Your Brain on Drugs: Obama as Pro-Life Standard Bearer

Linked approvingly by the ever-outraged Andrew Sullivan, this has got to be one of the most odious excuses for political thought I’ve read in a good long while: an article by Doug Kmiec, a so-called pro-lifer, as to why he’s supporting Barack Obama.

In the last few weeks, I have been repeatedly asked if my endorsement of Senator Obama stands.

To some of my fellow Catholics, Senator Obama’s answers on abortion make him categorically unacceptable. I understand that view, respect it, but find it prudentially the second-best answer in 2008.

Not because Senator Obama’s position on abortion is mine; it is not. Not because I don’t believe Senator Obama could improve the articulation of his position; he could, but because I believe that my faith calls upon me at this time to focus on new efforts and untried paths to reduce abortion practice in America.

Senator Obama’s emphasis on personal responsibility, rather than legal bickering over potential Supreme Court nominations in my judgment, best moves this issue forward.

First, I’d like Mr. Kmiec to show us where Obama’s “emphasis on personal responsibility,” to the extent that it even exists, has ever taken the form of clearly calling abortion the wrong choice to make. Second, it doesn’t change the fact that
Obama explicitly supports the “right” to abortion on principle, and boasts of his 100% pro-choice ratings from Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

The Republican Party has had a better claim to be pro-life because of words in its platform supporting the overruling of Roe v. Wade. Roe is bad constitutional law, because it’s not based on the Constitution or any tradition or custom implicit within its terms.

No, that’s not all to the GOP’s claim by a long shot.
The platform also says “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions. We oppose using public revenues for abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it.”

Yet overturning the decision does little other than return the issue to the states. Conservative justice and fellow Catholic Antonin Scalia has pointed out that following Roe’s hypothetical demise, if the states want abortion thereafter all they have to do is pass a law in favor of it.

Uh, yeah…that’s why there’s more to the platform than judges. Maybe you should read it sometime.

As a matter of constitutional legal theory, I believe Justice Scalia is entirely wrong and that Roe is flawed not just for its displacement of state authority, but more fundamentally, for its disregard of the natural law presuppositions in the Declaration of Independence. As I see it, the “self-evident truths” of the Declaration have interpretative significance for the meaning of “life” and “person” in the constitutional text—and that meaning makes life unalienable, which means each life from conception is unique and worthy of constitutional protection.

Obviously, I agree that Roe is bad law. I also agree that the Declaration’s invocation of an inalienable, God-given right to life applies from conception on. But even though an abortion-prohibiting interpretation of the Constitution would be far tamer than many of the Supreme Court’s greatest hits, it’s still fairly muddy ground. The
Fourteenth Amendment says a US citizen entitled to the full slate of American privileges and immunities is someone “born or naturalized in the United States,” meaning the preborn don’t qualify as citizens. On the other hand, it prohibits states from “deprive[ing] any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; [or denying] to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” [emphases added]. The question isn’t whether or not the preborn are people; they are. The question is, do the terms “person” and “person within its jurisdiction” in the Constitution simply mean anybody lawfully within the nation’s borders, or do they specifically apply to US citizens?

I don’t presume to have the answer, but this legal ambiguity is one of the reasons why I support ratifying a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution. One wonders why Kmiec is glossing over the HLA, especially since he claims to want to go farther than overturning Roe.

Were Senator McCain to be of the same mind, he would be pro-life. As it is, he and the GOP are pro-federalism, which is not a bad thing, but frankly, at this late date, insufficient.

Waitasec—it’s because the alternative is insufficiently pro-life that pro-lifers should support a pro-choice extremist?! Does not compute…
Thus, as I see it, it is a choice between two less than sufficient courses:
(a) the continuation of an effort to appoint men and women to the Court who are thought willing to overturn Roe through divisive confirmation proceedings that undermine respect for law and understate the significance of non-abortion issues in a judicial candidate’s evaluation; or

News flash, pal: anything worth fighting for is going to be “divisive,” and how does fighting for judicial originalists “undermine respect for law”? As for understating other issues’ importance, I’d say somebody’s view of Roe v. Wade is a pretty good window into his legal credentials. His complaint implies there’s been a confirmation battle where a judge’s anti-Roe stance has distracted from his flaws in other areas—and begs the question, what else Kmiec looks for in a judge.
(b) working with a new president who honestly concedes the abortion decision poses serious moral issues which he argues can only be fully and successfully resolved by the mother facing it with the primary obligation of the community seeing to it that she is as well informed as possible in the making of it.

We’re supposed to be impressed by the fact that Obama admits there’s a good-faith reason for people to oppose abortion? Geez, it’s like anyone to the right of Peter Singer is pro-life enough for Doug Kmiec. In the next breath, Kmiec cites Obama’s belief that only the mother can decide on killing her child. To be frank, how the hell does he expect to advance his self-professed belief in the preborn’s inalienable rights with this as his candidate’s philosophical starting point?

Oh, I see: because Obama will work toward making mothers as “well informed as possible.” But where’s the support for this claim? Can we take it to mean Obama would support, for instance, the
Ultrasound Informed Consent Act or the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act? Somehow, I doubt it.

It is a prudential judgment which course is more protective of life. Had three Republican presidents over 20 years in office not tried course (a), it might be a close question. As it is, we know that following course (a) has met with little success, and again, even if fully successful will do little more than bolster the possibility that some number of states will make abortion legally less available.

All it takes is one challenge to Roe, or to the partial-birth abortion ban, or a case about parental notification/consent, to make it not just to the Supreme Court, but to any of the lower courts to which presidents appoint judges, and those “divisive confirmation proceedings” become plenty important, and again, the pro-life movement doesn’t end with Roe’s fall. Furthermore, where does Kmiec get off framing this as an either-or decision? Since when does supporting originalist judges or overturning Roe presuppose an opposition to cultivating individual responsibility or educating people about sexual consequences and about the unborn? This is utterly nonsensical.

I do not understand Senator Obama to be pro-abortion…

Then you haven’t been paying attention, Doug. See above and educate yourself. Not only is he pro-abortion, he’s an extremist about it. His
US Senate voting record is bad enough—he supports embryonic stem cell research, opposes parental consent and notification, and federal funding for abortion. Partial-birth abortion is just dandy. Most despicably, Obama has a history of opposing the most basic protection and compassion for babies who survive abortion. Yet Kmiec thinks this man “best moves this issue forward.” For NARAL, maybe; for babies in the womb…not so much.

…though if we had an extended conversation on this topic, I would ask him to more carefully parse the topic. Asked at the recent faith forum at Messiah College whether he believed life began at conception, Obama said he has not “come to a firm resolution” on the question. That’s a mistake that any geneticist could clear up for him. Openly, he posited that he thought it is “very hard to know . . . when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don’t presume to know the answer to that question.”

Assuming Obama’s uncertainty is sincere (a generous assumption), it begs two questions: first, he wants to be leader of the free world, yet he hasn’t taken the time or effort to find a “firm resolution” to when life begins? To seek out “any geneticist?” Second, if Obama concedes the slightest possibility that his votes could lead to extinguishing innocent lives, then how the hell can he possibly justify taking that chance? Of course, none of this should surprise us coming from the Left. We should, however, ask why it didn’t raise any of these red flags for a supposed pro-lifer like Kmiec.

There’s some humility in this answer, but it also mixes science and theology and tangles up life and personhood to boot. In fairness, however, it typifies the larger public confusion. Most importantly, it is an answer free of guile or political calculation. “What I [do] know,” said the Senator, “is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that has a moral weight to it . . . .” Indeed, it does, and he accompanied his candid observation with a critique of himself and his party. It is a “mistake,” Obama said “to try to tamp down the moral dimension to abortion,” for do to so understates that it is “a wrenching choice for anybody to think about.” On Meet the Press some time ago, he stressed the importance of involving the clergy in the counsel of a mother.

Au contraire: his answer is entirely political calculation. All Democrats try to create an air of ambiguity about when life begins. They all pay lip service to the ideas that abortion shouldn’t be considered a casual choice, that it would be a good thing if the number of abortions would go down. It’s nothing more than rhetorical cover for how deeply heinous their actual position is. These cut-&-paste answers have been in the playbook for years; does Kmiec even pay attention to American politics?

Obama briefly mentioned adoption as a means of reducing abortions at the faith forum, and I encourage him to speak more at length about that sound, practical affirmation of life. But where he looks for the greatest agreement and greatest opportunity to reduce the number of abortions “is on the idea of reducing unwanted pregnancies because, he reasons, “if we can reduce unwanted pregnancies, then it’s much less likely that people resort to abortion. The way to do that is to encourage young people and older people, people of child-bearing years, to act responsibly. Part of acting responsibly – I’ve got two daughters,” Obama proudly points out – “part of my job as a parent is to communicate to them that sex isn’t casual and that it’s something that “should be treated with reverence.”

I’ll grant that these are good things to say, but they’re also easy things to say. Talk is cheap, and Obama’s record tells a different story.
As a Catholic my instruction to my daughters will likely be different than my Jewish or Protestant or Islamic or non-believing friends. Like Senator Obama, “I’m all for education for our young people, encouraging abstinence until marriage.” Unlike Senator Obama, as a matter of faith, artificial contraception is off my list, and I have carefully discussed with my daughters why a contraceptive practice that the larger culture accepts subtly undermines that which ought not be divided; namely, the unitive and procreative aspects of human love within marriage.

The Catholic Church
seems pretty clear on whether or not a Catholic can support pro-abortion politicians. I guess Doug Kmiec knows better than his church.
Senator Obama supports a wider range of age-appropriate contraceptive information to prevent unmarried, teen pregnancies, and since he would be proposing legislation for the entire community and not merely my household or people of my faith, certainly one can understand that perspective even if one might argue with it or insist upon appropriate religious exemption in a public school setting.

“One can understand” any number of perspectives. That’s not a case for voting for somebody who holds said perspective.
The so-called “95-10” legislative proposal (proposing to reduce abortion by 95% over 10 years largely by educative means) seems well-suited to the Senator’s perspective, and I have encouraged him to embrace it in principle. I hope he does, but it’s not an endorsement breaker so long as he is true to himself and encouraging of personal responsibility, rather than the codification of the abortion mentality which some in the extreme wing of his party advocate.

As described here, the 95-10 proposal sounds flat-out delusional (meaning it really is well-suited to Obama!). Again we see how low Kmiec’s standards are. News flash, Doug: Obama is “the extreme wing of his party.”
This much I know: If it’s a choice between giving a boost to the work of my fellow parishioners who week after week in thinly-funded, crisis pregnancy centers, open their minds and their hearts and often their homes to pregnant women (and Obama has spoken approvingly of faith-based efforts) and a Supreme Court Justice to be named later who may or may not toss the issue back to the states, I think I know which course is more effectively choosing life.

Again, what’s with this either-or fantasy?
As anyone who’s ever had a conversation with a pregnant woman thinking about abortion knows, good, evenhanded information and genuine empathy and love save more children than hypothetical legal limits – which, as best as I can tell, have saved: well, zero.

Of course “hypothetical legal limits” don’t save any children. Actual legal limits, on the other hand…
Of course, there are many more reasons to affirm my original endorsement of the Senator, including his willingness to:
•Transcend the politics of division – so well illustrated on any given day by the unfortunately base tactics of the Clinton or McCain campaigns (see the recent GOP ad in North Carolina once again dredging up Reverend Wright)
•Commit us toward a course of environmental stewardship that will not be dependent upon fossil fuel
•Focus tax and health policy reform in favor of the average working family and the poor
•Reaffirm an American foreign policy respectful of international standard
•And end an unjust, preemptive war – another obvious life issue — that deprives families of some of our most self-sacrificing yet often least advantaged young men and women and drains our economy in a 3 trillion dollar fashion, crippling our practical ability to be the force for human good that Americans want their country to be.

Aha! Now it all makes sense: Doug Kmiec is a cookie-cutter lefty who wants a liberal president. He also wants to look like he isn’t throwing life under the bus, so he churned out this sorry rationalization. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

For more on the matter,
Partial Birth Obama is doing a great job of chronicling Obama’s pro-death record.

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