Basically, neither candidate can be called “pro-life”. Let’s start with embryonic stem-cell research. McCain claimed to be in favor of federal funding, ironically criticizing Obama for saying he was not. I wonder how that will assuage many Republican Catholics who twist themselves in knots to prove that McCain doesn’t really mean what he clearly says. Of course, Obama supports funding ESCR too.
OK, abortion. The starkest difference here is not related to the need to grant legal protection to the unborn child. No, the candidates instead indulged in a quaint little constitutional debate. Obama: “the constitution has a right to privacy in it that shouldn’t be subject to state referendum”. McCain: “I think decisions should rest in the hands of the states. I’m a federalist”. Sorry, but neither position qualifies as pro-life. It is a debate about which level of government has the right to strip legal protection from the unborn child.
There was more. McCain stressed the need to “change the culture of America”, but did not say how. He claimed he was “proudly pro-life”, but didn’t back it up. Obama said that he would support a ban on late-term abortions that contain exceptions for the life and health of the mother: clearly not pro-life in any sense of the word, but a rather mundane position held by those on this side of the debate. Obama also claimed that “we should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.” He called for common ground. McCain claimed he would do “everything we can to improve adoption” and agreed on the need to “come together”. Left unsaid is that his health care plan steers far from a pro-life direction.
Of course, many other issues did not come up. Both support anti-life positions on the death penalty. Both are overly inclined to use military force, and both are fanatical supporters of Israel, although the likelihood of an unjust war is far greater under McCain, given his record and temperament. Both claim to oppose torture, although McCain voted against restricting the range of the CIA interrogation techniques.
Bottom line: it is simply impossible to say one of these candidates is “pro-life” and the other is not. It is simply impermissible for a Catholic to say that one can vote for one, but not the other. Anybody who tells you otherwise has an ideology to sell.