Pro-life Catholics who support Obama face criticism

George Weigel
George Weigel


Catholic political commentator George Weigel has criticized pro-life Catholics who support the pro-abortion rights Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. Writing for Newsweek magazine, he criticizes pro-life Obama supporters such as Pepperdine University law professor Doug Kmiec and suggests their emergence may portend a “hardening of the battle lines” within the Catholic Church regardless of who wins the presidency this November.

According to Weigel, Kmiec argues that Obama sounds more Catholic on issues such as the family wage, health-care costs and the war in Iraq and “comes reasonably close” to embodying “an alternative way to be pro-life.”

Weigel also summarizes the arguments of Duquesne University law professor Nicholas Cafardi, who claims Catholics have “lost the abortion battle ... and I believe that we have lost it permanently.” Cafardi argues that the Bush administration has committed “intrinsically evil” acts in its policy of abusive interrogations of suspected terrorists, its detainee treatment at Guantanamo Bay, and its failures after Hurricane Katrina.

Cafardi also argues that welfare policies under an Obama administration would reduce the number of abortions and provide an “adequate social safety net for poor women who might otherwise have abortions.”

Weigel calls the pro-Obama Catholics’ arguments “counterintuitive,” claiming that Obama “has an unalloyed record of support for abortion on demand.” In Weigel’s view, Obama thinks the U.S. Supreme Court has defined abortion as “a fundamental liberty right essential for women's equality” which requires government-guaranteed access to abortion and financial assistance.

Citing Obama’s campaign web site, Weigel argues that the candidate’s support for the federal Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) would eliminate “all state and federal regulation of abortion” and also state laws protecting the consciences of pro-life doctors who refuse to assist with abortions. FOCA could even force bills meant to support pregnant women to include support for abortion, he says.

Weigel also charges Obama with supporting federal funding for abortion by opposing the Hyde Amendment that restricts the use of taxpayer monies for abortion. Obama has also pledged to repeal the “Mexico City Policy” which bans foreign aid for organizations that promote abortion. Additionally, he has reportedly opposed continued federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers.

Obama’s repeated opposition to Illinois’ Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which would have protected infants who survive abortions, is also a matter pro-life Obama supporters must address, Weigel says.

Continuing his argument, Weigel addresses the “social safety net” policies some pro-lifers support as a means to reduce abortion. He says Sweden, which has “a much thicker social safety net than the United States,” has the same rate of abortions per pregnancies found in the U.S., 25 percent. Weigel also cites Guttmacher Institute statistics claiming a “mere” 23 percent of abortions are performed primarily because of “alleged financial need.”

Contentions that the abortion dispute is over, Weigel says, is countered by evidence that the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision remains “deeply controversial” and the court has allowed some laws regulating abortion clinics or banning certain forms of abortion.

“No Clinton-appointed justice contributed to that trend; it seems very unlikely that Obama nominees would extend the trend. In that respect, a pro-life, pro-Catholic Obama vote is not so much a recognition that the legal argument is over but, de facto, a vote to repeal the legal protections for the unborn that have been laboriously crafted in the 35 years since Roe eliminated the abortion law of all 50 states,” Weigel writes in Newsweek.

Weigel also cites Cardinal Francis George’s argument that abortion violates a basic principle of justice:

“In a just society, innocent human life, especially when incapable of self-defense, deserves the protection of the laws. No one who denies that, the cardinal argued, can claim to be advancing the common good.”

Weigel then argues that pro-life pro-Obama Catholics are trying to support a candidate contrary to a first principle of justice on the grounds of “contingent prudential judgments” that “by definition, cannot bear that weight.”

According to Weigel, Catholic bishops are unlikely to remain passive in the face of pro-choice Catholic Democrats who deny or misrepresent Church teaching on the immorality of abortion.

Should an Obama administration govern U.S. abortion policy, Weigel warns, the Catholic integrity of Catholic hospitals will be placed under further pressure.

He concludes his Newsweek column with a speculation:

“Should an Obama administration reintroduce large-scale federal funding of abortion, the bishops will have to confront a grave moral question they have managed to avoid for decades, thanks to the Hyde amendment: does the payment of federal taxes that go to support abortion constitute a form of moral complicity in an ‘intrinsic evil’? And if so, what should the conscientious Catholic citizen do?”

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