.- Prof. Doug W. Kmiec of Pepperdine University and Prof. Robert P. George of Princeton University debated at the National Press Club on Thursday about the role of Catholics in politics and whether pro-life concerns should encourage support for or opposition to President Barack Obama.
Kmiec, a law professor and prominent Catholic supporter of Barack Obamaâs 2008 presidential campaign, argued that President Obama would implement policies to reduce abortions, and that he offered sound political positions on other important issues.
George, a law professor and a Republican member of the Presidentâs Council on Bioethics, contended that President Obama really did not believe abortion to be a moral evil and did not believe in the human equality of the unborn.
Kmiec began his remarks by praising what he saw as President Obamaâs ability to seek âcommon groundâ and his exploration of whether common ground on disputed abortion policy can in fact exist.
Stressing that he considered âunacceptableâ moral evasions about the immorality of abortion or the injustice of permissive abortion laws, he cited Pope John Paul IIâs encyclical âEvangelium Vitae,â about support for political proposals to lessen the negative consequences of abortion.
Intent is a âkey elementâ in supporting such proposals, he said.
âAre we as Catholics expected to sit on the sidelines, aloof with our truth, talking among ourselves, reinforcing our goodness, or are we to engage our fellow citizens and indeed offer that gift of the truth of the human personâ¦ in matters of election and of public policy?â Kmiec asked rhetorically.
âCatholics must translate their faith tradition into understandable terms and offer it to their fellow citizens,â he advised.
Noting what he saw as President Obamaâs praiseworthy positions, Kmiec said the president sought to end a war that leading prelates of Catholic Church had âpleadedâ with President Bush not to enter. Kmiec said Obama seeks to be âa steward of the environment,â seeks to reform the health care system, and will âwelcome the strangerâ on immigration issues.
âAnd yet there is the issue of abortion. How to handle that question?â Kmiec continued.
Kmiec argued a Catholic may vote for an abortion supporter for âproportionate reasons,â so long there is âno active intent to advance the intrinsic evil of abortion.â
He said that National Institutes of Health draft regulations on embryonic stem cell research demonstrate that Obama is âlisteningâ even âwithout agreeing with us.â Specifically, Kmiec praised the Obama administrationâs funding of adult stem cell research and its decision not to use altered nuclear transfer/human cloning techniques to produce embryonic stem cells.
Kmiec also denounced as âintimidationâ the proposed or actual denial of Holy Communion to abortion rights supporters such as Vice President Joseph Biden or former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. He argued this was ânot an effective or Catholic approach.â
âThe Church is not a political party and it can never find itself captured by a political party,â Kmiec concluded his opening remarks. âIt is wrong to make the perfect the enemy of good, justice the enemy of love and, quite frankly, wrong not to recognize the good heart and genuine respect for life in someone coming from a point of view that is not necessarily the one that we ourselves have indulged in the past.â
Prof. George began by saying that he does not question the presidentâs sincerity when he speaks about human rights.
However, he claimed President Obama âdoes not understand the concept of human rights, as Professor Kmiec and I do, to refer to rightsâabove all the right to lifeâthat all human beings possess simply by virtue of our humanity. For the President, being human is not enough to qualify someone as the bearer of a right to life.â
He characterized this as an idea foundational to the presidentâs position on abortion.
George referred to Obamaâs opposition to the Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, saying that the president denied the âfundamental equalityâ of the child left unprotected because of his opposition to the law as an Illinois legislator.
âHe has made clear his own conviction that the equality of women depends on denying the equality and rights of the children they carry. He has made what is, from the pro-life point of view, the tragic error of supposing that the equality of one class of human beings can and must be purchased by denial of the equality of another.â
George suggested that some of Obamaâs supporters do not serve him well by âpretendingâ that his expressed willingness to find âcommon groundâ with pro-lifers involves the recognition that abortion or embryo-destructive research is âbad or tragic because it kills a living member of the human family.â
Obama does not profess to be âpersonally opposedâ to abortion or to believe that abortion is a wrongful act that must nevertheless be legally permitted because the consequences of outlawing it would be worse, George claimed.
âHis belief, and his policy, is that abortion, if a woman chooses it, is not wrong. That is why he is not personally opposed to it. There is no wrong there to oppose,â he charged, citing the presidentâs past presentation of abortion as the âright solution to a problemâ in which otherwise a woman might be, in Obamaâs words, âpunished with a baby.â
George then suggested that Obama views abortion as no more bad or wrong than a knee replacement operation:
âNo one regards knee operations as desirable for their own sakesâ¦. But a knee operation is not something that one would discourage or be personally opposed to.â
George attacked the âcommon groundâ claim that Obama wants to reduce the number of abortions. He reported that pro-life activist Wendy Wright, meeting with the Director of the Presidentâs Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes, was told that the precise goal of the administration is to âreduce the need for abortions,â not reduce the number of abortions.
This was echoed by Obamaâs speech at Notre Dame, George claimed, when the president didnât propose reducing the number of abortions; rather, the president said he would work to reduce âthe number of women seeking abortions.â
âThe President and his administration will not join us on the common ground of discouraging women from having abortions or even in encouraging them to choose childbirth over abortion. The proposed common ground is the reduction of unwanted pregnanciesânot discouraging those in âneedâ of abortion from having them.â
âThe President and the people he has placed in charge of this issue, such as Melody Barnes, have a deep ideological commitment to the idea that there is nothing actually wrong with abortion, because the child in the womb simply has no rights.â
Because of his view of abortion the president âis utterly and intransigently unwilling to support even efforts short of prohibiting abortion that would plainly reduce the number of abortions.â
âOn issue of embryonic stem cell research, Obama revoked President Bushâs executive order promoting research to advance non-embryo-destructive sources of pluripotent stem cells,â he added.
âThe common ground I am interested in is with pro-life Americans who, like Professor Kmiec, have supported the President politically,â Georgeâs remarks oncluded.
âOn which issues will we support the Presidentâs direction, and on which will we challenge him because he is heading in the wrong direction? Those pro-life Americans who voted for him and support him should not object when we speak for the most vulnerable and defenseless of our fellow human beings, even when that means severely criticizing the Presidentâs policies. They should stand with us on common ground, and join their voices with ours.â