
After reading more comments, I am disappointed that you have not published my comment. Are you afraid of the truth? Marc Monmouth
Nicholas Pichotta | 9/3/2008 - 5:25pm
Your efforts to influence Mr. Obama and the Democrats to make room for Catholics who understand and embrace the teaching of the Catholic Church on human life, the protection of the unborn and the incumbent responsibility to protect human life is truly important work. It might also give Democratic senators who are becoming increasingly visible and in open conflict with the Church a way to work themselves back into a position of positive influence rather than an being an embarrassment to practicing Catholics and a challenge to the bishops who are forced by their ecclesiastical responsibility to confront them in order to protect the Church from having these powerful politicians making statements which are in conflict with moral law. Certainly Mr. Biden and Ms. Pelosi are the most current examples. Perhaps Republicans who are singularly focused on Roe v Wade will be influenced by your call to support programs intended to reduce the number of abortions while continuing their fight to bring our laws into conformity with moral law and fight for the legal rights of the unborn. As a Republican that believes that the forty million unborn children aborted since Roe v Wade is a tragedy of the most immense proportions in the history of man, I am moved by your arguments and, although I believe that changing Roe and all the state laws permitting abortion is a battle that must be fought, the idea of encouraging adoptions and assisting in every way possible to reduce the number of abortions is an even more critical step than changing Roe and gives Catholic Democrats an opportunity to support Senator Obama without compromising their Catholic moral responsibilities and furthermore, could be a very tangible way for Democrats and Republicans to cooperate in an effort to reduce the number of abortions. As an aside from the protection of life issue and your effort to justify your support for the candidacy of Mr. Obama, I am amazed by your conclusion that he is somehow a leader and an agent of change. But no matter, I am sure you have reasons that have escaped me to this point. If you are successful in convincing Mr. Obama to augment his wrong headed positions on abortion with support for reducing the number of them and he does become the President then you will have accomplished quite an important service to our country. Of course, it is my hope that our country makes the right decision and elects a President who supports rights of the unborn and we could convince him to implement your suggestions in addition to fighting to overturning Roe. Nicholas Pichotta
E.Patrick Mosman | 9/3/2008 - 4:00pm
Mr.Kmiec should know that Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Biden and all Catholic politicians voicing support for abortion rights, a public act of scandal, as defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 2284-6), is committed. Paragraph 2286 is directly applicable to people in their position. It reads: “Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion. Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structure leading to the decline of morals....” Mr.Kmeic also shows a startling ignorance of then Cardinal Ratzinger's, now Pope Benedict XVI, analysis and reasoned rejection of the erroneous belief in the primacy of one's own conscience or the subjective conscience. Since Vatican II the liberal wing of the Catholic Church has promulgated the superiority of one's own, or the subjective conscience, and in February 1991 he delivered the Church's response in his presentation 'Conscience and Truth" delivered at the '10th Workshop for Bishops; in Dallas Texas. A brief summary if his conclusion is found in the following extract, "It is of course undisputed that one must follow a certain conscience or at least not act against it. But whether the judgment of conscience or what one takes to be such, is always right, indeed whether it is infallible, is another question. For if this were the case, it would mean that there is no truth - at least not in moral and religious matters, which is to say, in the areas which constitute the very pillars of our existence. For judgments of conscience can contradict each other. Thus there could be at best the subject's own truth, which would be reduced to the subject's sincerity."
SR MARY BERRY | 9/3/2008 - 3:22pm
Readers of this fine article would do well to also read Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy's 3 page essay: Abortion and War. Find it at:
MICHAEL WALSH REV | 9/3/2008 - 2:57pm
I was disappointed that you did not publish my comment. The old saying is true---the truth hurts. Liberals detest the Church Marc Monmouth
Marion | 9/3/2008 - 2:20pm
Your response to Fr. K.'s article is a good example of rationalization! You stated that Obama inspires with his integrity. When and where has he been sincere in showing thus? Any parent that allows his children and himself to be influenced by Rev. Wright over a period of years indicates to me a lack of judgement and integrity. Also, his comment regarding when life begins, his answer was "It's above my pay grade." If he is running for the presidency, he should be prepared for such a question. Yes, Obama is a skilled speaker, but his content requires evaluation. His speeches sound very empty to me.
david power | 9/3/2008 - 8:35am
All of these changes to the democratic language would never have been possible without the persistent voting of Catholics for Pro/life candidates.If we dropped this issue you can be sure Barack Obama would not have us revisit it.A victory for Obama will be a massive blow to the cause of unborn life as it will signal to generations of upcoming politicians that it is possible to win high office through a little handwringing.If Obama wins it will be safe ,legal and whenever.Dont assume that people are misled by the republicans ,perhaps they see leverage as more important especially in what can only be a battle of conscience


Recently by Douglas W. Kmiec

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