Abortion Politics Part I

If I were ever inclined to become a conservative Republican, I would only have to read the latest press release from Bill Donohue’s Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights to be dissuaded. Donohue has called for Obama’s Catholic Advisory Board to resign en masse because none of them "stand with the Catholic Church on all three major issues: abortion, embryonic stem cell research and school vouchers." School vouchers? How did that become one of the "three major issues" upon which Catholics should base their votes? More importantly, the chair of Obama’s advisory board is pro-life Senator Bob Casey. He is joined by pro-life former Congressman Tim Roemer and pro-life Governor Tim Kaine. So, the factual basis for Donohue’s demand is shoddy from the start. It is where Donohue finishes, however, that is most disturbing. He falsely asserts that Obama "led" the effort to deny protection to babies born after a botched abortion. He labels this "a Hitlerian decision." As a general rule, when you find yourself using Nazi analogies for American politics, you have lost the argument. If Donohue really wants to change America’s legal tolerance of abortion, then he needs to engage in the hard but noble task of persuading those who currently disagree with him that they are wrong. The adjective "Hitlerian" is not likely to incline their ears or their hearts to his case. Donohue is a comic figure, but Deal Hudson is more a tragedian. Hudson played a critical role in soothing Catholic sensibilities for then-candidate George W. Bush in 2000 after Bush gave a speech at Bob Jones ("Rome is the Whore of Babylon") University. When Bush "won" the election, Hudson and many Catholic conservatives acted as if the eschaton was at hand, having created a political alliance with conservative evangelicals that they believed would dominate politics for decades, an alliance that has never quite materialized as they wished. Hudson has entered the current debate to defend Donohue. He argues that Obama’s supporters are wrong to suggest the GOP may be right about abortion but wrong about everything else. "Obama’s Catholics talk as if a Republican never had a thought about healthcare, immigration, poverty, taxation, and so on," he opines. The problem is that Republicans think wrongly on these issues as far as Catholics are concerned. Even John McCain, who once championed the human dignity of immigrants, has had to abandon his comprehensive immigration reform proposal in order to appease the Republican base. His health care proposal does little to help the poor. And, he flip-flopped on taxes for the wealthy, discarding his once principled stand against huge give-aways to the wealthiest Americans. The deeper problem with Catholic conservatives is that they have been complicit in the reduction of religion to ethics that was largely responsible for the inability of the Catholic Church to mount a more effective opposition to legalized abortion in the first place. Once abortion became a "moral issue" the pro-life movement was bound to fail. The issue of abortion needed to reach deeper than ethics, into the most fundamental existential questions the human person can ask: Who am I? What is personhood? What are the obligations of the commonwealth to persons? When the Church is reduced to being an ethical authority, it has lost its deepest self-awareness, and can no longer enter a political discussion as the Church. This was a danger the conservatives never perceived because they were too busy giving interviews: allowing yourself to become an ethical authority was a sure-fire way to gain access to the media. So, this is where the paleo-cons stand in 2008. They will rant. Hopefully, no one will listen. Tomorrow, we will look at what more thoughtful conservatives are saying in this election year. Michael Sean Winters
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10 years 10 months ago
It is one thing to assert that someone is pro-life and another for the assertion to be true in a non-trivial sense. Bob Casey has been a major disappointment to date and Tim Kaine is at best a mixed proponent of life issues, so they fail as rocket fuel to your claim that Obama has meaningful & credentialed pro-life advisors. As Casey Stengel famously observed, "You could look it up." I will amplify in another posting.
10 years 10 months ago
But two other of your claims strike me as both false and overwrought: (1) "Republicans think wrongly on these issues (healthcare, taxes, etc.) as far as Catholics are concerned." & (2) "Reducing" religion to ethics is both a failing of conservative Catholics who apparently had agendas of personal aggrandizement OR who miss the point of the Faith and its power to persuade. Both are at best tendentious assertions with little to recommend them. On item (1) As a Catholic who has detailed experience in healthcare, Medicare, health insurance, prevention, electronic medical records, algorithmic decision support, physician engagement & disease management, I might be pardoned for thinking that my ideas on healthcare are broadly and deeply based. In other words, in my belief that religious commitment and healthcare policy views (decidedly conservative) are not in conflict at all. In fact, there is a longish story that suggests they are in communion. I'll be glad to recount it on another occasion.
10 years 10 months ago
I don't see why it's thoughtful to support someone who plainly doesn't see the 1.3 million abortions that happen in the US each year as a problem. Someone who says that telling one's pregnant, teenage daughter to give birth to her child is punishing her. Someone who has never given a reasonable explanation for opposing the Born Alive Infant Protection Act in the Illinois State Senate. Someone who has failed to support the 95-10 act introduced by pro-life democrats, but instead supports the Freedom of Choice Act which would overturn the Hyde Amendment and would enshrine unfettered abortion in federal law even were Roe v. Wade overturned. Thoughtful Catholics might ponder some of those issues. As for the inability of the Catholic Church to mount a successful opposition to legalized abortion, maybe that has something to do with Catholic politicians (like Ted Kennedy)reversing their earlier opposition to abortion for the sake of political expediency, and with the support, and arguments, of Fr. Robert Drinan. I think that might have been more important than "making abortion an ethical issue," a vague charge for which you offer no supporting evidence.
10 years 10 months ago
I great enjoyed reading this, and I published a response at www.insidecatholic.com. Winters raises an important point, but, as might be expected, I differ with him on both the facts and the relation of religion to politics.
10 years 10 months ago
Item (2) is nearly self-refuting. Liberals overwhelmingly reject religion in the public square and regard appeals to religious belief as worse than laughable. This unfortunate afflatus of Enlightenment devotion to empiricism and its evil twin, pure reason, is the very air liberals breathe. Conservative Catholics like me have long understood that we ought to do what we can to dispel those vapors, but in the meantime, there are policies affecting life, death, flourishing, safety, growth, health, education, inter alia, that require our attentions. These are inevitably argued in the public square (when judges refrain from gutting those confrontations). And so in arguing for policy options, we Catholic conservatives elect to make moral and other arguments that will get a hearing. Conversion might well ensue from time to time, though guarantees are impossible. We work for conversion then, both by comporting ourselves to the zeitgeist in our public pronouncements as necessary and, insofar as is given to us (just as to our misguided liberal brethren), by prayer, example, evangelizing. But Caesar's must be rendered to Caesar. The current Caesar is the electorate. To this Caesar we render Truth.


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