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.” † † †
-Thoughts in Solitude
© Abbey of Gethsemani
"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way"...Rule of St. Benedict.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fooling Some of the People, some of the time

Responding to the non-argument that duped many Pro-Obama Catholics
November 25, 2008

9:00AM EST

52% of Catholics -- the vast majority of whom would identify themselves as "pro-life" -- voted on November 4, 2008 for the man who will almost certainly become the most pro-abortion President in American history.

I have already dedicated this column, and writings elsewhere, to respond to some of the putative justifications under which my Catholic brothers and sisters cast their votes for the pro-abortion candidate. In Economy Matters, Life Matters (NRO, October 8, 2008), and in two previous columns here I tried to respond to the pseudo-argument that support for Mr. Obama was justified on the basis that "abortion is not the only issue; other 'Catholic' issues are crying out for attention and Mr. Obama is best equipped to address them" or "abortion is simply not the most fundamental issue facing our nation" (at least not in this election cycle).

It turns out there was another pseudo-argument afloat in the minds of many. It goes something like this: Mr. Obama actually supports the pro-life agenda because he intends to enact policies that will reduce poverty, raise the minimum wage, create jobs, get folks off welfare, enact a more just and humane immigration policy, enact tax cuts for the benefit of the most needy Americans, give greater access to affordable healthcare... And all of this in the end will reduce the number of abortions in America.

Professor Doug Kmiec, of Pepperdine Law School, well prior to the election gave intellectual expression to these ideas and to its corollary: the pro-life focus on overturning Roe v. Wade was wrong-headed and ill-fated to begin with; as a strategy, it has failed, and it is time for a new approach.

Kmiec holds that the best way to victory was to support the man who would best implement principles of Catholic social teaching in a manner best suited to getting at the "root causes" of abortion. And in Kmiec's estimation, Obama was the man for the job.

Kmiec saw this evidenced in the Obama platform proposal which, while affirming Roe, promised also "to strongly support a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and postnatal health care, parenting skills, income support and caring adoption programs."

The question for the rest of us then is this: Do we hold such an argument to be plausible? And furthermore, do we believe the pro-life movement or its strategies have "failed"?

For answers, I turned to two pro-life veterans and dear friends: Nikolas Nikas and Dorinda Bordlee, co-founders of the Bioethics Defense Fund.

Nikas and Bordlee believe that prominent Catholics who publicly justified their support for President-elect Obama on the claim that the pro-life movement has lost the battle "acted under dangerous fallacies."

First, Bordlee points out that these voters failed "to recognize that President-elect Obama has promised to devastate the life-saving legal infrastructure that was built with great effort by the pro-life movement over the last 35 years, and recently bolstered by the U.S. Supreme Court in it's 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart decision which recognized '[t]he State's interest in respect for life' which 'finds an ultimate expression in a mother's love for her child.'"

Nikas and Bordlee question the sincerity of the conviction that the pro-life movement has "failed" given the steady increase in life-protective state and federal laws that now stand on the chopping block of Obama's promised passage of FOCA, including:

  • · laws that require abortionists to give women informed consent about the dangers of abortion and their access to public and private agencies that will help them bring their child to term;
  • · state laws that help stop sexual predators who benefit from secret abortions on minors by requiring parental notice or consent;
  • · laws that prohibit killing a child in the process of delivery by banning partial birth abortion; and
  • · laws that prevent discrimination against healthcare professionals and medical students who object to using their vocation to heal in a way to destroys human lives.

"All of these laws and more will come crashing down if President-elect Obama makes good on his promise to sign FOCA and reverse the Hyde Amendment," notes Bordlee. Bordlee pointed to an important analysis by Professor Michael New showing that parental involvement laws and Medicaid funding restrictions are correlated with reductions in the incidence of abortion among minors. "Effective pro-life measures are at risk of being 'lost' because of Obama's planned strategy, not because of any failed strategy of the pro-life movement," said Bordlee

Nikas and Bordlee made a further salient observation about the short-sighted failure of pro-Obama pro-lifers to understand a historic truth about social-reform movements -- that it takes perseverance to achieve victory.

In The Young Battle for Life,

Nikolas Nikas noted ever so cogently that the 35-year struggle against federal court-imposed abortion on demand is still a relatively young one. He points to the lessons of the long struggle for black civil rights as instructive:

  • · 246 years from the advent of American slavery to the end of the Civil War;
  • · 100 years from the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery to the passage of the Civil Rights Act;
  • · 58 years from the announcement by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson that "separate but equal" public accommodations for blacks and whites was constitutional to the reversal of that decision by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.

So, after only 35 years, it would seem that the pro-life movement is only at the beginning of its battle, not at the (failed) end of it. I hope to continue this discussion next week, with further input from pro-life leaders who are nowhere near throwing in the towel.


Rev. Thomas V. Berg, L.C. is Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.

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