Doug Kmiec, the Pepperdine University law professor, former Reagan administration official, and pro-life Catholic who has backed Sen. Barack Obama, explained his support for the pro-abortion rights presidential candidate in a meeting of the Faith in Action panel last Thursday at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
While granting that deciding when an unborn baby gets human rights is “not above his pay grade,” Kmiec argued that the presidential nominee “understands the truth about the human person” and will work to reduce the number of abortions.
“It’s unusual to be here,” Kmiec said as he began his remarks to the audience seated in a Colorado Convention Center ballroom.
Describing how the Catholic vote is important because of its size, potential, and record of voting for the winning presidential candidate, Kmiec said Catholics “know how to pick a winner, and I picked Barack.” He supported Obama, Kmiec explained, because “he’s a man of faith” with the “best articulation of church-state problems.”
“This man understands the truth of a human person,” Kmiec argued.
Saying the phrase “culture of life” is used a lot, Kmiec declared “I too am pro-life.” However, he commented, being pro-life “has to be a commitment to all life.”
He argued that not providing a living wage is one way in which some self-professed pro-lifers are not committed to all life.
Kmiec claimed that some people are making arguments “in the disguise of faith” that is a sin to vote for Obama. He said this was a “false statement.”
Can a Catholic vote for Obama?
“Unequivocally, yes,” he answered, attacking voter guides that say otherwise as “fundamentally dishonest.”
Recounting a conversation he witnessed between Obama and a minister, Kmiec recalled the senator’s answer when the minister asked if Obama believes Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
“He thought very carefully,” Kmiec said, before answering: “Reverend, he is my way.”
When the minister pressed him on this answer, Obama referred to his mother, whom he called “the person in my life who was greatest of service.”
“She never had the blessing of baptism,” Obama said, as told by Kmiec. “It’s my understanding that I will see her again, that she is not lost.”
In conversation after the conclusion of the panel, Kmiec further explained that he thought too many pro-life voters act as if voting for a candidate who promises to change the makeup of the Supreme Court fulfils their pro-life responsibilities, when that does not help “real women with real circumstances.”
Telling how he and his wife help advise women in crisis pregnancies, he said college students often come for counseling.
His wife tells them “let’s just talk, and I want to spend some time with you.”
“And of course you discover how much fear and anxiety they have about telling their parents, but also you discover they’re worried about getting registered for class, they’re worried about whether they need a permanent job,” or whether they may be forced to end their educational plans.
Kmiec said his wife goes down a checklist of these worries and says “We can help you with all of that. Now what else do you need?”
“Obviously, it takes much more than just voting a single day in a single election, but it’s far more fulfilling as a matter of faith and far more effective,” he said.
The Democrats have not been heard on the other questions, he said, because of their view of abortion as a right, and because of their desire to talk about it “only as a right, in legal terms.”
“This year, Obama comes in, and says, ‘Let’s talk about what we’re really good at, namely helping people in their community’.”
Kmiec said Obama built that aspect into the Democratic Party platform, “not in the way I would write it, but it’s there.”
CNA asked Kmiec his opinion regarding how the Democratic National Convention has gone for pro-life Democrats and Catholic Democrats.
“I think the convention has gone well because the candidate intended to be nominated got the nomination,” Kmiec replied. “And I think Joe Biden is a choice that will be of great advantage to talking with the Catholic community, because they will identify with his story, they will see themselves” he continued, noting Biden’s attendance of parochial school and how his family is “animated and guided by its faith.”
They will see someone “who wrestles with faith questions now, including the difficult one we’ve been talking about for the past few minutes.”
“It’s not enough to say complacently ‘I just accept Roe,’ which is what the Democrats have said in the past,” Kmiec emphasized. “‘Roe is untouchable,’ that’s all they’ve said in the past. This year, it seems to me, they’ve decided that they’re going to have a nominee, both Barack Obama, and a Catholic Joe Biden, and he’s going to say ‘Quite frankly, we need to consciously think of ways to reduce the number of abortions. What’s the most effective way to do that?’”
He argued that both the Common Good for the Common Ground study and a Center for Disease Control study both show a positive correlation between poverty and abortion. According to Kmiec, they also show that the largest numbers of abortions are obtained by women in the “meanest, cruelest circumstances.”
“We also know that rates of abortion go down when the country is prosperous,” he claimed.
CNA asked Kmiec how he could claim Barack Obama “understands the truth about a human person,” considering his remarks at an August forum at Saddleback Church in which he said the question of when a baby acquires human rights is “above my pay grade.”
“Well, Sen. Obama and I both have occasions to misspeak, and not use the most felicitous statements,” he answered.
“I told him, following the Saddleback Forum, that I thought it was not above his pay grade. And it was very clear in the full answer he gave that what he was trying to express was that God’s mind is not fully known by man,” a position Kmiec said is “basic Catholic teaching” opposed to the sin of presumption.
“Further, he was saying that, quite appropriately and consistent with what the panel was ending up with, there are different faith traditions in this country that see life and personhood as beginning as at a different point than the Catholic tradition does. Presbyterian, Methodist, much of the Jewish tradition,” Kmiec explained.
“We have said in Dignitatis Humanae, that it’s not because a particular statement is true, but because of a human person’s dignity, we have complete religious freedom.”
Asked whether this denies the capacity of reason to reach shared conclusions about human nature, Kmiec replied:
“No, it merely says we have to keep talking, because reason hasn’t persuaded us all yet.”
“If we in fact haven’t all come to the same table having reached the same conclusion, we’ve got some talking to do,” Kmiec said.