Thoughts in Solitude - Thomas Merton
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” † † †"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way"...Rule of St. Benedict.
-Thoughts in Solitude
© Abbey of Gethsemani
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
An interview with Susan Wills
The pundits are beginning to ponder in earnest what might transpire during the first 24 months of an Obama administration. The more obvious contentions foresee him raising taxes on high earners, ratcheting up trade protections, overseeing the retooling of financial regulations, and so on. What many seem to have overlooked is one factoid: Barack Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of the Freedom of Choice Act or FOCA. In fact, on July 17, 2007, he told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund: "The first thing I'd do as President is sign the Freedom Of Choice Act."
Sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Ca) in the Senate (S. 1173), and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House (HR 1964), FOCA is a piece of legislation designed "to prohibit, consistent with Roe v. Wade, the interference by the government with a woman's right to choose to bear a child or terminate a pregnancy, and for other purposes."
In fact, FOCA, if it became law, would go well beyond Roe, sweeping away all limits on abortion -- state and federal -- including restrictions on government funding of abortion and conscience protections for healthcare providers. We have no reason to believe Obama would hesitate to sign FOCA into law as soon as it were to passed by the 111th Congress -- a probable outcome in early 2009 if Democrats gain enough new seats in November.
To find out more about FOCA and its potential cultural impact, I recently spoke with Susan E. Wills, Assistant Director for Education and Outreach at the Committee on Pro-Life activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here is what Susan had to say.
Berg: Where did FOCA come from? What is its history on the Hill?
Wills: FOCA has been introduced in Congress multiple times, in various versions, since at least 1989. Cosponsoring FOCA has become a sort of "oath of fealty" to Planned Parenthood and NARAL for those members of Congress most beholden to the abortion industry for their election. Its popularity has been limited to the hard core extremists on abortion -- those, for example, who support even late-term abortions by the barbaric partial-birth abortion method. In the past, FOCA has not posed an imminent danger to the status quo. I can't recall a time in the past 20 years when we've faced the possibility of a pro-choice majority in both Houses of Congress and a President willing to sign such a bill. The threat of a veto under President Bush during the past 8 years has kept recent versions of the bill from going anywhere.
The current version of FOCA was introduced just hours after the Supreme Court's decision in Gonzales v. Carhart upholding the federal ban on partial-birth abortion. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) explained the rationale and timing of FOCA in an April 18, 2007 "Dear Colleague" letter: "Today, the Supreme Court declared open season on women's lives and their right to control their own bodies, their health and their destinies." The current Senate version (S. 1173) attacks Carhart for "threatening" Roe v. Wade and failing to protect women's health. Co-sponsors in the House version (H.R. 1964) number 109 and Senate cosponsors number 19.
Berg: If FOCA were to be signed into law by the next president, what series of immediate consequences do you foresee, and what would be the long-term consequences?
Wills: FOCA would call into question virtually every abortion-related state and federal law currently in force. It would immediately supersede every federal law, such as the partial-birth abortion ban, restrictions on federal funding of abortion through Medicaid, and the ban on abortions in military hospitals. On the authority of FOCA, state laws protecting the lives of unborn children and their mothers could be immediately unenforceable. All the modest and reasonable state laws of the past 35 years (which have also been successful in reducing abortions) would fall to legal challenges based on FOCA. These include the following laws: protecting parental rights to be involved in an abortion decision, ensuring informed consent, regulating abortion clinic "safety," protecting the conscience rights of doctors, nurses and hospitals to not be involved in abortion, and protecting women from non-physician abortionists among others. Significantly, taxpayers could also be forced to fund abortions for the uninsured.
FOCA not only looks backward -- invalidating all these and other abortion regulations, laws, policies, practices, actions, etc.; it also forbids all governments (state, federal, local, agencies, officials, etc.) in the future from denying or interfering with a woman's "right to choose" and forbids them from "discriminat[ing] against the exercise of the[se] rights... in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information."
So any time the government addresses childbirth, it must address abortion equally favorably -- superseding prior Supreme Court precedents. Public hospitals which offer maternity services must offer abortion services. Health benefits for pregnant uninsured women must include abortion services.
It's tough to gauge the long-term consequences of FOCA. A future Congress could, of course, pass legislation to undo the law. We can say with certainty that evil would occur at an even greater scale in the interim.
Modest regulations of abortion -- funding restrictions, informed consent and parental involvement laws in particular -- have been proven to be very effective in reducing abortion rates in the
Berg: If FOCA becomes law, would the pro-life movement be forced to concede: 'game over'?
1. Electing representatives who are pro-life and vigorously lobbying those who aren't about our fundamental opposition to killing all innocent human beings;
2. Educating about the value and dignity of human life (and the inhumanity and risks of abortion);
3. Encouraging abstinence among teens and young adults (teen abortion rates have dropped 60% since 1984 largely due to increased abstinence, not contraceptives); and
4. Expanding pregnancy-support services.
Americans oppose almost all abortions, but many have failed to understand their personal responsibility to oppose abortion by electing people who will uphold the dignity of human life. The October Marist poll, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, again demonstrated that only 8% of Americans support unlimited abortion policy (for all nine months for any reason). Fully 60% of Americans would restrict abortion to the "hard cases" of rape, incest, of risk to the mother's life. But we have not succeeded in helping them connect the dots between their pro-life convictions and who they elect to the Senate and who sits on the Supreme Court (or who they elect to their state and federal legislatures and the kind of policies that get enacted).
Wills: Law is a teacher and the more secular a society becomes, the more people turn to law (rather than the teaching of faith traditions) for their moral compass. Roe taught generations that an unborn child is not really a human being worthy of protection and it taught generations that one did not have to be married to conceive a child or be responsible for that child's life. The government condoned and promoted sexual activity outside of marriage and the callous disregard of children's rights by providing the escape route of abortion: "Don't worry, kids. If you get pregnant, we won't allow you to be 'punished with a baby'."
Laws that foster irresponsibility produce unintended consequences. Young men began to see abortion as an entitlement and many have become coercive, even to the point of causing the death of their unborn child when the mother resists an abortion.
When Roe is overturned, the pro-life beliefs of the majority of Americans will be validated and reinforced. Obviously abortion will continue to be available under almost all circumstances in a dozen or more states whose populations lean pro-choice, but I think the stigma associated with killing innocent unborn children will return. Already the number of abortion providers has fallen to under 1,800. Many providers are in their sixties already and would probably retire rather than relocate states where abortion would remain legal. The absence of providers does have a dramatic impact on abortions. For example, after one of two abortionists in
* * *
Cardinal Justin Rigali of
We can't reduce abortions by promoting abortion. We cannot reduce abortions by invalidating the very laws that have been shown to reduce abortions... No one who sponsors or supports legislation like FOCA can credibly claim to be part of a good-faith discussion on how to reduce abortions.
Now, is there any part of what Susan just shared or what the Cardinal states here that does not make perfect sense? I don't think so.
Thanks to Susan Wills for taking the time to talk about this transcendent issue. And I alert my readers that you can find an extremely useful FOCA fact sheet here and many other useful FOCA-related articles and materials here, courtesy of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life activities.
Rev. Thomas V. Berg, L.C. is Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.
Copyright 2008 The
Monday, October 27, 2008
October 21, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Legal Protection for Unborn, Support for Mothers Both Needed,
Say Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy
WASHINGTON—"Our faith requires us to oppose abortion on demand and to provide help to mothers facing challenging pregnancies," Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., said in an October 21 statement. The bishops urged Catholics to study the teaching of the Church, rather than rely on statements and materials from outside groups and individuals.
Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy made the joint statement in response to arguments that the Church should accept the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision on abortion as a "permanent fixture of constitutional law" and should concede that the only way to reduce abortions is to provide more government support for pregnant women. At the same time the two bishops also responded to those who argue that the Church's efforts against abortion should focus solely on restoring recognition for unborn children's human rights and that proposals to provide social and economic support for pregnant women distract from that effort.
Cardinal Rigali chairs of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Bishop Murphy chairs the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
"Providing support for pregnant women so they choose to have their babies is a necessary but not sufficient response to abortion. Similarly, reversal of Roe is a necessary but not sufficient condition for restoring an order of justice in our society's treatment of defenseless human life," they said.
The bishops also noted that "in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision knocked down laws against abortion in all 50 states, fabricating a constitutional 'right' to abortion that continues to haunt and divide our society....Roe v. Wade is a clear case of an 'intrinsically unjust law' we are morally obliged to oppose. Reversing it is not a mere political tactic, but a moral imperative for Catholics and others who respect human life," they said.
The bishops added that legalizing abortion had greatly increased annual abortions in the United States. "The law is a teacher, and Roe taught many women, physicians and others that abortion is an acceptable answer to a wide range of problems."
The bishops noted strides made in modifying Roe v. Wade's unjust legal precedent and drew attention to the many lives saved by the modest laws and regulations allowed under Roe. They voiced concern that the pending pro-abortion "Freedom of Choice Act" (S. 1173, H.R. 1964) in Congress would threaten strides made in limiting abortions.
"Bans on public funding [of abortion], laws requiring informed consent for women and parental involvement for minors, and other modest and widely supported laws have saved millions of lives. Laws made possible by reversing Roe would save many more," they said.
"On the other hand, this progress could be lost through a key pro-abortion proposal, the 'Freedom of Choice Act,' which supporters say would knock down hundreds of current pro-life laws and forbid any public program to 'discriminate' against abortion in providing services to women," Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy said.
"By protecting the child's life to the maximum degree possible, improving life-affirming support for pregnant women, and changing the attitudes and prejudices imposed on many women to make them see abortion as an acceptable or necessary solution, we will truly help build a culture of life," they said.
The full text of the joint statement may be found at www.usccb.org/prolife/Rigali-Murphy-Joint-Statement.pdf.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Why pro-life Catholic intellectuals are wrong
I take it as an iron law of controversy that when three tenured law professors like Nick Cafardi, Cathy Kaveny, and Doug Kmiec fret in print about "intellectual siren calls" and "elegant theorizing," something other than real argument—moral argument or policy argument—is afoot. A serious, bipartisan, national debate about the ways in which people of goodwill in both political parties can work together to build a culture of life in 21st-century America would be welcome. Professors Cafardi, Kaveny, and Kmiec are not making the contributions to that argument of which they were once capable. Indeed, as the Most Rev. Charles Chaput, archbishop of Denver recently put it (speaking, he emphasized, as a private citizen), "To suggest—as some Catholics do—that Senator [Barack] Obama is this year's 'real' pro-life candidate requires a peculiar kind of self-hypnosis, or moral confusion, or worse. To portray the 2008 Democratic Party presidential ticket as the preferred 'pro-life' option is to subvert what the word 'pro-life' means."
Why? Because the public record amply demonstrates that Senator Obama is not the abortion moderate of our professors' imagination, but a genuine abortion radical. In the third presidential debate, Obama described Roev. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that obliterated the abortion law of all fifty states, as "rightly decided"—a judgment with which Professors Cafardi, Kaveny, and Kmiec have all disagreed in the past. Moreover, Senator Obama's defense of Roe extends far beyond anyone's "elegant theorizing." Support for Roe was Obama's stated reason for opposing Illinois bills aimed at providing legal protection for children who survived an abortion. Support for Roe buttressed Obama's criticism of a Supreme Court decision upholding state partial-birth abortion laws. The full implementation of the most radical interpretation of Roe would seem to be the goal of Obama's support for the federal Freedom of Choice Act [FOCA], which, by stripping Catholic doctors of "conscience clause" protections currently in state laws, would put thousands of Catholic physicians in jeopardy.
In short, there is very little, if anything, in Senator Obama's public record to suggest that he agrees with Professors Cafardi, Kaveny, and Kmiec that abortion is a "tragic moral choice." On the contrary, the 2008 Democratic platform removed language that described abortion as "regrettable" from the relevant plank. Do Professors Cafardi, Kaveny, and Kmiec imagine that they have a better grasp of Senator Obama's views on the life issues than, say, the National Reproductive Rights Action League [NARAL], or other pro-choice Obama supporters?
Our law professors rightly ask who would best serve women in crisis pregnancies and their unborn children. The answer is obvious: those thousands of crisis pregnancy centers across America, staffed largely by unpaid volunteers and veterans of the pro-life movement, which offer women a real choice, and a better alternative to their dilemma than abortion. How is it possible to square a concern for women in crisis with support of the presidential candidate who favors ending the modest federal funding some of those crisis pregnancy centers now receive? How is it "pro-life" to support a presidential candidate who is publicly committed to requiring any federal legislation in support of pregnant women to include promotion of abortion? At a certain point along this trajectory, I fear, we are through the looking glass and into the White Queen's world of impossible things before breakfast.
It is also quite true that "better education of our youth" is essential to building a culture of life. Why, then, do our Catholic professors support a presidential candidate who recently scoffed at voucher programs that allow poor parents in our inner cities to choose to send their children to Catholic schools—which are often the only urban schools that work?
It is very bad theology to suggest that the controversy over the reception of Holy Communion by Catholic politicians who actively support the abortion license is a matter of "using the sacrament as a political tool." On the contrary, it is a question of maintaining the integrity of the church's central act of worship, and of calling Catholics with an ill-formed sense of the moral requirements of both faith and reason to a serious examination of conscience. As for divisiveness, well, there are times when bishops are morally required to be "divisive," as when Catholic bishops deliberately "divided" their flocks on the question of the segregation of Catholics schools by excommunicating segregationists.
The truth of the matter, alas, is that most Catholic politicians are woefully ill-informed about the moral logic of the Catholic Church's teaching on the life issues, which is not a moral logic for Catholics only. This reflects an enormous failure on the part of too many pastors and bishops. That failure is compounded when prominent Catholic intellectuals who may wish to support a candidate for other reasons fail to make clear that the candidate's views and public record on the life issues are reprehensible. That compound failure is made even worse when such a candidate is repackaged as the "real" pro-life candidate.
Is John McCain—for whom, I might add, I have never served as an adviser, formally or informally—a perfect pro-life candidate? Of course not. But Barack Obama is a perfect pro-life nightmare. President McCain would not work to repeal the pro-life legislative advances of the past 35 years; knowledgeable and sober-minded Catholic legal and political observers who have worked on these issues for decades are convinced that an Obama administration and an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress would eviscerate those modest advances within a year. As for the Supreme Court, the hard facts of our national history teach us that, while the country can survive the court's getting it wrong on some things, we are in very deep trouble when the court gets it wrong on the big human rights questions. That was true when Scot v. Sanford declared an entire class of human beings outside the protection of the laws. That was true when Plessyv.Ferguson upheld legal segregation. And that has been true with Roev.Wade. Professors Cafardi, Kaveny, and Kmiec say they have "no objections" to pursuing legal redress to Roe; yet they support a candidate who, given the opportunity, would certainly do everything in his power to make any revision of Roe, or return of the issue to the states, impossible for the foreseeable future. Once again, we're through the looking glass and into a wilderness of impossibilities.
As a former Democrat who left the party after it left former Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey out in the cold at the 1992 convention, I deeply regret the fact that the once-traditional political home of U.S. Catholics has embraced policy positions on the life issues that offend both Catholic faith and everyone's reason. I would welcome a new openness to pro-life argumentation and policy in the Democratic Party. But it is not at all clear how that revolution, will be advanced by Catholic intellectuals and lawyers who imagine that the party leader's record on core life issues can be, somehow, bracketed, and that reinventing the New Deal or the Great Society will turn the Democratic Party into a political force committed to the culture of life. Should Senator Obama be elected president, Professors Cafardi, Kaveny, and Kmiec will enjoy a brief moment of satisfaction. That moment will likely be followed by the discovery that they have far less credit in the new administration's bank than NARAL and other longtime Obama supporters.
As his biographer, I think it likely that I knew the late John Paul II rather better than Professors Cafardi, Kaveny, and Kmiec. John Paul II was an adult, with whom one could disagree on matters of prudential judgment without his becoming disagreeable. It was an admirable trait. In reflecting on it, my interlocutors might also reflect on the relationship of the candidacy they support to John Paul's description of America's moral history, eloquently expressed when the pope accepted the credentials of the last Democratic ambassador to the Holy See, Lindy Boggs, in 1997:
"No expression of today's [American] commitment to liberty and justice for all can be more basic than the protection offered to those in society who are most vulnerable. The United States of America was founded on the conviction that an inalienable right to life was a self-evident moral truth, fidelity to which was a primary criterion of social justice. The moral history of your country is the story of your people's efforts to widen the circle of inclusion in society, so that all Americans might enjoy the protection of law, participate in the responsibilities of citizenship, and have the opportunity to make a contribution to the common good. Whenever a certain category of people—the unborn or the sick and old—are excluded from that protection, a deadly anarchy subverts the original understanding of justice. The credibility of the United States will depend more and more on its promotion of a genuine culture of life, and on a renewed commitment to building a world in which the weakest and most vulnerable are welcomed and protected."
George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow Of Washington’s Ethics And Public Policy Center, Is A Newsweek Contributor.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican has prepared three alternative endings for the priest's words of dismissal at Mass, to emphasize the missionary spirit of the liturgy.
Pope Benedict XVI personally chose the three options from suggestions presented to him after a two-year study, Cardinal Francis Arinze told the Synod of Bishops in mid-October.
The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, published an interview Oct. 17 with Cardinal Arinze, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
He said along with "Ite, missa est," the Latin phrase now translated as "The Mass is ended, go in peace," the new options are:
-- "Ite ad Evangelium Domini annuntiandum" (Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord).
-- "Ite in pace, glorificando vita vestra Dominum" (Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life).
-- "Ite in pace" (Go in peace).
The idea for alternative words at the end of Mass was raised at the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. Many bishops wanted the final words to reflect a more explicit connection between Mass and the church's mission of evangelization in the world.
Cardinal Arinze said the concern was that, for many Catholics, the present words of dismissal sounded like "The Mass is ended, go and rest."
The cardinal said his congregation undertook a wide consultation and came up with 72 different possible alternative phrases. Of these, the congregation chose nine and presented them to the pope, who chose the final three.
The three alternatives were published in October in the latest edition of the Roman Missal, along with "Ite, missa est," which has not been abolished, Cardinal Arinze said.
The cardinal said the congregation still was studying another suggestion made during the 2005 synod, that of moving the sign of peace to a different part of the Mass.
In 2005, the pope said the sign of peace had great value, but should be done with "restraint" so that it does not become a distraction during Mass. He asked for the study on moving the sign of peace from a moment just before Communion to another time in the liturgy.
Cardinal Arinze said that, after consultation, the congregation had written to bishops' conferences asking their preference between leaving the sign of peace where it is now and moving it to an earlier moment, after the prayer of the faithful.
He said the responses from bishops' conferences were expected to be in by the end of October, and the question would then be presented to the pope for a final decision.
Cardinal Arinze said that in addition to its timing some have suggested that the sign of peace be limited to an exchange between the Massgoer and those in his or her immediate vicinity. He said that in some churches today, the sign of peace is extended to the point that it becomes "almost a jamboree."
Cardinal Arinze said a third suggestion from the 2005 synod, a "eucharistic compendium," also has made progress and is near publication.
He said the compendium would include doctrinal notes on the Mass, as well as prayer texts, passages of papal liturgical teachings, canon law tracts and other explanatory materials. He emphasized that the compendium would propose ideas, not impose them.
Cardinal Arinze said a fourth project of the worship congregation, working together with Vatican congregations for doctrine and clergy, was the drawing up of a list of homily themes that correspond to Sunday scriptural readings and to the church's doctrinal teachings.
"This is not a matter of model homilies, but general indications in which, for each theme, elements are furnished to be able to develop the theme," he said.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Yet there are Catholics and Evangelicals-even self-identified pro-life Catholics and Evangelicals - who aggressively promote Obama's candidacy and even declare him the preferred candidate from the pro-life point of view.
What is going on here?
I have examined the arguments advanced by Obama's self-identified pro-life supporters, and they are spectacularly weak. It is nearly unfathomable to me that those advancing them can honestly believe what they are saying. But before proving my claims about Obama's abortion extremism, let me explain why I have described Obama as "pro-abortion" rather than "pro-choice."
According to the standard argument for the distinction between these labels, nobody is pro-abortion. Everybody would prefer a world without abortions. After all, what woman would deliberately get pregnant just to have an abortion? But given the world as it is, sometimes women find themselves with unplanned pregnancies at times in their lives when having a baby would present significant problems for them. So even if abortion is not medically required, it should be permitted, made as widely available as possible and, when necessary, paid for with taxpayers' money.
The defect in this argument can easily be brought into focus if we shift to the moral question that vexed an earlier generation of Americans: slavery. Many people at the time of the American founding would have preferred a world without slavery but nonetheless opposed abolition. Such people - Thomas Jefferson was one - reasoned that, given the world as it was, with slavery woven into the fabric of society just as it had often been throughout history, the economic consequences of abolition for society as a whole and for owners of plantations and other businesses that relied on slave labor would be dire. Many people who argued in this way were not monsters but honest and sincere, albeit profoundly mistaken. Some (though not Jefferson) showed their personal opposition to slavery by declining to own slaves themselves or freeing slaves whom they had purchased or inherited. They certainly didn't think anyone should be forced to own slaves. Still, they maintained that slavery should remain a legally permitted option and be given constitutional protection.
Would we describe such people, not as pro-slavery, but as "pro-choice"? Of course we would not. It wouldn't matter to us that they were "personally opposed" to slavery, or that they wished that slavery were "unnecessary," or that they wouldn't dream of forcing anyone to own slaves. We would hoot at the faux sophistication of a placard that said "Against slavery? Don't own one." We would observe that the fundamental divide is between people who believe that law and public power should permit slavery, and those who think that owning slaves is an unjust choice that should be prohibited.
Just for the sake of argument, though, let us assume that there could be a morally meaningful distinction between being "pro-abortion" and being "pro-choice." Who would qualify for the latter description? Barack Obama certainly would not. For, unlike his running mate Joe Biden, Obama does not think that abortion is a purely private choice that public authority should refrain from getting involved in. Now, Senator Biden is hardly pro-life. He believes that the killing of the unborn should be legally permitted and relatively unencumbered. But unlike Obama, at least Biden has sometimes opposed using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion, thereby leaving Americans free to choose not to implicate themselves in it. If we stretch things to create a meaningful category called "pro-choice," then Biden might be a plausible candidate for the label; at least on occasions when he respects your choice or mine not to facilitate deliberate feticide.
The same cannot be said for Barack Obama. For starters, he supports legislation that would repeal the Hyde Amendment, which protects pro-life citizens from having to pay for abortions that are not necessary to save the life of the mother and are not the result of rape or incest. The abortion industry laments that this longstanding federal law, according to the pro-abortion group NARAL, "forces about half the women who would otherwise have abortions to carry unintended pregnancies to term and bear children against their wishes instead." In other words, a whole lot of people who are alive today would have been exterminated in utero were it not for the Hyde Amendment. Obama has promised to reverse the situation so that abortions that the industry complains are not happening (because the federal government is not subsidizing them) would happen. That is why people who profit from abortion love Obama even more than they do his running mate.
But this barely scratches the surface of Obama's extremism. He has promised that "the first thing I'd do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act" (known as FOCA). This proposed legislation would create a federally guaranteed "fundamental right" to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, including, as Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia has noted in a statement condemning the proposed Act, "a right to abort a fully developed child in the final weeks for undefined 'health' reasons." In essence, FOCA would abolish virtually every existing state and federal limitation on abortion, including parental consent and notification laws for minors, state and federal funding restrictions on abortion, and conscience protections for pro-life citizens working in the health-care industry-protections against being forced to participate in the practice of abortion or else lose their jobs. The pro-abortion National Organization for Women has proclaimed with approval that FOCA would "sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws [and] policies."
It gets worse. Obama, unlike even many "pro-choice" legislators, opposed the ban on partial-birth abortions when he served in the Illinois legislature and condemned the Supreme Court decision that upheld legislation banning this heinous practice. He has referred to a baby conceived inadvertently by a young woman as a "punishment" that she should not endure. He has stated that women's equality requires access to abortion on demand. Appallingly, he wishes to strip federal funding from pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that provide alternatives to abortion for pregnant women in need. There is certainly nothing "pro-choice" about that.
But it gets even worse. Senator Obama, despite the urging of pro-life members of his own party, has not endorsed or offered support for the Pregnant Women Support Act, the signature bill of Democrats for Life, meant to reduce abortions by providing assistance for women facing crisis pregnancies. In fact, Obama has opposed key provisions of the Act, including providing coverage of unborn children in the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), and informed consent for women about the effects of abortion and the gestational age of their child. This legislation would not make a single abortion illegal. It simply seeks to make it easier for pregnant women to make the choice not to abort their babies. Here is a concrete test of whether Obama is "pro-choice" rather than pro-abortion. He flunked. Even Senator Edward Kennedy voted to include coverage of unborn children in S-CHIP. But Barack Obama stood resolutely with the most stalwart abortion advocates in opposing it.
It gets worse yet. In an act of breathtaking injustice which the Obama campaign lied about until critics produced documentary proof of what he had done, as an Illinois state senator Obama opposed legislation to protect children who are born alive, either as a result of an abortionist's unsuccessful effort to kill them in the womb, or by the deliberate delivery of the baby prior to viability. This legislation would not have banned any abortions. Indeed, it included a specific provision ensuring that it did not affect abortion laws. (This is one of the points Obama and his campaign lied about until they were caught.) The federal version of the bill passed unanimously in the United States Senate, winning the support of such ardent advocates of legal abortion as John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. But Barack Obama opposed it and worked to defeat it. For him, a child marked for abortion gets no protection-even ordinary medical or comfort care-even if she is born alive and entirely separated from her mother. So Obama has favored protecting what is literally a form of infanticide.
You may be thinking, it can't get worse than that. But it does.
For several years, Americans have been debating the use for biomedical research of embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (originally for reproductive purposes) but now left in a frozen condition in cryopreservation units. President Bush has restricted the use of federal funds for stem-cell research of the type that makes use of these embryos and destroys them in the process. I support the President's restriction, but some legislators with excellent pro-life records, including John McCain, argue that the use of federal money should be permitted where the embryos are going to be discarded or die anyway as the result of the parents' decision. Senator Obama, too, wants to lift the restriction.
But Obama would not stop there. He has co-sponsored a bill-strongly opposed by McCain-that would authorize the large-scale industrial production of human embryos for use in biomedical research in which they would be killed. In fact, the bill Obama co-sponsored would effectively require the killing of human beings in the embryonic stage that were produced by cloning. It would make it a federal crime for a woman to save an embryo by agreeing to have the tiny developing human being implanted in her womb so that he or she could be brought to term. This "clone and kill" bill would, if enacted, bring something to America that has heretofore existed only in China-the equivalent of legally mandated abortion. In an audacious act of deceit, Obama and his co-sponsors misleadingly call this an anti-cloning bill. But it is nothing of the kind. What it bans is not cloning, but allowing the embryonic children produced by cloning to survive.
Can it get still worse? Yes.
Decent people of every persuasion hold out the increasingly realistic hope of resolving the moral issue surrounding embryonic stem-cell research by developing methods to produce the exact equivalent of embryonic stem cells without using (or producing) embryos. But when a bill was introduced in the United States Senate to put a modest amount of federal money into research to develop these methods, Barack Obama was one of the few senators who opposed it. From any rational vantage point, this is unconscionable. Why would someone not wish to find a method of producing the pluripotent cells scientists want that all Americans could enthusiastically endorse? Why create and kill human embryos when there are alternatives that do not require the taking of nascent human lives? It is as if Obama is opposed to stem-cell research unless it involves killing human embryos.
This ultimate manifestation of Obama's extremism brings us back to the puzzle of his pro-life Catholic and Evangelical apologists.
They typically do not deny the facts I have reported. They could not; each one is a matter of public record. But despite Obama's injustices against the most vulnerable human beings, and despite the extraordinary support he receives from the industry that profits from killing the unborn (which should be a good indicator of where he stands), some Obama supporters insist that he is the better candidate from the pro-life point of view.
They say that his economic and social policies would so diminish the demand for abortion that the overall number would actually go down-despite the federal subsidizing of abortion and the elimination of hundreds of pro-life laws. The way to save lots of unborn babies, they say, is to vote for the pro-abortion-oops! "pro-choice"-candidate. They tell us not to worry that Obama opposes the Hyde Amendment, the Mexico City Policy (against funding abortion abroad), parental consent and notification laws, conscience protections, and the funding of alternatives to embryo-destructive research. They ask us to look past his support for Roe v. Wade, the Freedom of Choice Act, partial-birth abortion, and human cloning and embryo-killing. An Obama presidency, they insist, means less killing of the unborn.
This is delusional.
We know that the federal and state pro-life laws and policies that Obama has promised to sweep away (and that John McCain would protect) save thousands of lives every year. Studies conducted by Professor Michael New and other social scientists have removed any doubt. Often enough, the abortion lobby itself confirms the truth of what these scholars have determined. Tom McClusky has observed that Planned Parenthood's own statistics show that in each of the seven states that have FOCA-type legislation on the books, "abortion rates have increased while the national rate has decreased." In Maryland, where a bill similar to the one favored by Obama was enacted in 1991, he notes that "abortion rates have increased by 8 percent while the overall national abortion rate decreased by 9 percent." No one is really surprised. After all, the message clearly conveyed by policies such as those Obama favors is that abortion is a legitimate solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancies - so clearly legitimate that taxpayers should be forced to pay for it.
But for a moment let's suppose, against all the evidence, that Obama's proposals would reduce the number of abortions, even while subsidizing the killing with taxpayer dollars. Even so, many more unborn human beings would likely be killed under Obama than under McCain. A Congress controlled by strong Democratic majorities under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would enact the bill authorizing the mass industrial production of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are killed. As president, Obama would sign it. The number of tiny humans created and killed under this legislation (assuming that an efficient human cloning technique is soon perfected) could dwarf the number of lives saved as a result of the reduced demand for abortion-even if we take a delusionally optimistic view of what that number would be.
Barack Obama and John McCain differ on many important issues about which reasonable people of goodwill, including pro-life Americans of every faith, disagree: how best to fight international terrorism, how to restore economic growth and prosperity, how to distribute the tax burden and reduce poverty, etc.
But on abortion and the industrial creation of embryos for destructive research, there is a profound difference of moral principle, not just prudence. These questions reveal the character and judgment of each man. Barack Obama is deeply committed to the belief that members of an entire class of human beings have no rights that others must respect. Across the spectrum of pro-life concerns for the unborn, he would deny these small and vulnerable members of the human family the basic protection of the laws. Over the next four to eight years, as many as five or even six U.S. Supreme Court justices could retire. Obama enthusiastically supports Roe v. Wade and would appoint judges who would protect that morally and constitutionally disastrous decision and even expand its scope. Indeed, in an interview in Glamour magazine, he made it clear that he would apply a litmus test for Supreme Court nominations: jurists who do not support Roe will not be considered for appointment by Obama. John McCain, by contrast, opposes Roe and would appoint judges likely to overturn it. This would not make abortion illegal, but it would return the issue to the forums of democratic deliberation, where pro-life Americans could engage in a fair debate to persuade fellow citizens that killing the unborn is no way to address the problems of pregnant women in need.
What kind of America do we want our beloved nation to be? Barack Obama's America is one in which being human just isn't enough to warrant care and protection. It is an America where the unborn may legitimately be killed without legal restriction, even by the grisly practice of partial-birth abortion. It is an America where a baby who survives abortion is not even entitled to comfort care as she dies on a stainless steel table or in a soiled linen bin. It is a nation in which some members of the human family are regarded as inferior and others superior in fundamental dignity and rights. In Obama's America, public policy would make a mockery of the great constitutional principle of the equal protection of the law. In perhaps the most telling comment made by any candidate in either party in this election year, Senator Obama, when asked by Rick Warren when a baby gets human rights, replied: "that question is above my pay grade." It was a profoundly disingenuous answer: For even at a state senator's pay grade, Obama presumed to answer that question with blind certainty. His unspoken answer then, as now, is chilling: human beings have no rights until infancy - and if they are unwanted survivors of attempted abortions, not even then.
In the end, the efforts of Obama's apologists to depict their man as the true pro-life candidate that Catholics and Evangelicals may and even should vote for, doesn't even amount to a nice try. Voting for the most extreme pro-abortion political candidate in American history is not the way to save unborn babies.
Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics and previously served on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse.
Copyright 2008 The Witherspoon Institute. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Why and in what sense are life issues the "weightiest"?
3:30 PM EST
My column from last week, and an accompanying op-ed published in National Review Online (October 8, "Economy Matters, Life Matters") seem to have struck a nerve. I attempted (in under a thousand words) to explain from a Catholic perspective (which is to say, a natural law perspective), why the abortion issue should still be considered the dominant issue of our times on the eve of Election Day.
Numerous email responses reminded me of just how difficult an enterprise I was undertaking. I was reminded of what a noted moral philosopher once told me: "Fr. Thomas, if someone were to ask me today what my opinion is on abortion, do you know what my response would be? My response would be to ask him or her: 'Do you have three days?' Because it would take about three days for me first, to help this person understand where his or her own opinion on abortion comes from -- what its philosophical antecedents are. And then, once all that was clear, I would be in a position to explain the tradition of moral thought within which my judgment of abortion makes rational sense."
So, do we have three days?
Realizing most readers don't, and at the risk of infuriating or alienating a few more, let me take another stab at this. Why and in what sense ought we -- as rational human beings -- consider the continued exercise of the current abortion license in the
The fact that not all moral issues have the same "moral weight" has been the very cusp of the argument repeated more than once in recent months by Catholic bishops across the country. I referred last week, for example, to Bishop Joseph F. Martino's pastoral letter for Respect Life Sunday:
Another argument goes like this: "As wrong as abortion is, I don't think it is the only relevant 'life' issue that should be considered when deciding for whom to vote." This reasoning is sound only if other issues carry the same moral weight as abortion does, such as in the case of euthanasia and destruction of embryos for research purposes. (Emphasis my own.)
Similarly, the bishops of
"Carry the same moral weight"..."Outweighs other concerns": it's these affirmations that require a three-day-long explanation (or even a semester-length course in natural law theory 101). Again, lacking that luxury, let's attempt an answer in brief.
First let's consider what "moral weight" does not mean in this context. That one issue has more "moral weight" than another does not mean weighing up all the bad consequences of one and the other -- say of an unjust immigration policy, and of legalized abortion-on-demand -- and of judging which issue, on the whole, renders a greater net-amount of moral evil. (Oh that morality were so simple!) Unfortunately -- given our inability to foresee all possible consequences, not to mention there being no reasonable way to assign value to them even if we could foresee them all -- such "weighing" of issues is not possible.
Here, "weighing of issues" means rather perceiving the degree and kind of malice each brings about. X, Y, and Z might all be moral evils, but they are not so in the same way. Lots of otherwise sensible people seem to miss this point.
Some things are gravely evil because they involve greater magnitudes of goods (as when a CEO pilfers millions of dollars from his company, an act much greater in malice than snitching a candy bar from a drug store). Some things may acquire a greater degree of malice because of some circumstance or motive (as when a young woman announces to her fiancé that she is breaking things off having waited precisely until the anniversary of their engagement to do so in order to hurt him all the more). Some things may be gravely evil because of poor prudential judgment or the lack of truly grave reason for moving ahead with a proposed action (such as when a country engages in what many might presumably consider a just military intervention, but without truly reasonable (grave) cause; or as when legislation -- such as an immigration policy -- comes into effect, bringing about considerable hardships that could have been precluded had there been greater foresight, better prudential judgment, and a greater sense of human solidarity; one could say the same of such issues as welfare, care for the environment and economic policy).
Other things are gravely evil, not by reason of magnitude or circumstance, motive or lack of judgment. Rather, they are evil in and of themselves, and gravely so, because of the manner in which they reach to the core of one's personhood, attacking the very good of the human person in him or herself. The natural law tradition refers to these as intrinsically evil actions. Adultery, homicide, euthanasia, human trafficking of all sorts, torture, abortion, the creation and destruction of human embryos for research purposes: all these name actions which are gravely -- intrinsically -- evil.
Now one might argue: there are many forms of intrinsic evil going on daily in this country. To say that abortion is an intrinsic evil still does not explain why we should consider it the "most important" issue facing us as we approach election day.
To which I would respond that first and foremost there is the point of magnitude: 50 million innocent (fetal) human lives deliberately destroyed.
Beyond that, there is another distinguishing point which George Weigel took a good stab at explaining in yesterday's USA Today:
When the Pope and the bishops teach that the right-to-life is inalienable from conception until natural death, they're defending a first principle of justice that binds everyone, not just Catholics: in a just society, innocent and defenseless human life deserves the protection of the laws. What's at stake here is not some peculiarly "Catholic truth," but a truth of reason that can be known by anyone. Thus no politician, Catholic or otherwise, can claim to stand for the common good and defend the abortion license decreed by Roe vs. Wade, or the euthanizing of the elderly and the "burdensome," or the creation and destruction of human embryos for medical research. You can't square the circle. Just law must recognize the inviolable dignity of every human life.
That's the difference with this particular intrinsic evil: abortion (along with other closely related issues which place unborn human life at stake) constitutes not only an attempt at the unborn victims, but at the very fabric of our civilization. America's abortion license puts millions of human lives at stake but also imperils our own continued civilized existence, attacking as it does the most fundamental right on which any attempt at an ordered, democratic form of civic life must be based.
It would appear that such affirmations have become mere platitudes however -- even to the ears of otherwise pro-life Catholics who, I am afraid to say, have simply thrown in the towel, who appear convinced that we've lost this battle. While I certainly share the sense of frustration, I would also respectfully remind them that we give up this battle to our own peril.
Rev. Thomas V. Berg, L.C. is Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.
Copyright 2008 The
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Jefferson City, Oct 8, 2008 / 03:10 am (CNA).- José H. Gomez, Archbishop of San Antonio and the senior Hispanic member of the United States’ Catholic hierarchy, spoke at a rally at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City on Saturday, calling for a moratorium on deportations, federal work site raids, and new anti-immigration legislation until after the upcoming elections. He suggested that instead of deportations, which he said break up families, illegal immigrants should be subject to “intensive, long-term community service.”
Saying he believed immigration to be “the great civil rights test of our generation,” he discussed his own status as an American citizen who grew up as an immigrant born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico.
“I’ve always had family and friends on both sides of the border. So I have many conflicting emotions about the way this debate has played out in recent years,” he explained.
Turning to early Christian history, he described how the notorious Roman emperor Julian the Apostate, who returned to paganism after a Christian upbringing, thought the uniquely Christian benevolence toward strangers weakened the power of his preferred religion.
“To be a Christian was to practice hospitality to the stranger,” he said, quoting several Scriptural verses and Church Fathers.
He especially focused upon Christ’s words in Matthew 25: “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me … As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Thus, Archbishop Gomez explained, Catholic interest in immigration is not a recent development but “part of our religious identity as Catholics, as Christians.”
Immigration Dispute Bad for American’s souls
Speaking as a pastor, the archbishop said the immigration dispute is “bad for the souls of Americans.”
“There is too much anger. Too much resentment. Too much fear. Too much hate. It’s eating people up. And it’s just no good for people to be consumed by fear and hate. It’s no good for their souls. And it’s no good for our country, my friends.”
He noted the hundreds of “anti-immigrant laws” enacted in the past two years, calling some “so clearly vindictive, so obviously meant to injure and intimidate, that I worry that the effect will be to diminish respect for the rule of law.”
“We need to find a way to stop lashing out at the problem and to start making sensible policy,” he said in his keynote address to the annual assembly of the Missouri Catholic Conference, adding, “This is a national crisis and it calls for national leadership.”
Noting that politicians did not want to address the issue before the election following what he called the “bitter failure” of the 2007 immigration bill, he said that leaders should “roll up their sleeves and get to work” on comprehensive immigration reform after the election.
He acknowledged the fears of immigration opponents as legitimate, naming the concerns about a terrorist attack or downward pressure on wages.
“So we have to do a better job of listening to people. And we need to be calm about presenting the facts,” the archbishop said, naming the economic need for a large immigrant workforce and the already increased border security as subjects people need to be reminded about.
Another fact to acknowledge, Archbishop Gomez added, is that “millions of immigrants are here in blatant violation of U.S. law.”
“This makes law-abiding Americans angry. And it should. Why should they obey the laws if others aren’t punished for breaking them? As advocates, we can’t ignore this fact or somehow argue that our immigration laws don’t matter.”
However, the archbishop said legal reforms are necessary.
Reform the Response to Illegal Immigration
“The law should not be used to scare people, to invade their homes and work-sites, to break up families,” he continued. “From a practical standpoint, I don’t see how these measures are solving any problems. Instead, they’re creating new ones.”
The deportations of immigrants, he charged, are “breaking up families” and thus “leaving wives without husbands, children without parents. … As we all know, a policy that breaks families apart can only lead to greater sufferings and social problems.”
Saying those in the U.S. illegally can’t “expect to escape punishment,” but seeing deportation as a punishment “disproportionate to the crime,” he endorsed “intensive, long-term community service” as a “far more constructive solution.”
“This would build communities rather than tear them apart. And it would serve to better integrate the immigrants into the social and moral fabric of America,” Archbishop Gomez said.
“The Church has an important role to play in promoting forgiveness and reconciliation on this issue,” he stated. “We must work so that justice and mercy, not anger and resentment, are the motives behind our response to illegal immigration.”
He explained to the audience that the Greek word for hospitality is “philoxenia,” literally “the love of strangers.” Noting that Christians worship “the God who is Love,” he concluded:
“Let us be faithful servants of Love. Let us abound in love, in good works and hospitality for the strangers among us.”