The pro-life case for Obama

I heard Douglas Kmiec today on Larry Mantle’s Air Talk discussing his new book Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Questions about Barack Obama. Douglas Kmiec is a Roman Catholic, a Republican (he worked in the Reagan administration), and a con-law professor at Pepperdine. He is famous for having endorsed Obama and for being denied communion by a young priest soon thereafter (but not permanently - Cardinal Roger Mahoney corrected the priest’s error).

Obviously, in view of the Roman Catholic doctrine concerning the serious moral considerations involved in voting for pro-choice politicians, Kmiec has had to wrestle with the question, “Can a Catholic vote for Obama?” He answers, “Yes,” because if given a choice between an administration that would focus its anti-abortion efforts merely on the unlikely hope of overturning Roe v. Wade (which would not reduce abortions), and an administration that would support measures that could actually reduce abortions, the choice is easy.

Here is how he puts it in a recent interview with the New York Times:

There is a widespread misconception that overturning Roe is the only way to be pro-life. In fact, overturning Roe simply returns the matter to the states, which in their individual legislative determinations could then be entirely pro-abortion. I doubt that many of our non-legally-trained pro-life friends fully grasp the limited effect of overturning Roe.

Secondly, pundits like to toss about the notion that the future of Roe depends on one vote, the mythical fifth vote to overturn the decision. There are serious problems with this assumption: first, Republicans have failed to achieve reversal in the five previous times they asked the court for it; and second, it is far from certain that only one additional vote is needed to reverse the decision in light of the principles of stare decisis by which a decided case ought not to be disturbed. Only Justices Thomas and Scalia have written and joined dissenting opinions suggesting the appropriateness of overturning Roe …

Senator Obama is articulating policies that permit faithful Catholics to follow the church’s admonition that we continue to explore ways to give greater protection to human life.

Consider the choices: A Catholic can either continue on the failed and uncertain path of seeking to overturn Roe, which would result in the individual states doing their own thing, not necessarily, or in most states even likely, protective of the unborn. Or Senator Obama’s approach could be followed, whereby prenatal and income support, paid maternity leave and greater access to adoption would be relied upon to reduce the incidence of abortion.   

I like what this reviewer said on Amazon:

So polarized are our politics and our churches these days that it takes a Republican praising the Democratic candidate in order to create enough interest in the hidden truth beneath the 35-year struggle over abortion. Prof Doug Kmiec has written a deeply thoughtful, well-reasoned discussion of why the Democratic approach to solving the abortion problem should appeal to Catholics of all ideological stripes.

The extremists on both ends of the rope have profited handsomely over the years from playing up the pro-choice vs anti-abortion debate, to the frustration of most of the rest of us. The rarely acknowledged dirty little secret is that the vast majority of Catholics and other people of faith believe simultaneously in both positions: that the ideal would be to bring every baby into the world, but that there are grave unintended consequences from trying to criminalize the decision.

Conservatives love to talk about the 43 million abortions since Roe-v-Wade, but they never acknowledge the 43 million that came before 1973–when abortion was largely illegal. In other words, illegality has been tried before, and found to be sorely wanting as a strategy to fix the problem. Add on top of that the fact that abortions rose substantially under Reagan and the first Bush, and then fell steeply under President Clinton. Now the data shows convincingly that abortion rates have stagnated under President Bush.

Prof Kmiec points out that the punishmentalists have clearly been betting on the wrong horse, content to take a chance that abortion might possibly be outlawed sometime in the very distant future, rather than supporting a Democratic position with a proven track record of abortion reduction in the here-and-now. Reconciliation being a cardinal principle of Catholicism, Dr Kmiec makes a convincing case that supporting an Obama presidency is the more rewarding way to address the tragedy of abortion for anyone who has seriously grappled with this problem in all its complexity.

Also, here is a nice excerpt from the book on Beliefnet in which Kmiec addresses the slander that by voting against the Illinois Born Alive Act Obama is in favor of killing newborn babies.

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