The discussion over Catholic support for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama continued this past week as professors Nick Cafardi, Cathy Kaveny, and Doug Kmiec—all Obama backers—debated the topic with political commentator George Weigel in the pages of Newsweek. Obama’s Catholic supporters argued that Obama would serve the pro-life cause in other aspects, while Weigel charged that such arguments ignore or minimize Obama’s vigorous support for abortion rights.
The pro-Obama professors made their case in an October 17 essay on Newsweek Online. They argued that an Obama presidency would reduce the abortion rate and they advocated an “interconnected” approach to promote a “culture of life” through policies favoring a family wage, universal health care, and better parenting and education for youth.
“This greater appreciation for the totality of Catholic teaching is at the very heart of the Obama campaign,” they asserted. “It is scarcely a McCain footnote.”
The professors said Weigel’s recent criticism of their positions is “unassailable” in a perfect world, but they charged that the legal path to preventing abortion “has not worked to date, and it may never work.”
They claimed in their Newsweek essay that Obama recognizes abortion as “a tragic moral choice” but would implement other policies to help women in “adverse economic and social circumstances.”
“Is Obama the perfect pro-life candidate? No.” they conceded, but claimed the Democratic presidential nominee was better than Sen. John McCain. They charged McCain with doing “not much” to promote human life, arguing his policies do not provide for the uninsured, while in their view Obama’s health care plan is superior.
“The Republican alternative familiar to Weigel is simultaneously self-righteous, easy and ineffective,” they alleged, advising that Weigel should consider whether his own support for an “unjust and unjustifiable war in Iraq” is as complicit in moral evil as support for pro-abortion rights politicians.
Weigel responded to these claims in his own Newsweek essay, suggesting the professors’ criticism of what they called the “elegant theorizing” of pro-life Republicans avoided the real argument.
“A serious, bipartisan, national debate about the ways in which people of goodwill in both political parties can work together to build a culture of life in 21st-century America would be welcome,” he said.
According to Weigel, Obama believes that Roe v. Wade was “rightly decided,” charging that the senator’s defense of the Supreme Court decision which imposed permissive abortion laws nationwide “extends far beyond anyone’s ‘elegant theorizing’.”
Weigel also cited Obama’s opposition to Illinois laws which would provide legal protection for children who survive abortion and referenced Obama’s criticism of a Supreme Court decision which upheld state laws against partial-birth abortion.
The candidate’s support for the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) was also of concern to Weigel.
“The full implementation of the most radical interpretation of Roe would seem to be the goal of Obama's support for the federal Freedom of Choice Act, which, by stripping Catholic doctors of ‘conscience clause’ protections currently in state laws, would put thousands of Catholic physicians in jeopardy,” Weigel contended.
He then argued there is “very little, if anything” in Obama’s record to show the politician agrees with his pro-life supporters that abortion is a “tragic moral choice.”
“Do Professors Cafardi, Kaveny, and Kmiec imagine that they have a better grasp of Senator Obama's views on the life issues than, say, the National Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), or other pro-choice Obama supporters?”
Weigel argued that thousands of crisis pregnancy centers best serve women in crisis pregnancies, centers whose “modest federal funding” Obama wishes to cut.
“How is it ‘pro-life’ to support a presidential candidate who is publicly committed to requiring any federal legislation in support of pregnant women to include promotion of abortion?” Weigel asked rhetorically.
The Obama backers had criticized the denial of Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians as “using the sacrament as a political tool.” Weigel countered that the practice is a question of “maintaining the integrity of the church's central act of worship” and of helping Catholics form their conscience.
Calling most Catholic politicians “woefully ill-informed” about the logic of Catholic teaching on life issues, he said this “enormous failure” of pastors and bishops is compounded when prominent Catholic intellectuals “fail to make clear” that their preferred pro-abortion rights candidate’s record on such issues is “reprehensible.”
“President McCain would not work to repeal the pro-life legislative advances of the past 35 years; knowledgeable and sober-minded Catholic legal and political observers who have worked on these issues for decades are convinced that an Obama administration and an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress would eviscerate those modest advances within a year,” Weigel argued.
Weigel, a biographer of Pope John Paul II, closed his Newsweek essay with the 1997 remarks Pope John Paul II made when he accepted the credentials of Lindy Boggs, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.
The Pope had said:
“The moral history of your country is the story of your people's efforts to widen the circle of inclusion in society, so that all Americans might enjoy the protection of law, participate in the responsibilities of citizenship, and have the opportunity to make a contribution to the common good. Whenever a certain category of people—the unborn or the sick and old—are excluded from that protection, a deadly anarchy subverts the original understanding of justice. The credibility of the United States will depend more and more on its promotion of a genuine culture of life, and on a renewed commitment to building a world in which the weakest and most vulnerable are welcomed and protected.”