St. Louis University philosophy professor Father John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., writing in an open letter in the August 18 edition of the Jesuit weekly “America”, has called on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama to address his “abortion problem” among Catholic voters.
Decrying what he called “a vociferous cadre in the Democratic Party” which has “for too long wielded a dogmatic veto over any discussion of limiting abortions,” Father Kavanaugh argued Obama can appeal to undecided Catholic voters by supporting programs that will reduce the numbers of abortions, giving a place to pro-life Democrats at the Democratic National Convention, and engaging the “arguments and evidence” offered by abortion opponents.
While asserting that Catholic voters do not “think monolithically,” Father Kavanaugh noted that there has been up to a 15 percent rise in Catholics voting Republican in recent U.S. elections. The Jesuit priest wrote to Obama that while some Catholics will vote for him because of anti-Republican sentiment or because Obama’s political agenda appeals to them, some will vote for him “not because of your position on abortion, but despite it.”
In Father Kavanaugh’s view, many Catholics realize that Obama’s approach to “wars of choice, capital punishment, hunger, homelessness, health care and refugees” might better serve “‘the least’ of our brothers and sisters.”
Father Kavanaugh acknowledged that some Catholics will never vote for a Democrat, but emphasized that there is another group trending away from Obama “because they think you not only defend partial-birth abortion but also are against lifesaving therapy for newborns surviving an abortion attempt.”
Saying Obama’s attempts to explain his stand on partial birth abortion and treatments for abortion survivors “seemed evasive,” Father Kavanaugh asked: “Can you just simply affirm your conviction that any newborn, even after an abortion attempt, should be given effective life-sustaining treatment?”
Father Kavanaugh recommended Obama engage in outreach to Democrats for Life of America and Feminists for Life, support Rev. Jim Wallis’ “abortion-reducing agenda,” and engage pro-life arguments.
“You may find that the position of most American men and women is quite different from Naral’s,” he said, advising Obama to press Sen. John McCain and his supporters on the apparent inconsistency of the Republican presidential candidate’s support for embryonic stem cell research.
He concluded his essay in “America” with a rhetorical question: “With your commitment to reasoned, evidence-based and respectful discourse, are you able to challenge your party to welcome pro-life Catholics into its supposed big tent?”
Democrats for Life Reaction
Kristen Day, director of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA), spoke with CNA in a Tuesday interview about the Obama campaign’s treatment of pro-life Democrats.
Though Day said the Obama campaign has not contacted DFLA specifically in relation to Father Kavanaugh’s essay, the campaign is “definitely trying to do outreach to pro-life voters.”
“I think since 2004 we’ve really been talking to the Democratic leadership about the importance of trying to expand the ‘big tent’ of the Democratic Party,” she explained.
“There will be a place for pro-life Democrats at the Democratic convention as well,” Day said.
Referring to reports that pro-life Democrat Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania is being considered for a speaking slot at the convention to be held in Denver later this month, Day said DFLA would be “thrilled” to see Casey speak about pro-life issues.
While it has not been reported that Casey’s hypothetical convention speech would address abortion, Day said “I can’t see him getting up there and not talking about being pro-life. It just wouldn’t make much sense for him to speak.”
“Casey symbolizes the pro-life cause; his name is associated with the issue. That would be the whole point of having him speak.”
Day added that the DFLA will be at the Democratic National Convention to host a Hall of Fame reception for pro-life Democrats and a town hall meeting on abortion reduction.
She said that DFLA has worked with the Democratic platform committee to include pro-life issues, especially in pursuit of her organization’s “95/10” campaign which aspires to reduce the U.S. abortion rate by 95 percent in ten years.
While confirming that the proposed 2008 Democratic Party Platform has dropped the word “rare” from its stand that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare,” Day said two more paragraphs were added discussing the prevention of abortion and the need to support pregnant women.
“We need to provide more support and options for women to carry to term, instead of treating abortion as only option,” Day stated, adding that DFLA is “strongly and unequivocally” pro-life in its support for candidates and policies.
Feminists for Life Reaction
President of Feminists for Life Serrin M. Foster also spoke with CNA on Tuesday, noting that Feminists for Life (FFL) is non-partisan, but also a “very unique group.”
She said that to her knowledge FFL had not been contacted by the Obama campaign in reaction to Father Kavanaugh’s letter. However, she said, she understood why Father Kavanaugh listed Feminists for Life as an organization each candidate could work with.
“Our role is very specific. We are here to help systematically eliminate the reasons that drive women to abortion. We’ll talk to anybody who has been elected to this office to further this goal.”
Foster asked both candidates to convene a “national summit” on pregnancy and parenting, “not to have war between NARAL and National Right to Life, but to listen to stories of women who felt they had no choice but abortion, to hear stories of parents who struggle in the workplace and at home and at school trying to make it for themselves and their kids, to listen to birth mothers of adopted children.”
“Women don’t want another 35 years of this. Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women have ‘settled for less’,” Foster argued.
She also invited both presumptive presidential nominees to listen to FFL speaker Melissa Ohden, who survived an abortion about five months after her conception.
Foster listed many examples of what she called “pro-woman, pro-life legislation” supported by FFL, including the Violence Against Women Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
She then asked both Obama and McCain to support the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Students Act, which she said would help fulfill the “unmet need of pregnant and parenting students in college” and address the reasons and fears which drive women in college to choose abortion.