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Michael Sean WintersJanuary 26, 2010

Bad faith can be found in both the extreme left- and right-wing camps. It is most commonly found not among simple people, whose prejudices are close to the surface, but among intellectuals (and pseudo-intellectuals), people who claim to be one thing, but then, in an instant, they expose their less attractive motivations. Two instances in recent days evidence bad faith, one the result of a failure of imagination and the other simple disingenuousness.

Last Friday, I was listening to NPR’s "Science Friday" and host Ira Flatow had an interview with New Yorker writer Michael Specter to promote his new book "Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives." Most of the interview consisted of Specter citing examples of those who are unwilling to face facts, and how such a refusal leads them to conclusions that are wrong and even dangerous. A worthwhile project assuredly. For example, he poked fun at those who are afraid of genetically modified food and those who turn to homeopathic remedies for their ills, a fear and a hope both of which have no scientific basis.

But, then they took a call from a woman who asked if embryology showed that a fetus is sentient when an abortion happens, if that would change how we addressed the issue as a culture. The woman did not explicitly indicate that she was pro-life. She merely stated, following the premise of Specter’s work, that here was a factual point that could clarify the morally fraught issue. Instead of engaging her question, they jumped all over her. Specter took refuge in the claim that abortion was a moral issue and so he was not going to consider it, although the whole tenor of his argument is that the intellectual superiority he upheld is akin to moral superiority. Flatow turned her question on its head. I kid you not: He asked her if science showed the fetus did not feel any pain if she would change her views. In short, they both refused to acknowledge the implications of their oh-so pristine scientific stance when it forced them into an uncomfortable spot. It was shameful.

Just as shameful was an admission on the website of Professor Robert George’s organization, The American Principles Project. George, if a recent New York Times profile is any guide, spends most of his time convincing the world that he is the brains behind the American bishops. The article on his website is entitled, "Not to be forgot: Pro-Life movement helped halt Obamacare." So, the "American Principle" involved was not a defense of human life but a defeat of universal health insurance.

Catholics are free to oppose all manner of political proposals. But, the American bishops, unlike some of the fringe pro-life elements, supported the goal of universal health insurance not least because it is pro-life. They objected to any government funding of abortion but one of the two incarnations of "Obamacare," the House bill included the Stupak Amendment. When that amendment passed, even Richard Doerflinger, the USCCB’s point man on pro-life issues, said that the inclusion of Stupak meant that the bishops wanted the bill to move forward. No one has been able to explain to me how or why the Senate language was not at least as good as the House language on the issue of abortion, but I understand their commitment to Stupak. But, such distinctions are lost on George. The goal all along was not to pass pro-life health care but to stop Obamacare. That may be a Republican principle, but it is not an American one and it is certainly not a Catholic principle. George is merely being disingenuous. Trying to defeat a bill that would have helped millions of Americans get access to health care, without offering a reasonable alternative, is not pro-life.

The two examples above show the difficulty of proclaiming the Gospel in a complex intellectual and political universe. For some like Specter and Flatow, the problem is that they like their principles when they yield the results they want. For others like George, principles are putty in their political hands, to be twisted as needed. The Church, in advancing its concern for life, must never give up in its efforts to engage science in reaching its moral conclusions, and must call out those who follow science only where they wish to be led. And, the Church must be careful too about aligning itself with those, like George, whose agendas are more partisan than principled.

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James Lindsay
12 years 3 months ago
The value of a human being does not depend on its sentinence. Not even newborns are sentient - they merely react to stimuli. That is no reason to kill them.

The only reason to end a pregnancy early (and never by mutulating the fetus) is if it has no real chance for any long term survival anyway and delaying the induction of labor would pose a threat to the mother's life and health. Now, this position makes some Church ethicists squeamish - which is why most of them flunk the classic Lifeboat Test problem.

Of course, neither sentience or long term viability dictates what government policy should be in the area of criminal law and governmental power in the area of reproductive health. The pro-life side really does not want to talk about who investigates who in what circumstances - and for good reason. Any proposal that really reduces abortions in the first trimester would be considered to intrusive in terms of police power, if only because it would be necessary to allow authorities to question women who have had therapeutic abortions subsequent to a miscarriage. Most Americans would consider such authority to be onerous - however not giving such authority to the government pretty much defangs any first trimester abortion restriction (since any exception will be claimed for every single abortion).
12 years 3 months ago
"The goal all along was not to pass pro-life health care but to stop Obamacare. That may be a Republican principle, but it is not an American one and it is certainly not a Catholic principle."
This seems to overstate the case, Mr. Winters.  First of all, why is stopping Obamacare not an "American" principle?  What American principle is this violating in particular?  For 8 years Liberals drummed the theme "dissent is patriotic!!"  Now, all of a sudden with a liberal in the White House, everyone is supposed to fall in line?  More over, the polls have consistently suggested since at least this past August (which liberals such as yourself have consistently ignored) that the American people, particularly Independents) opposed Obamacare, meaning a large overhaul of the American healthcare system with a new public option.  The facts are on the side of the Republicans in this one, facts which it seems Democrats have ignored to their peril.
Secondly, what Catholic principle is being violated?  Only if you equate, as I have criticized you for doing, the Democratic plan with the ONLY "pro-life health care" plan does this violate any sort of Catholic principle.  I should think a Catholic liberal such as yourself would be wary of throwing around theological arguments that blur the distinction between pragmatic applications of specific proposals to achieve a morally good policy goal.  After all, conservative Catholics are always being accused of blurring the distinction between the goal of being pro-life and the particulars of achieving that goal.
I'll bypass comment on the "tone" you take in this article towards Prof. George.  I get that liberals are frustrated and angry and looking for a whipping post.  While I do not agree with every pronouncement of his, his work is quite solid and is worthy of consideration and respect, at least some (very influential) bishops seem to think so.  Maybe thats what really piques you?  I think it would be good psychologically for liberals to take a break from health care "reform".  
james belna
12 years 3 months ago
''No one has been able to explain to me how or why the Senate language was not at least as good as the House language on the issue of abortion.''

You couldn't have been looking very hard for an explanation. Here is a chart prepared by the USCCB which rather succinctly compares the House and Senate bills:

Brian Thompson
12 years 3 months ago
Now, there may have been a really good reason to do this in this article... But I do find it odd that In All Things seems compelled to give an example of how a right-wing extremist person is erring whenever an article is posted that is really about how off base a left-wing extremist is, yet feels little need to do the reverse. Prof George is a bit extreme for my tastes, but he need not be the whipping boy used every time America wants to counterbalance a report of a liberal gone nuts. You can fall off both sides of a boat, there is no need for a conservative to be shy about criticizing wackos, right or left, and no reason for a liberal to feel the need to balance out a report of a wacko, right or left.
James Lindsay
12 years 3 months ago
The chart is missing a column - current law. The original goal of the USCCB was an "abortion neutral" bill. Either of the bills goes farther, since tax funded insurance provided by private sector employers (and indeed, insurance provided using federal contract dollars to federal contract employees) funds abortion.

Declare victory and fix anything you can in Reconciliation already. The status quo means more abortions.

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