On the one hand, more bishops preach about the difficulty, if not outright impossibility, of voting for a pro-choice candidate. On the other, the ranks of prominent Catholics advocating a vote for Obama despite his pro-choice laurels, remain.
Michael Sean Winters over at the America Magazine blog is steadfast in his support. With Winters however there is no note of turning, of regret toward a failed and decrepit GOP; he, along with many others, seemed to embrace Obama immediately upon arrival. Certainly there are many "Catholics" in the public square for whom the Church's teaching on sexuality, inter alia, has fallen by the wayside. For that wandering throng, "thinking for yourself" and freely choosing what beliefs make sense, and discarding those which do not, demonstrate the absence of true Faith in any theological sense, as faith properly speaking is an assent to propositions by definition beyond understanding (i.e. these Catholics are no different than classic liberal Protestants). At least with Winters and those who share his ken, right belief is not dispensable, nor does free thinking come before religious assent.
Yet with Winters, and a number of other prominent writers and public figures, despite having affirmed their adherence to Church teaching and that they are indeed believers first, voting for anything but the Democratic party is beyond the pale. I take it they are genuinely convinced that the DNC's platform will bring about a just social order and work for the common good, within the classic models of national politics, legislation, and executive promulgation. F.D.R. remains the model par excellence, and a vigorous governmental advocate the best insurer of the common good. I do not mean to be dismissive here: think Daniel Patrick Moynihan. But the means are not far from governmental socialism. The GOP (nor anything within the broader Burkean conservative tradition) could never be a serious alternative.
What is newsworthy is that a number of conservative Catholics (notoriously more reliable on matters of orthodoxy than the left side), whom the GOP used to be able to resolutely depend on, are beginning to turn to Obama. Kmiec is the most notorious (probably because of his Republican background within the Reagan administration), but former Franciscan University board member (and also law professor) Nicholas Cafardi recently penned his apology for Obama at the National Catholic Reporter. It includes such confident affirmations:
I believe that abortion is an unspeakable evil, yet I support Sen. Barack Obama, who is pro-choice. I do not support him because he is pro-choice, but in spite of it....
Despite what some Republicans would like Catholics to believe, the list of what the church calls "intrinsically evil acts" does not begin and end with abortion. In fact, there are many intrinsically evil acts, and a committed Catholic must consider all of them in deciding how to vote.
Last November, the U.S. bishops released "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," a 30-page document that provides several examples of intrinsically evil acts: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, torture, racism, and targeting noncombatants in acts of war....
Obama's support for abortion rights has led some to the conclusion that no Catholic can vote for him. That's a mistake. While I have never swayed in my conviction that abortion is an unspeakable evil, I believe that we have lost the abortion battle -- permanently. A vote for Sen. John McCain does not guarantee the end of abortion in America. Not even close.
Let's suppose Roe v. Wade were overturned. What would happen? The matter would simply be kicked back to the states -- where it was before 1973. Overturning Roe would not abolish abortion. It would just mean that abortion would be legal in some states and illegal in others. The number of abortions would remain unchanged as long as people could travel.
Now then, there are a number of interesting things going on here. It seems more than a bit incongruous to slide from "unspeakable evil" to "support". One wonders how much Cafardi thought about that concession. It is hard to imagine G.E.M. Anscombe, for instance, allowing such a "despite". Nonetheless he continues with a list of "intrinsically evil" acts: "abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, torture, racism, and targeting noncombatants in acts of war."
True enough--all evil. Nor can the prudential decision to vote for a candidate rest on one issue disregarding many. However, Cafardi never seems to consider the question of proportionality. The magnitude of the crime of abortion far outweighs the other crimes mentioned in the list. For anyone genuinely interested in subscribing to Catholic social teaching, the crime of abortion--how long it has grown, how many are killed, the intrinsic relationship it bears on the culture of death in many other ways--manifests a character no other crime (save perhaps mass murder on the scale of genocide or world war) can match. There is a basic fact of proportion owed consideration here. Instead, Cafardi thinks Obama can be supported thanks to a neat trick: although he is resolutely pro-choice, he will reduce abortions:
There's another distinction that is often lost in the culture-war rhetoric on abortion: There is a difference between being pro-choice and being pro-abortion. Obama supports government action that would reduce the number of abortions, and has consistently said that "we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion." He favors a "comprehensive approach where ... we are teaching the sacredness of sexuality to our children." And he wants to ensure that adoption is an option for women who might otherwise choose abortion.
Obama worked all of that into his party's platform this year. By contrast, Republicans actually removed abortion-reduction language from their platform.
Cafardi might want to do his homework as to Obama's consistency here. Consistent since when? As Mark Stricherz over at the America Election Blog pointed out:
Take the issue of abortion. For all of the talk about Obama’s interest in reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, he has not stood up to the abortion industry a single time; he always gives in to their requests and demands. Obama’s lack of moral courage was most evident in his votes, as an Illinois state senator, against the born-alive infant protection act. As Steven Waldman, the pro-choice founder of Beliefnet, wrote of Obama’s record on this issue,
The episode does show him to be a down-the-line pro-choice legislator. In fact, the charge that Obama is the most pro-choice candidate in years may well be true (though the other Democrats were pretty pro-choice too). When I read through the legislative history, I came to believe that Obama's general impulse was: when it doubt, side with NARAL. If you're ardently pro-life, you are absolutely justified in being scared of Obama for that reason alone, without having cast him as a serial killer.
When in doubt, side with NARAL: that impulse shows as much moral fortitude as always siding with the neighborhood bully or far worse.
The Dean of the Notre Dame department of Philosophy, John O'Callaghan, recently put forth a rebuttal to Kmiec's argument whether a Catholic can vote for Obama, clarifying the importance of proportionality:
Thirty-five years after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, it’s never been more important to protect a woman’s right to choose. Last year, the Supreme Court decided by a vote of 5-4 to uphold the Federal Abortion Ban, and in doing so undermined an important principle of Roe v. Wade: that we must always protect women’s health. With one more vacancy on the Supreme Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a women’s fundamental right to choose for the first time since Roe v. Wade. The next president may be asked to nominate that Supreme Court justice. That is what is at stake in this election.
Throughout my career, I’ve been a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive justice, and have consistently had a 100% pro-choice rating with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
When South Dakota passed a law banning all abortions in a direct effort to have Roe overruled, I was the only candidate for President to raise money to help the citizens of South Dakota repeal that law. When anti-choice protesters blocked the opening of an Illinois Planned Parenthood clinic in a community where affordable health care is in short supply, I was the only candidate for President who spoke out against it. And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president. . . .
But we also know that Roe v. Wade is about more than a woman’s right to choose; it’s about equality. It’s about whether our daughters are going to have the same opportunities as our sons. And so to truly honor that decision, we need to update the social contract so that women can free themselves, and their children, from violent relationships; so that a mom can stay home with a sick child without getting a pink slip; so that she can go to work knowing that there’s affordable, quality childcare for her children; and so that the American dream is within reach for every family in this country. This anniversary reminds us that it’s not enough to protect the gains of the past–we have to build a future that’s filled with hope and possibility for all Americans.
The question isn’t whether a Catholic “can” support Obama. The Church has made it clear that a Catholic can, as She has made it clear that a Catholic can support any pro-choice candidate for office, even one with as absolute a pro-abortion position as Obama’s, so long as the support is not directed at the pro-choice position, and one has proportionate reasons for tolerating the evil of the pro-abortion position. In arguing that a Catholic “can” support Obama, Kmiec is adding nothing to what the Church has already made clear.Obama's polity "destroys the conditions necessary for the common good" because it excludes a whole "class of human beings from the protection of law." This is indeed the basic logic behind the Catholic Church's advocacy over the years against Roe in this country. And it is the logic, have no doubt, that continues to inspire Bishops to write letters strongly cautioning against voting for a pro-choice candidate, lest one be complicit in sin. There is no equivalence between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party here: this is no algebraic equation where one can cross out like terms in order to find an answer. One cannot so comfortably support Obama in light of this. The objections of the Bishops (and other Catholics) can be summarized by saying: if one supports a candidate defending an "unspeakable evil", one should appear suitably agonized over having to therefore support an "unspeakable evil." Perhaps there remains a confusion here over intentions: as one learns studying the classical analysis of double (or side) effect, one cannot simply direct intentions. I cannot close one eye and vote for Obama, oblivious to his resolute defense of abortion rights, merely intending to vote for him on the basis of more supportable issues.
The question is whether a Catholic “should” support Obama. And Kmiec has for a while been deploying several arguments to convince Catholics that they “should” support Obama over McCain....
Decisions and choices are defined by their objects—what are they about? Obama’s position is that the decision to have an abortion is a legitimate moral choice made by an individual that must be protected from any interference by any governmental entity. The relevant choice that he is “pro” with respect to is the beginning of an act of abortion. And Kmiec understates the point when he says that Obama’s position is not “fully compatible with” Catholic teaching—it is fully incompatible with Catholic teaching....
Obama’s position is that our federal constitutional order can, does, and should exclude a class of human beings from the protection of law, while McCain’s position is that it should not. This is a difference of justice at the foundation of any social order; one position destroys the conditions necessary for the common good, while the other does not. It is difficult to imagine what proportionate reasons there are for ignoring a position that destroys the conditions necessary for the common good.
On that note I want to return to a line Cafardi mentioned:
Obama worked all of that into his party's platform this year. By contrast, Republicans actually removed abortion-reduction language from their platform.This is ignorant at least, disingenuous at worst. I looked up the respective platforms of the two parties. I shall not need to identify which said what.
The [...] Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.
The [...] Party also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family
planning services and age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.
The [...] Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring
access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.
Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity and dignity of innocent human life.
We have made progress. The Supreme Court has upheld prohibitions against the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion. States are now permitted to extend health-care coverage to children before birth. And the Born Alive Infants Protection Act has become law; this law ensures that infants who are born alive during an abortion receive all treatment and care that is provided to all newborn infants and are not neglected and left to die. We must protect girls from exploitation and statutory rape through a parental notification requirement. We all have a moral obligation to assist, not to penalize, women struggling with the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy. At its core, abortion is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life. Women deserve better than abortion. Every effort should be made to work with women considering abortion to enable and empower them to choose life. We salute those who provide them alternatives, including pregnancy care centers, and we take pride in the tremendous increase in adoptions that has followed [party] legislative initiatives.
In case there is any doubt, here is what Obama has stated clearly in his Blueprint for Change:
Obama has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving a women’s right to choose under Roe v. Wade a priority as president. Obama also supports expanded access to contraception, health information and preventive services to reduce unintended pregnancies.
And even more ironically, he proffers this concession on his website:
Barack Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case.
Cafardi, Kmiec, and others, as O'Callaghan points out, simply ignore the fact that both Obama and the DNC resolutely support and advocate a pro-abortion agenda, and notably, desire to expand abortion rights with the Freedom of Choice Act. Respecting the nature of abortion as an "unspeakable evil", and the most destructive constitutive element of the culture of death, it indeed continues to remain doubtful that a faithful Catholic could support a candidate advocating such an agenda.
[And in order to prevent any confusion: this is not a defense for voting for McCain, or Republicans for that matter, but only an argument for why one cannot vote for a strongly pro-choice candidate for president. I do not think the former simply follows from the latter. In fact, I believe one should not vote for McCain, for different reasons; and I think the Republican Party has its own problems that places it fundamentally at odds with the Catholic worldview. But that is a post for another day.]