More on Double Effect and Abortion

More on Double Effect and Abortion July 10, 2008

Since this was brought up in the context of criticizing some of my recent posts, I feel to need to go deeper into it. The argument goes like this:

“Setting aside our grave duty as Catholics [to conscientiously object to the abortion legal regime] is a causeof our ability to make common cause with pro-choicers. But under double-effect, it is not permissible for the good effect we seek to be caused by a bad effect of our act or by an evil act or omission.”

In responding, let me consider the specific case of voting for a pro-choice politician, and give him the hypothetical name Barack Obama. (My original post was making a more general point, of which voting was a subcategory, but since most critics always seem to bring it back to my purported dizziness for Obama, I will deal with this directly.) Church teaching is very clear here, and it is indeed a direct application of double-effect reasoning. Formal cooperation in evil mean that a person “freely participates in the action(s) of a principal agent, or shares in the agent’s intention”. If a Catholic voted for Obama because of his support for “abortion rights”, then this quickly become formal cooperation in evil. But if he or she does not share that intention, then the door opens to voting for Obama.

More precisely, an act that may lead to foreseeable evil consequences can be permitted if the act in itself is not evil; the evil effect is not intended as a means or an end, and the good attained is proportionate to the evil arising from the act (there is a good essay by Christopher Decker than spells this out in the context of voting). And this indeed is the position of the US bishops: if you support any position held by a candidate that is intrinsically evil, then you are guilty of formal cooperation in evil. But otherwise, Catholics can vote for that person for “truly grave moral reasons.”

Now, of course, the debate shifts to these proportionate reasons. There are those who argue that because abortion is so grave, no conceivable proportionate reason presents itself. But this is a flawed reading, for we must consider not only the other good policies that the candidate is likely to enact, but the likely effects of his position on the incidence of abortion itself. Again, it is nothing more than double-effect reasoning in action. A number of questions must therefore be then posed. First, how much power will the politician have to affect the evil act? Second, would he or she be effective in bringing about the policy? Third, if the policy is enacted, would it be effective in achieving its ends? And of course, the relative gravity of the good and evil effects must be considered.

You can see where I am going here. Catholics can arrive at different answers to these questions. Some focus in the over-riding necessity of appointing certain judges who might overturn Roe v. Wade, which might lead to a lower incidence of abortion. Others see this as a risky strategy, with too many downsides, and calculate that other policies introduced by this candidate may better lower abortion rates, alongside better policies on other core issues.

One issue that does not get nearly enough discussion is the huge chasm between abortion rhetoric and reality, evidenced by the likes of Tom Delay and Karl Rove adopting the pro-life mantle, while simultaneously providing direct support to people engaged in forced abortion in the Northern Mariana islands. This is an extreme case, but it suffices makes the point. Is supporting these people a valid form of conscientious objection to legalized abortion? I would not think so.

Now, there are some who deny the legitimacy of my reasoning, not because they favor Republicans (which is the most common reason), but because they earnestly feel that any accommodation with the pro-choice lobby amounts to setting aside a grave duty to object conscientiously to the current legal regime, which as Catholics we know is out of step with the natural law and thus can never be supported. This act of omission is therefore seen as formal cooperation in evil. But this is an incorrect reading, for reasons noted above. It is not how the Church reads it in the particular case discussed above. I repeat what I have said all along: supporting a pro-choice person does not mean supporting the pro-choice position of that person. To say otherwise is tantamount to ascribing formal cooperation in evil to every voter who supports any politician supporting any intrinsically evil act. In that case, everybody should just stay at home and sit on the sidelines.

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  • jonathanjones02

    With regard to the hypothetical Barack Obama, never before in the history of major party nominees has a candidate been more “pro-choice,” in rhetoric, voting history, organizational support, and campaign promise. However one thinks of the alternatives, these are extremely solid grounds on which to oppose him, which in my personal view rise to the level of duty should one choose to participate.

  • Morning’s Minion

    You have made the case that Obama is formally cooperating in evil. You have not made the case that a person voting for him does likewise.

  • jonathanjones02

    I have made a brief case of practicality, regardless of intention, because it is well known what his executive actions (such as funding, staffing, and a formal codification of “rights”) with regard to this form of mass slaughter are going to be.

  • David Nickol

    I have not seen it mentioned here, but Obama is taking heat from the pro-choice side for suggesting limits on what “health of the mother” can refer to as a justification for late-term abortions.
    http://www.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/90675/?ses=3eae099845494ee240463e7ad5d51f17

    It does seem to me mandatory, in evaluating McCain versus Obama, to consider the actual effect each would have on the number of abortions when coming up with “proportionate reasons.”

    Some people seem to be tying themselves in knots to determine who that should, or even may, vote for. If the same type of reasoning were applied to other matters in contemporary life, I think society might come to a standstill. Should we research the investments, the business practices, and the labor conditions of every company whose products we buy? Should we buy cheap goods from China? Should we support the oil-rich countries by buying gasoline? To what extent should one support their diocese if they feel their bishop has acted, or is acting, improperly regarding the sex abuse scandal?

  • Jeremy

    One must not only look with a skeptical eye at the executive’s ability to affect the legal status of abortion, but also at the ability (or willingness) of the candidate to affect the promises made that one would use as a ‘proportionate reasons’.

  • TeutonicTim

    One must not only look with a skeptical eye at the executive’s ability to affect the legal status of abortion, but also at the ability (or willingness) of the candidate to affect the promises made that one would use as a ‘proportionate reasons’.

    Well said. Apparently the executive who so hamstrung and powerless to stem the tide of abortion can magically implement all sorts of policies that will save the world! Didn’t you know?

  • sc

    I am at a loss how a candidate’s stated position to enact the Freedom of Choice legislation as one of Obama’s first acts helps reduce the number of abortions. It would seem to me the ignoring of the track record and stated direction on abortion when voting is taking an active position against the preservation of the earliest form of life. The outcome an enacted Freedom of Choice legislation is a very real possibility when the executive and legislative branches are controlled by those who favor unrestricted abortion. How is a vote in favor of Obama going to directly impact the lives of least protected, the unborn? What little protections exist today would be abolished by the vote for this candidate, that much is clear.

    Pinning hopes on unstated economic policies where a president actually has less power to influence seems to be a partisan justification of a pro-abort vote, whether you ‘personally’ hold that view or not.

  • Mike McG…

    I think MM’s argument is persuasive. As I see it, he does not deny that prolife Catholics could well oppose Obama on abortion grounds alone, but he effectively challenge the assertion that they must do so. So let’s focus on understanding his position as a goal entirely distinct from agreeing with it. It would represent a huge leap forward if Catholics could simply *understand* each other’s positions, which in no way obligates them to cede any ground.

    Check this out as the basis for analogy: I believe that a mandatory military draft can serve as an instrument for peace. Crazy? Maybe, but my reasoning is that if privileged Americans were serving and dying in Iraq we wouldn’t be there today. Rationale: I’m old enough to remember how the anti-war movement fizzled in the early 1970s when the draft was abandoned. Ironic application: I advocate conscripting and arming warriors to decrease the likelihood of war, particuarly war without a broad public mandate.

    Analogy: I believe that an Obama presidency is better equipped to serve the broad Catholic social justice agenda than a McCain presidency. I despair of effectively making this arguement in comboxes, but I’ll give it a go: 1. Neither candidate comes even close to embracing the Catholic social ethic; 2. One, Obama, shows promise of challenging the reigning ethic of individualism and autonomy that holds sway in this country and advocates many positions that would address economic explanations for resorting to abortion; 3. The other, McCain, endorses legal protection for the unborn but is more inclined to uphold the individualistic, autonomy-focused ethic that weakens bonds of mutual obligation; 4. A transformation away from individualism and autonomy toward community and reciprocal obligation is the only soil in which a truely prolife ethic can grow; 5. In the last analysis, even with restrictive legislation, no woman can be effectively compelled to give birth so the issue is which candidate can *simultaneously* inspire cultural changes that will encourage the reemergence of this ethic and prepare the way for protective legislation; 6. So, whether we like it or not, it’s all about hearts and minds and I submit that restrictive legislation initiated without cultural support could well swing the broad, ambivalent middle permanently agaist legal protection.

    I might be wrong about this line of reasoning just as I might be wrong about the draft. But such constructions are not beyond the pale and they don’t in any way lesson my conviction about the obligation to protect our unborn sisters and brothers.

  • MM,

    You invariably argue that we should consider how much a McCain vs. an Obama presidency would affect the actual incidence of abortion — and argue that McCain could do little to reduce it and that Obama might (though magically healing the economy and making everyone love each other) actually do more, though indirectly. However, I think this insistence at looking only at incidence (though it fits with your wonkish approach to topics of public policy) blind you to one of the prime motivators of pro-life voters. Consider this: There is without questions a small but fanatical percentage of the population who will never, never vote for “anti-choice” politicians. Now, there’s also, currently, a slightly larger and pretty much equally fanatical percentage who refuse to vote for any pro-choice politician. (The majority rank the issue low or simply don’t care.) Now, you keep making the case that pro-lifers should worry less about banning abortion and should vote for those who will improve the social climate in ways that might reduce the incidence of abortion. Let’s imagine that all pro-lifers did that, and they always voted (taking your political assumptions to be correct as far as the goodness of the progressive agenda) for the most economically progressive candidate. We also know already that most of those who are non-negotiably “pro-choice” happen to also be very progressive on economic issues. What would the result be? No politician would have any incentive to every oppose abortion at all, either in word or in deed. Ever. Because pro-lifers would have followed your advice and always supported the most progressive candidate, and progressive candidates would see no reason to offend the hard core pro-choice voters (who happen to also be progressive — though I think it could be argued that is not a coincidence) and so would always be enthusiastic for “choice” in their deeds and rhetoric.

    So if we all listened to you, it seems to me that we would very quickly have no pro-life movement, abortion would be little discussed, and because it was little discussed, few people would see any great reason to avoid it, because no one would be making in their business to point out the grave suffering and evils involved.

    Do you see any way in which this would not happen if we followed your advice?

  • Mike McG…

    David is correct to note Obama’s audacious challenge to prochoice orthodoxy, his apparent disagreement with the core prochoice assumption that a woman’s agency may never be challenged. Prolifers rightly claim that a ‘health of the mother’ exception to late term abortions essentially guts such legislation. Obama seems to agree.

    David also raises the issue of comtemporary life coming to a standstill if people disqualifying Obama were to apply equivalent rigor to making other decisions. The fact is that people are doing this, as witness the burgeoning social investment movement integrating ethic sensibilities and financial choices as well as the exploding green movement endeavoring to do the same with the environment.

    I think that intense advocacy for the unborn as the premier ethic issue is as legitimate a position as according the prime importance to the war or to the environment or to torture. It is the role of the prophets among us to stir us up, though they must always take into account that the stridency of their advocacy may be moving people away from their beliefs.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Darwin:

    First, what good is the organized pro-life movement today? Most of it has attached itself to the Republican party, with all that goes with that. Its genuine pro-life supporters are consistently taken for “useful idiots” as the GOP rewards its monied interests. I think the Northern Mariana case, though extreme, illustrates this point perfeclty: they were willing to overlook forced abortion and forced prostitution to support the kind of capitalism embodied by the garment factory owners.

    You ask if my strategy would lead to the end of the pro-life movement. If I said it shoudl hitch itself to the Democratic party, then you point might have some merit. We have seen the corruption that entails when pro-lifers attach themselves to the Republican party; I do not want the same thing in reverse. We really need to get beyond this binary partisan distinction. I actually think the best Catholics can do to end abortion is not to vote for A or B or C but to act to change the culture. Work with crisis pregnancy shelters. Encourage families. Support adoption. Is it easy? No. And to the extent that Catholics choose to work in the political sphere, they must make sure their voice– the voice promoting a consistent eithic of life– is not silenced or dimmed. And that works for supporters of both sides. People must keep pushing. Part of the problem is the lack of proportional representation in the US, which works against the establishment of new parties. Imagine how much peace there would be among American Catholics with a party promoting consistent Catholic teaching, no matter how small?

  • MM,

    Thanks for this — it was the clearest statement from you on the issue I’ve read. I don’t agree with you once we get into proportionate reasons, but now I get where you’re coming from.

    Irenaeus

  • MM

    I think you correctly apply the principle of double effect with respect to voting. Technically, a Catholic can vote for a pro-abortion politician without committing a sin.

    Most people just seriously disagree with the proportionate reasons you supply in favor of supporting Obama for president.

  • Very nice post. The DDE is crucial for these disputes and is rarely mentioned. The only thing that could be clearer is what, exactly, do you mean by intention?

  • Pingback: Southern Appeal » Got proportionate reasons?()

  • MM,

    First off, let’s not cloud the issue. I think we all agree that crisis pregnancy centers, talking to people on a 1×1 basis, living a visible “culture of life” family life, etc. are the most effective means of changing the culture against abortion in the long term. However, you wrote a post about double effect and voting for pro-choice candidates, so what we’re talking about, it would seem, is the act of voting and the political realm.

    In regards to voting, let me be a little bit more clear: I’m not really speaking about the continuation or the lack thereof of the political pro-life movement as it currently exists. What I’m asking is: Do we not think that it is generally a good thing that there be at least some politicians who publically profess that abortion is wrong and that if our laws were just, abortion would be illegal?

    Certainly, that is what the Church tells us — that Catholics in public life should hold that abortion is wrong and at least ought to be banned, whether that is possible in a given time and place or not.

    However, if as you suggest those of us who believe abortion to be wrong invariably vote for the most economically progressive candidate (regardless of party), and if it is the case (as we know it is) that there is a fanatically pro-choice constituency out there which happens to also be very economically progressive, surely you must admit that if all people who are anti-abortion acted as you suggest, it would provide a very, very strong incentive for politicians never to express anti-abortion views and never to support anti-abortion legislation. After all, if all pro-lifers are willing to ignore the abortion issue if they are offered economically progressive policies instead, and if a large number of the other voters out there who are strongly committed to economically progressive policies happen to also be fanatically pro-choice (and will indeed vote against politicians for violating their beliefs on abortions legality) then why should any politician not be “pro-choice”.

    Effectively, you as saying that we should strongly incent all politicians to ignore the Church’s will, which is that abortion should not be legal.

    Are you okay with that?

    I hesitate to get off on a tangent in an already long comment, but I think your “useful idiots” accusation deserves attention. Despite the fact that you love the Northern Marianas example, it’s unclear to me that any pro-life politicians were aware that forced prostitution and abortion were going on in the Northern Marianas. And regardless, both of those activities were already illegal there, and the law in question would have done nothing in addition to make those activities more illegal. So while it’s horrific that people were fooled into thinking that the companies in question were “good entrepreneurs” when they were in fact engaging in such immoral practices, it doesn’t really have much to do with whether pro-lifers were fooled into supporting pro-abortion policies.

  • Policraticus

    This is a compelling, persuasive post, MM.

    I am encouraged by Mike McG’s and Zach’s comments irrespective of where they stand on the precise question of a Catholic voting for Obama. Both actually have thought with MM, and I think Zach hones the discussion well by approaching the “proportionate reasons” issue. It’s nice to have people actually read and think through MM’s point rather than simply reacting like Zippy and Feddie, who bludgeon us with their conclusions without actually arguing for them or establishing their premises.

  • c matt

    Well, I think where your reasoning misses the mark is the failure to oppose the legal regime itself. If we did not have a duty to oppose the legal regime itself, perhaps you could then compare the effect each candidate’s policies had on reducing the incidence of abortion. But as it stands, we do have a duty to oppose the legal regime.

    Would this differ from supporting a pro-spouse-beating candidate (that is wants to keep it legal), but he also supports policies that may reduce the incidence of spouse-beating (eg, tax subsidized anger management/counselling)? Would it be appropriate to support such a candidate?

  • Poli.-

    I think MM and I have already covered plenty of ground re: proportionoate reasons. I have yet to see a compelling argument from MM or anyone else explaining that there are proportionate reasons justifying a vote for the most proabortion presidential candidate in our nation’s history.

  • Incidentally, I should be clear: My comments are not intended to suggest that it’s impossible for a Catholic to have good and valid proportional reasons for supporting a pro-choice candidate. Clearly, one may.

    I’m just questioning whether the negative effects of all Catholics following MM’s advice would actually be as small as he suggests.

  • Jeremy

    Besides, there is absolutely nothing wrong with supporting a progressive agenda, it’s just not ok to support agenda’s that corrupts the sanctity of life. Maybe instead of trying to justify what you are doing, you should just accept that many of us see what you see and come to vastly different conclusions on where our duty lies?

  • Mike McG…

    c matt offers a useful window into the dilemma of the prolife progressive.

    WHAT IF the pro-spouse-beating candidate described in his second paragraph, in addition to supporting policies designed to reduce the incidence of same, advocates positions on virtually all other major issues that were in accord with one’s value system? WHAT IF this anti-spouse-beating candidate takes positions on virtually all other major issues that are in opposition with Catholic justice principles? WHAT IF, finally, the anti-spouse-beating candidate, while spot on regarding this issue, is nevertheless unlikely to bring about change on this issue *but* is likely to prevail on other isses contrary to Catholic justice principles?

    Would it be permissable to vote in this election? If so, is there an obviously appropriate candidate? Or are we left sloshing through ambiguity and making the best bad choice we can?

  • Policraticus

    I have yet to see a compelling argument from MM or anyone else explaining that there are proportionate reasons justifying a vote for the most proabortion presidential candidate in our nation’s history.

    I have yet to see a compelling argument that there are not proportionate reasons for voting for Obama. As I’ve made very clear, McCain is inconsistent and confused on abortion, on the wrong side of ESCR, tells Dems he supported pro-abortion SCOTUS justices, and cannot seem to stop joking about attacking Iran. I will not vote for Obama, but I fail to see any of the McCain supporters lay out a theological, philosophical argument as to why there are not proportionate reasons. Rather, I see a lot of stale, superficial, and politically dogmatic dismissals of those who argue that a Catholic can legitimately vote for Obama (I think I’ll start calling these uncritical and facile dismissals “Sobrino-isms” after Oswald Sobrino). Let’s not think a in vacuum here. We have to think with the reality of the situation. The issue is not “Are there proportionate reasons to vote for a pro-abortion presidential candidate.” That’s cereal box stuff. We have a race between two pro-choice, pro-death candidates. Obama vs. Huckabee? I don’t see proportionate reasons to vote for Obama. Obama vs. McCain? I see plenty of reasons. Way to go Republicans!

  • Mike McG…

    Scrap the comment above at 3:33. I bolixed it up and it’s too complicated to attempt a rewrite.

    My point: prolife progressive Catholics feel pushed to support candidates that, while acceptable on abortion, are unacceptable on most other issues. Adding insult to injury, we very much doubt that the conservative regime we’re asked to support will in fact inact the prolife policies they rhetorically support…but are quite likely to enact other policies inimical to our values. My point: prolife conservative Catholics are less likely to face a comparable dilemma and thus are less likely to understand the cognitive dissonance we face.

    Not looking for a medal or a chest to wear it on. Looking instead for some appreciation of the dilemma.

  • Policraticus

    Darwin,

    You raise legitimate questions that need to be explored.

  • Saul

    DarwinCatholic,

    Your point, which can be generalized to apply in other contexts, is unassailable. It’s the reason we stand on principle on matters even if we know we won’t get our way! It’s the reason there is such a thing as principle.

    BTW, like you, I don’t suggest we can never vote for pro-choice candidates.

  • David Nickol

    Well, I think where your reasoning misses the mark is the failure to oppose the legal regime itself.

    c matt,

    But at the moment, the United States is a “legal regime” that guarantees abortion as a constitutional right. For those who believe it is equivalent to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, facing the fact that a vote for this or that candidate has little chance of making a major difference, isn’t it cooperating with evil to vote at all, or to stay comfortably in the United States and pay taxes? Especially considering that both Obama and McCain support stem-cell research and McCain supports the usual exceptions to abortion?

    While I believe voting to be very important, I don’t think it is the be all and end all of everyone’s moral responsibility. I read someone (and unfortunately I can’t remember where) saying that one vote, even for a presidential candidate, does not define where a person stands. A lot of the arguments I have seen assume the only way to send a candidate a message is either to vote (or not vote) for him or her. What about writing letters? What about contributing $25 and making it clear there’s another $25 if he or she takes your position on abortion (or whatever) into account? What about voting one way and actively working, in some nonpolitical way for pro-life causes? Effective lobbying is probably more powerful than voting.

    I just don’t believe people need to tie themselves in knots over one vote.

  • Poli.-

    You are right to point out that McCain was hardly the most prolife presidential candidate of the GOP field. Nevertheless, he does have a strong prolife record, and he is light years ahead of a man who is unwilling to provide children who survive botched abortions with basic medical care.

    In any event, McCain’s less-than-stellar pro-life record does not erase or any way diminish Barack Obama’s monstrous proabortion record.

    Fwiw, I think you’re attempting to shift the burden here. Keep in mind, if you will, that it is MM, not me, who has the burden of showing proportinate reasons. I am not the one voting for “Born Alive” Barry. He is.

  • Mike McG,

    For what it’s worth, I do very much appreciate what a nasty spot devout Catholics who believe that politically progressive policies are best for the country find themselves in. I’m thankful that I don’t have as tricky a situation to deal with.

    In return, however, I do ask that progressively minded Catholics keep in mind that many of us on the conservative side do very much believe that conservative policies are more condusive to the common good (and not just the good of the rich) than progressive ones.

    Thus, our point of disagreement in regards to economics and the common good is not whether we should do what is good for people, but what is good for people.

  • David Nickol

    I think the whole enterprise of finding a “proportionate reason” to vote for Obama, or any candidate, is off the mark. This is a theory of casting a vote that has been invented by Republican “pro-lifers” to coerce good people into believing they have to vote for Republican candidates or go to hell. The idea of one non-negotiable issue (or five of them) mandating how one ought to vote is foreign to the way people actually do vote (and have voted for decades). It also boggles the mind that there can be “non-negotiable” issues that cancel each other out if both candidates have the “wrong” position. If stem-cell research is a non-negotiable issue, how can it be acceptable to vote for either candidate by arguing that since Obama and McCain both support it, that cancels it out as an issue? This theory of voting, if taken seriously, guarantees that every election should hinge on one and only one issue, because there’s always going to be one issue that is so important it trumps all others.

  • Jeremy

    Mike McG – Well said, I feel that pain.
    Darwin – Also agree with your assesement of conservative view point.

    What gets me is that I don’t see the national Reps or Dems doing anything but lipservice. I tend towards conservative mindset now that I’m older and have children, but I come from a strong line of progressives. What I have seen lately is just a bunch of self-serving rhetoric on the hill. Conservatives that should be pushing for economic freedom and commerce friendly packages focus mostly on reducing tax breaks on unearned income (dividends, inheritance) and only seem to grease the skids for larger financial institutions, auto makers and energy companies.

    Dems that should be pushing for easier access to Health care for the working poor and the mentally not-quite-theres of our society seem to be reduced to hand wringing. The death penalty isn’t even debated anymore. FISA sails through the democratic controlled senate. FDA, SEC get gutted under democratic watch …. arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggg! WTF!!!

    I ordered me some Nader yard signs last week. I’m liking that Joe guy as well.

  • Feddie – I’m not sure this…

    a man who is unwilling to provide children who survive botched abortions with basic medical care

    …is an accurate description of Obama’s position. From the man himself [NOTE: I COMPLETELY REJECT OBAMA’S POSITION ON ABORTION. Sorry to shout – just wanted to be clear]…

    I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

    The other email rumor that’s been floating around is that somehow I’m unwilling to see doctors offer life-saving care to children who were born as a result of an induced abortion. That’s just false. There was a bill that came up in Illinois that was called the “Born Alive” bill that purported to require life-saving treatment to such infants. And I did vote against that bill. The reason was that there was already a law in place in Illinois that said that you always have to supply life-saving treatment to any infant under any circumstances, and this bill actually was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I didn’t think it was going to pass constitutional muster.

    Caricaturing your opponent’s (already reprehensible enough) position subtracts from your credibility, unless your purpose is to preach to the choir rather than persuade people who are convince-able.

    Link:

    http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life_article.php?id=7591

  • Irenaeus- thanks, I appreciate that.

    Feddie– actually, the ball is in yoru court. As a manifest McCain suporter, you need to justify why you are supporting a candidate who supports one significant intrinsically evil act (ECSR), and possibly others (his positions on torture and on bombing areas with non-combatants are not fully clear, but I fear the worst). As for me, I have not actually endorsed Obama (yet). I think he’s better than McCain, sure, but that’s something different.

    (if this appears more garbled than usual or if I produce more typos than usual, it is because I haev just returned from the eye doctor and my pupils are seriously dilated!!)

  • Darwin asks:

    “Effectively, you as saying that we should strongly incent all politicians to ignore the Church’s will, which is that abortion should not be legal. Are you okay with that?”

    Well, no I am not, but I don’t completly follow your logic either. Politicians take positions to get elected. So many Catholic Democrats became “pro-choice” for reasons of political expediency (Ted Kennedy, Dennis Kucinich, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson etc). Likewise, I’m convinced many “pro-life” polictians actually don’t give a hoot about abortion. So if we arrive at a situation whereby nearly all elected repesentatives are pro-choice, it is because they reflect the will of the voters, and not because Catholics are giving them a pass. It all comes back to leading by example, and changing the culture.

    I think we all agree (roughly anyway) where we want to end up. We differ on how to get there.

  • MM:

    I don’t think you’ve yet grasped the argument. I am not arguing, in this particular set of comments and posts, that it is impossible to morally vote for Obama (though that may well be the case in fact). If you think that is what I am arguing, or that my argument contradicts Decker’s essay, then you haven’t understood my argument.

  • [Obama]: The other email rumor that’s been floating around is that somehow I’m unwilling to see doctors offer life-saving care to children who were born as a result of an induced abortion. That’s just false. There was a bill that came up in Illinois that was called the “Born Alive” bill that purported to require life-saving treatment to such infants. And I did vote against that bill. The reason was that there was already a law in place in Illinois that said that you always have to supply life-saving treatment to any infant under any circumstances, and this bill actually was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I didn’t think it was going to pass constitutional muster.

    Matt, I think what Obama said to Relevant magazine itself is a bit of a spin at the time he opposed the bill.

    Obama opposed the bill because it would mandate that a previable fetus (who survives a botched abortion) is “entitled to the same kinds of protections that would be provided a child — a nine month child — that was delivered to term”; that it would
    for that reason forbid abortions to take place (and jeopordize Roe v. Wade);
    and that it would place “a BURDEN on the doctor … to keep alive even a previable child as long as possible, and give them medical attention as is necessary to try and keep that child alive.”

    I just don’t know how any Christian can sit well with that.

    Meanwhile, Obama clarified his remarks to Relevant magazine about the mental health exception, to NARAL’s satisfaction.

  • MM,

    Well, no I am not, but I don’t completly follow your logic either. Politicians take positions to get elected. So many Catholic Democrats became “pro-choice” for reasons of political expediency (Ted Kennedy, Dennis Kucinich, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson etc). Likewise, I’m convinced many “pro-life” polictians actually don’t give a hoot about abortion. So if we arrive at a situation whereby nearly all elected repesentatives are pro-choice, it is because they reflect the will of the voters, and not because Catholics are giving them a pass. It all comes back to leading by example, and changing the culture.

    I suspect that there are two things that go on: On the one hand, politicians with few principles (at least on a given issue) change their positions in order to please the voters whom they think are otherwise most likely to vote for them. On the other, if people feel strongly about a given issue, it enables others who feel strongly about the same issue to become successful politicians based upon their votes. (For instance, I assume that Obama probably does believe in progressive principles, rather than simply having adopted them in order to win votes.)

    What I am saying is that, regardless of which of those above tendencies is operative most frequently, if we followed your advice in concluding that presidential candidates have very little ability to change abortion incidence by denouncing abortion (and by supporting anti-abortion legislation) and instead always voted for the most progressive candidate available with respect to economic issues, we would remove any incentive either for politicians to pretend to be pro-life (which if it results in pro-life actions is still effectively a good thing) or for those who are passionately pro-life to go into political life.

    Why?

    Because if we were always willing to vote for the most progressive candidate, whether he was pro-life or not, and there are a reasonable percentage of people who will only vote for progressive candidates if they are actively pro-choice, than pro-choice candidates only will thrive.

    Now perhaps you are imagining that if all Catholics became passionately progressive (which it is my impression you think they ought, in order to achieve the common good) then there would be a large enough number of pro-life progressives that we might somehow outweigh the committed pro-choice progressive vote.

    Even so, however, if all the newly-progressive Catholics were not willing to refuse to vote for a progressive because he was pro-choice, the pro-life progressives would invariably lose in the general elections.

    I agree with you that we cannot be single issue voters in the sense of not even accepting the existence of proportionate reasons to vote for a pro-choice candidate. But if we put as little weight on the issue as you seem to suggest, there would soon be no successful politicians at all who were pro-life, and I think we could probably agree that that would be a bad thing.

  • Policraticus

    he does have a strong prolife record, and he is light years ahead of a man who is unwilling to provide children who survive botched abortions with basic medical care.

    A “strong” pro-life record??? I’ve covered that. On top of that, he’s practically allergic to discussing abortion, so much so that conservative Ohio voters had to give a standing ovation to send him a clue about its importance. “Light years ahead”? More like a few meters.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Zippy:

    Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like asking questions like how much power the politician has to affect abortion, the abillity to bring about the policy in question, and the effectiveness of the policy (if enacted) in achieving its ends– and forming judgments based on the answers to these questions goes to the heart of our disagreement.

  • I think that the majority of “pro choice Catholics” (an oxymoron if I ever heard it) either don’t believe, or have not internalized the truth that live indeed begins at conception. If they did, they would understand that each abortion, at no matter what stage of pregnancy, is akin to bashing in an infant’s head, or smothering grandma in her bed with a pillow.

    If this were understood by everybody, abortion would end tomorrow. I would expect Catholics to know it, understand it and live it. Then we wouldn’t hear “proportional” arguments like comparing abortion to waterboarding or war or social injustice. It would not even come close.

    One of the reasons I like reading Vox-Nova is that it’s like reading C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters” in real time. The sad part is it’s Catholics playing the part of Uncle Screwtape.

  • MM:

    I’m not sure the efficacy of a politician’s particular powers to affect a particular matter is central to our disagreements, if that is what you are saying. For that matter, after our latest round of clarifications at my place I’m not sure we disagree on principles, though it is virtually certain that we disagree on our understanding of the facts feeding those principles.

    However, if we stick to general principles and ignore particular facts for the sake of discussion, I think you may (though I’m not sure) still be jumping the gun by going directly to looking for a proportionate reason. That is to say, it isn’t clear to me that the decision has passed muster with the other requirements of the PDE just yet. That is because, while it is certainly true that one can support the hypothetical-Obama without supporting his pro-abortion policies, it may be very, very difficult to do so without, shall we say, ‘toning down the pro-life rhetoric’ as a means of creating solidarity with pro-choice collaborators.

    It would be one thing to support hypothetical-Obama while getting louder and more insistent in one’s support of making abortion illegal. But if one is ‘toning down’ one’s insistence that abortion be made illegal as a means to the end of making collaboration with pro-choicers work better, then one has not passed the PDE, because of the duty to conscientiously object previously discussed and referenced. And we haven’t even gotten to the point where evaluating ‘proportionate reason’ is pertinent: the conditions required for the PDE have to apply in order for proportionate reason to matter, and if we are choosing or in any way intending an evil means then the conditions required for the PDE to apply are not met.

    MZ Forrest made a comment on my blog which inspired my post “How Material Cooperation Becomes Formal Coopertion, Book VII” (I’m reluctant to link because the comboxes here are squirrelly about including links). In that post I approach the same point from the standpoint of a legislator and a ‘three exceptions’ law. Because that post rains on the parade of some of your political enemies, you might find it more amenable in terms of explaining the principles by example, though who knows.

  • jh

    “One issue that does not get nearly enough discussion is the huge chasm between abortion rhetoric and reality, evidenced by the likes of Tom Delay and Karl Rove adopting the pro-life mantle, while simultaneously providing direct support to people engaged in forced abortion in the Northern Mariana islands. This is an extreme case, but it suffices makes the point. Is supporting these people a valid form of conscientious objection to legalized abortion? I would not think so.”

    Does not get enough Discussion? THis seems to be brought up a good bit on here. IN fact one might ask what TOm Delay has to do with voting for either Obama or Mccain.

  • Poli.-

    If you truly believe that there is little difference between McCain and Obama’s respective records on “Culture of Life” issues, then I am afraid there is very little left to say.

  • Jeremy

    There is more to this vote than abortion. Euthanasia, Embryonic Stem Cell Research, and marriage redefinition must be considered in addition to economic social justice and abortion.