How Catholics can oppose abortion, back Obama
By Douglas W. Kmiec
September 9, 2008
September 9, 2008
The Roman Catholic Church in Chicago, and indeed the world, is blessed by the thoughtful teaching of Cardinal Francis George. It gives me special joy to say that years ago his mother and my grandmother were over-the-fence neighbors in St. Pascal's Parish. Truth be told, I heard more than once in my childhood, "Why can't you be like the 'saintly Francis George'?" But let's not go there.
For the last several months, conservative bloggers have been lampooning me for endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for president—admittedly, a somewhat unusual thing for a Republican to do—so some political paddling is fair. What is unfair has been those Republican partisans who have tried to close the door on Obama in the name of the Catholic faith.
Obama does not advocate the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, and orthodox Catholics do. We do for the very clear reason given by George in a Sept. 2 letter—namely, "one cannot favor the legal status quo on abortion and also be working for the common good."
That's exactly right, but what's wrong is for Republican partisans to claim this to be Obama's position. It's not. Rather, Obama believes there are alternative ways to promote the "culture of life," even given the law's sanction of abortion.
The central hope of the Obama campaign is to find common ground—not by "favoring" that which can never be acceptable, the taking of innocent unborn life, but by dealing with the legal reality in a way that at least reduces the likelihood of abortion. Chicago is only Obama's adopted home, but in this he represents the best of her "I will/city of big shoulders/let's get something practically done" spirit.
Unlike Obama, I regret to say the current Republican Party thrives on demonizing its opposition to win elections. Without ideas, there is only name-calling. That's too bad because additional avenues for strengthening a culture of life open up when we avoid demonizing those who disagree with our Catholic view that life begins at conception. Talking strongly pro-life, Republicans often do little, promising that some judge not yet appointed is the answer or advocating leaving it all up to the states to decide, seldom acknowledging that many, perhaps most, states would end embedding the "legal status" of abortion—exactly contrary to the cardinal's thoughtful instruction.
Obama seeks to extend a helping hand (increased funding for prenatal care, maternity leave and less cumbersome and expensive adoption) with an astute understanding of how closely economic circumstances and abortion are related. Both reasonable extrapolations from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics and a recent Catholic in Alliance for the Common Good study find that improving the economic well-being of the average family in general, and of the women facing the abortion decision in particular, can save unborn lives.
From 1979 to 1990, during a difficult inflationary economy, the annual rate of abortion increased by 14.2 percent, resulting in an additional 740,000 abortions. In the more economically stable decade following, the annual rate decreased by 34 percent, meaning that approximately 2.3 million children who would have been aborted are alive to-day.
The pretense that the GOP is now an agent for change for what it, itself, instituted is far too Orwellian to be accepted. The Obama-Biden team says to the average working person in America: Your work matters, and it will be compensated at a family wage; your retirement will be safeguarded from corporate fraud and manipulation—be it by cooking the books a la Enron Corp. or the legal abuses of a shadow banking system that by profligate lending practice has precipitated massive government bailouts and the takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
Sen. John McCain is an honorable man caught between a failed presidency and the tired ideas of his party that only invite repetition of that failure. There's no reason that failure should be extended in a way that blocks the greater protection of unborn life.
Douglas W. Kmiec is the author of "Can a Catholic Support Him?—Asking the Big Question About Barack Obama" and former constitutional legal counsel to President Ronald Reagan.