South Dakota Votes for McCain and for Abortion

South Dakota Votes for McCain and for Abortion November 5, 2008

They voted for McCain 53% to Obama’s 45%.  And they voted overwhelmingly to keep abortion.  South Dakota.  One of the most pro-life states in the Union.  And pro-life Catholic Obama supporters are delusional?

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  • Policraticus

    I intend to write a post on this very thing. If South Dakota votes no on just abortion restrictions, then how can we imagine that any state will vote to outlaw abortion outright should Roe v. Wade be overturned?

  • blackadderiv

    I don’t think the South Dakota vote is representative of what would happen were Roe to be overturned.

  • Until Roe is overturned, it’s not realistic even to have the debate at the state level.

  • Yes, they are. Sorry; you gave me an easy lay-up.

    Looking at the article, I noticed that the SD Right to Life did NOT support this bill. I’m going to hazard a guess that that played a large part in its substantial defeat, as they would have had the funs to try to make it close.

  • Katerina

    Until Roe is overturned, it’s not realistic even to have the debate at the state level.

    Why is that?

  • “And pro-life Catholic Obama supporters are delusional?” Not delusional, just non-existent. The very idea is an oxymoron.

  • Katerina

    Looking at the article, I noticed that the SD Right to Life did NOT support this bill. I’m going to hazard a guess that that played a large part in its substantial defeat, as they would have had the funs to try to make it close.

    SD RTL didn’t support it because of the exceptions for rape and health of the mother that were included in the proposition. Those exceptions were not in the 2006 vote, which was rejected by a slightly wider margin (56% vs. 44%). The 2006 proposition WAS supported by SD Right to Life and that did NOT seem to have an effect, so I doubt SD RTL’s support has any direct correlation to the result.

  • jh

    In Louisiana we have a law that has passed that was similar to the measure that was on the ballot. Pro-Life Democrats(we actually have them here), Republicans and the then GOovernor Blanco signed into law

    It will go into effect when the COurt Overturns ROE V Wade

    You can see people were not thrilled. So for many of us that support and fight for such matters we are not delusional. Sadly it appears this trigger law will not go into effect for some time in the soon to be poltical environment

  • jh

    For those that are interested in the text of the Louisiana law that was passed

  • katerina:

    Agreed, but there’s a difference in propositions. The first is the tough one, which polls show many non-catholics really think is too radical. Even with support, it’s hard to pass that anywhere, especially outside of strong Catholic influence. Louisiana can pass that, but we’re one of the few who can.

    This latest proposition was much more in line with most public opinion. But it lacking funding means a) hard to get the pro-life out and b) hard to tell people it’s different from the last one.

    It may not have won the day for the SD RTL to support it, but it played a role.

  • Zak

    I could anticipate some pro-life people, who supported the first bill, not supporting this one because it included the exceptions and SD RTL opposed it. They would be balanced by those who supported this one and not the 2006 bill. Of course, both groups would probably be needed to pass the law.

    I’m guessing there is some truth to what Blackadder says. Some might have been tactically opposed to the bill, thinking it would be futile since the Supreme Court will overturn it unless another pro-life judge is added. That was the source of the Colorado bishops’ hesitancy (or opposition, depending on how you read their statements) regarding the initiative that failed miserably there.

  • jh

    Michael since you are here on a side note I am starting up the Lousiana Catholic Update again since I am not making a ton of McCain phone calls to Ohio and Iowa each day 🙂 Stay tuned you are about to be famous again 🙂

  • Jh:

    Woohoo! Someone is going to be reading my blog again! Yipee!

  • It seems to me that Catholics who voted for Obama now have a grave obligation, going forward, to become the most vociferous and relentless of opponents of the legalized abortion regime, the most ardent of advocates for Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe, etc. We’ll see if they are up to the obligation they have taken upon themselves.

  • This election had something like 80%+ turnout. Turnout wasn’t an issue.

  • MZ:

    But was that pro-life turnout or pro-Obama (i.e. likely pro-abortion) turnout? I could see a lot of pro-lifers, sitting in a state destined to go red and Obama destined to win the popular vote anyway, just staying home. Not sure if there are stats for SD to back that up, but I think it’s a possibility.

  • Zippy,

    I agree with you, but I don’t think it has to stop at the advocating efforts for anti-Roe justices. Much more than that is required.

  • Both. Say there were 100% turnout. For it to have passed, those other 20% would have had to have voted 75%-25%. That would be assuming a lot. Ideally this vote would have happened on an off year with low turnout so that there would have been a premium to getting one’s voters to the polls.

  • d

    Have any one of you ever offered to adopt a child from a mother contemplating abortion?

  • Policraticus


    Much more is needed than mere legal efforts each election cycle. How about we also hold accountable those Catholics who speak on behalf of life only during elections and push them into doing the groundwork? For all the vigorous pro-life Catholic voices this election, I see a rather dismal amount of them at the clinics and volunteering for their parish’s respect life ministries. Speaking out against pro-choice politicians is hardly admirable if it is not coupled by earnest efforts to convert at the personal and social levels.

  • MZ:

    I think turnout can affect people who go to the polls too. If you don’t tell your people this is an amendment worth voting for, they won’t have talked to their friends and family, letting them know this is important and how to vote.

    Presuming the pro-aborts maligned and misrepresented this amendment as they usually do, such discussion and fight back is absolutely critical to get people to know what they’re voting for. So people who might have voted for it “turned out” by showing up to the polls, but without the necessary info they didn’t turn out the way they should have.

  • jonathanjones02

    It seems to me that Catholic public figures have an obligation to support legal restrictions and protections (assuming, of course, they wish to claim this descriptive term) and also to engage in earnest efforts to convert at the personal and social levels, as all who desire to follow Church teachings and the call of Christ must also do. These should be inseperable.

  • Greg

    I agree with Policratus. Too much emphasis on politics…too little concrete action at the grassroots level. Whether your calling is to pray in front of clinics, help unwed mothers, work at pro-life clincs, etc. more of this type of action is needed. I don’t think too many people are converted to pro-life by people lashing out at politicians.

  • ragekj

    As you say, we prolifers as a whole need to get and stay involved when elections are not occurring. As a University of Florida student, however, the people speaking out for pro-life cause were the same people who are heavily involved.
    Let’s hope they do put their collective money where their collective mouth is and put some pressure on him.

  • S.B.

    They voted for McCain 53% to Obama’s 45%. And they voted overwhelmingly to keep abortion.

    Not overwhelmingly. And don’t attribute the vote to “South Dakota.” All you’ve shown is that there are 8 to 10% of people in the middle who voted for McCain while voting against an abortion ban. No, that’s not as “delusional” as claiming to oppose abortion while voting for a guy whose most sacred priority in office (so he promises) will be to preserve abortion.

  • Oh I agree that more is required than just unequivocal and vociferous opposition to the legality of abortion. But that IS required. I’m looking forward to MM’s consistent public advocacy on this blog of opposing Obama and reversing the legality of abortion, as a top priority of any pro lifer who supported Obama, over the next four years..

  • Thank God everyone assumes good faith around here…

  • jh

    Hmm Wait I give a “red State” that went to McCain and passed a similar law as to what the voters in ND and no comment?

    I was just checking in and sort of amazed by that.

    I realize that more must be done than just past laws. But I am tired of the little mythg about Republican leaning pro life activist that do littloe besides just want laws. My Church is a prime example where we have many in pro life groups and giving aid to mothers that are single and need help

  • Pingback: South Dakota Votes for McCain and for Abortion | Pelican Project Pro-Life()

  • premodern

    Overturn Roe, and our Kentucky legislature will act to outlaw abortion within 6 months.

  • Has there been any explanation about why the same-sex bans were approved, but the abortion ones were denied? i’m having trouble wrapping my brain around that one.

  • David Nickol

    Has there been any explanation about why the same-sex bans were approved, but the abortion ones were denied?


    Blacks and Hispanics oppose same-sex marriage. I read that 7 of 10 black voters in California voted for Proposition 8. Interestingly, the large turnout for Obama may have helped pass the same-sex marriage bans in several states yesterday.

  • Mickey Jackson

    Before I get into this, let me just say one thing: I recognize and accept that there is a large chance of me being wrong about some or all of what I am about to say. If that is the case, I ask God’s forgiveness and yours, and keep in mind the prayer of Thomas Merton: “MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going…Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

    Well, it’s official: history has been made. Regardless of your politics, to see Barack Obama, the son of a white farmer and an African goat herder, on stage in Grant Park accepting the Presidency was a moving moment, and a testament to the enormous progress that we have made in the past forty years. Personally, I am guardedly optimistic about his presidency, and hope that he will do much good in the areas of foreign policy, health care, and poverty.

    But there is one issue on which I disagree very strongly with him, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it: President-elect Obama’s statements about human rights and human dignity are very inconsistent with his position on abortion. For those of us who believe that a fetus is a human life deserving of rights and protections, his promises to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, reinstate federal funding for abortion, and appoint pro-Roe judges are more than discouraging.

    That said, it is important to keep perspective. For twenty of the past twenty-eight years, we have had a nominally pro-life Republican in the Oval Office, and over one million infants still die each year at the hands of their doctors. Furthermore, the majority of Americans remain pro-choice, meaning that even if Roe is overturned in the near future, it will be virtually impossible to enact meaningful, universal legislation to protect the rights of the unborn. The reason for these discouraging facts is actually quite simple: Republicans like to talk about abortion whenever an election rolls around, and then conveniently forget about it after they’re elected. Take President Bush: he can brag about precisely two accomplishments on the issue. The first was the partial-birth abortion ban, which saved exactly zero lives. In fact, his administration defended the constitutionality of the ban by pointing out that women could very easily obtain a different, slightly less gruesome procedure. The second was the restriction on funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and the encouragement of more promising and more ethical adult stem cell research. This is good, but irrelevant to the current election, since Senators McCain and Obama both promised to lift this ban. In the meantime, he has gutted social welfare programs that, if properly funded and administered on a community level, could actually convince many more women to choose life. Given these realities, I’m not sure why so many of my fellow pro-lifers assumed that we could trust Senator McCain to do any differently. On this issue, pious campaign-trail rhetoric means absolutely nothing.

    Now, I want to be very clear: none of this justifies Senator Obama’s stance on abortion. However, he will be our next president, so and we have to work with that reality. And despite his unyielding pro-choice stance, I do believe that we can work with the President-elect to make progress towards protecting the unborn. I realize this may seem like a delirious fantasy to my pro-life friends, so please, finish reading before you post angry comments. But here is why I think we might potentially be able to make more progress under a pro-choice President Obama than under the past three pro-life Republican presidents:

    First of all, as conservative activist Bill Bennett told Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, “If a pro-choice candidate of exemplary character used the bully pulpit to talk about, say, teen abstinence, adoption, crisis pregnancy centers, individual responsibility, and the importance of a civilization’s moral code–and did it well–he could have a profoundly positive impact on the nation’s cultural condition. And he could do more to lower the number of abortions than a presidential candidate who supports a Constitutional ban but does nothing more than pay lip service to the pro-life constituency.” Senator Obama has talked about all of these issues, talked about them well, and talked about them specifically as ways of reducing the perceived need for abortion. He has affirmed the importance of a cultural recognition of the sacredness of human sexual behavior and of the mother AND the father’s responsibility for their children, emphasized the need for greater community-based support of women in need (as opposed to just more handouts), and spoken time and again of our common responsibility towards one another.

    Second of all, Senator Obama has explicitly stated that he would support a ban on late-term abortions, with an exception for the health of the mother. Certainly, this isn’t enough from a pro-life perspective, but it would be a start, and it would be more than we’ve gotten under the past three Republican presidents. Furthermore, unlike a general abortion ban, a late-term ban is supported by the majority of Americans and by many Congressional Democrats, meaning that it has a good chance of passing. If Senator Obama is sincere about his support for such a measure, then I don’t think that there’s anyone who would deny that, with his rhetorical and persuasive skills, there is no one more likely to succeed at doing so than him.

    Now, none of this means that Obama will be an ideal pro-life President (though neither would Senator McCain have been). None of us know whether or not any of the campaign statements that I mentioned above is sincere; after all, he is a politician, and we have no more reason to trust him on this issue than we do any average Republican. Regardless, however, we need to work with him now that he has won; to neglect to do so when there is even the possibility of success would be to pass up a chance to, as Bennett stated, drastically reduce the prevalence of abortion in America, and to move, slowly but surely, ever closer towards our ultimate goal.

    Senator Obama has stated that he is willing to listen to those who disagree with him, so let’s take him up on it. Let’s make sure that he uses the bully pulpit that comes with the Presidency to encourage abstinence; that he makes it a top priority in his first Hundred Days to pass the Pregnant Women Support Act (introduced by a coalition of conservative Republicans and pro-life Democrats with the goal of reducing the number of abortions by 95% in 10 years), which will enact and fully fund programs to encourage adoption, provide pre- and post-natal health care to pregnant women, and provide major economic incentives to women who choose to carry their babies to term; and, most importantly, that he follows through with his campaign promise by, consistent with the expressed opinion of the majority of Americans, actively supporting a ban on late-term abortion. If (and I stress the “if”) he is sincere about his respect for the pro-life movement, and about his commitment to individual responsibility and social support for pregnant women, then I truly believe that we can make progress under his presidency.

    President Obama, we have no expectations, but we are willing to work with you. Surprise us.

  • Franklin Jennings

    I didn’t think the comment would survive. Oh well, what can you expect from such a cohort? I’ll say it again though: If some Vox Novans had demonstrated an ounce of good faith, good faith might reign supreme here.

    As it is, seems like everyone is looking forward to Vox Novans for Obama to lead the charge against his anti-life policies.

  • Mike McG…


    What a refreshing perspective you have shared, from the recognition of fallibility to the presumption of good will from those who frame the issue differently that you do. Thank you.

    I ask fellow correspondents: Isn’t this the kind of tone that elevates conversation? And doesn’t our conversation need elevation?

  • David Nickol

    I ask fellow correspondents: Isn’t this the kind of tone that elevates conversation? And doesn’t our conversation need elevation?

    Mickey Jackson’s post was excellent. Obama has spoken a number of times about finding common ground on the abortion issue. It makes infinitely more sense to pursue that approach than to launch a campaign to pressure him to make a 180-degree turn and seek to overturn Roe v Wade.

  • Policraticus

    Oh I agree that more is required than just unequivocal and vociferous opposition to the legality of abortion. But that IS required.


  • Henry

    It seems that Roman Catholics like to pick and choose what church doctrines that they are going to believe. Even Missouri Synod Lutherans are against abortions. I voted for McCain because of that issue.

  • Knuckle Dragger


    I agree that Obama should do the things you suggest, and that they would be helpful. However, FOCA will strip away all restrictions on abortion and encourage taxpayer funding, so I am not optimistic. Why can’t we do the things you suggest AND keep the restrictions in place. Why does it have to be either/or?

  • I’m still licking my chops for MM’s first in a long series of blistering posts about how Obama’s abortion and stem cell policies, and the legal regime of abortion as such, need to be relentlessly opposed; and how he recommends we go about vocally opposing them. One benefit of the election being over is that we pro-lifers can all get unequivocally onto the same team when it comes to abortion policy, since pre-election double-effect arguments about what effects might obtain from Obama winning versus McCain winning are now irrelevant.

  • David Nickol

    I’m still licking my chops for MM’s first in a long series of blistering posts about how Obama’s abortion and stem cell policies, and the legal regime of abortion as such, need to be relentlessly opposed; and how he recommends we go about vocally opposing them.


    Why will the posts need to be “blistering”? You seem not to agree with what Mickey Johnson had to say about finding common ground. Here’s part of what Andrew Greeley had to say about the task ahead for pro-life Catholics in his column yesterday titled “Why so many pro-life Catholics backed Obama”:

    Ultimately, Catholics must strive to persuade others by the depth and power of their commitment to life issues. Ranting at others because they are “killing babies” may be emotionally satisfying, but it doesn’t change people’s minds. In a society like ours, one needs to build a coalition to change people’s minds on such an issue. Arguing with them and trying to impose the Catholic notion of natural law on them by political power won’t work.

    Only living the whole Catholic social ethic, as difficult as that may be, will provide examples that may change the anti-Catholic prejudice that the most fanatical pro-lifers create. It will not be an easy task. But Catholics can only achieve any progress against abortion by the good example of their lives.

  • Why will the posts need to be “blistering”?

    Why, because (among other things and for example) Evangleium Vitae tells us that one who would materially cooperate with the legality of abortion must also make sure that his “absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known”.

    I’m looking forward to the unity of all pro-lifers now unequivocally and publicly condemning the legality of abortion.

  • “Some might have been tactically opposed to the bill, thinking it would be futile since the Supreme Court will overturn it unless another pro-life judge is added.”

    This is quite true. These amendments are backed by unrealistic pro-lifers who divert pro-life enthusiasm from more politically productive ends, but they “trust in God” that their overreaching effort will succeed.

    This is just another way of putting God to the test.

    Colorado probably would have been better off with stronger backing for few more pro-life candidates for the state legislature.

    The Colorado proposal effort was led by a 20-year-old woman. Though she is articulate and somewhat capable, politics is no place for amateur hour. I signed the petition for the proposal, fearing its failure to get on the ballot would be used as a talking point that the pro-life cause is doomed. I only voted for 48 for the same reason, knowing it wouldn’t pass, but its huge loss is now becoming that talking point I feared.

    On the plus side, I now know that about 27 percent of Colorado voters are die-hard pro-lifers. I just don’t know how many of 48’s non-supporters are realistic pro-lifers.

  • joseph

    Some might have been tactically opposed to the bill, thinking it would be futile since the Supreme Court will overturn it unless another pro-life judge is added.

    ‘Tis another reason. I have family in Colorado. It was as you say, an emotional effort that didn’t have alot of forethought. I was a bit hasty.

  • David,

    Not sure if you were intentionally being humorous, but it was funny to see someone quoting Andrew Greeley about pro-life Catholics. Beyond that it is a shame that some feel the need to put pro-life before the word Catholic as a modifier. All Catholics are pro-life so the modifier is unnecessary except for the very confused among us. You can be Catholic any still argue both sides of the designated hitter rule, or whether it is a waste of money to send rockets to the moon, etc. You can not be Catholic and argue or disagree over a fundamental issue such as whether killing little kids is a good idea or not.

  • Kurt

    “Some might have been tactically opposed to the bill, thinking it would be futile since the Supreme Court will overturn it unless another pro-life judge is added.”

    Suddenly, people of good will are allowed to consider tactical factors and futility in their decisions.

  • Mike McG…


    Mickey identified himself as one who believes “that a fetus is a human life deserving of rights and protections…” and then proceeds to explore strategic directions that may be more productive than those presumably closed off over the next four years.

    As an Obama supporter as well as one who resonates with Mickey’s words, I wonder if you’d clarify the vantage point from which you regularly write on this topic. I ask this particularly because you regularly use the term ‘criminalize’ for attempts to restrict abortion. The successful introduction of this term over against ‘restrict’ is a brilliant reproductive rights coupe, reminiscent of Republican subversion of the estate tax by attaching the moniker ‘death tax’ to it.

    In a political context still characterized by majority support for *some* restrictions on abortion, why ‘criminalize’ instead of ‘restrict’? I wonder if I/we misunderstand your use of the term. I say this since the belief that there are circumstances in which a fetus’ right to life may not be subordinated to a pregnant woman’s right to privacy and autonomy is foundational to the prolife movement but very much disputed by prochoice Catholics.

    Do you believe that there are any circumstances in which a fetus’ right to life can overrule a woman’s right to privacy/autonomy.?

    Is it your opinion that, given the mood of the electorate and the Catholic community, it is futile or even counterproductive to push for retention or expansion of restrictive legislation?

    Is it your opinion that the broadly help belief that fetal life deserves protection is wrongheaded?

    Do you buy into a binary paradigm in which focus on the focus of the prolife movement ought *either* be on persuasion and economic empowerment *or* on restriction as mutually exclusive objectives?

    Thank you.

  • I have no problem with the term “criminalize” rather than “restrict”. I think the term “criminalize” more accurately reflects what the Church requires of all Catholics, and especially those who engage in remote material cooperation with the legalization of (some) abortions: publicly known absolute opposition to the legality of abortion.

    Saying that we – all faithful Catholics – absolutely support the criminalization of abortion is just speaking the truth.

  • David Nickol

    You can not be Catholic and argue or disagree over a fundamental issue such as whether killing little kids is a good idea or not.


    To me, “pro-life” describes mostly a political position (Roe v Wade must be overturned by electing Republican presidents, etc., etc.), but also a state of mind and a rhetorical approach favoring language like “killing little kids,” “infanticide,” “killing babies,” and “demented serial murderers” (abortionists). “Pro-life” to me designates a movement which seeks to exclude people who agree with the core principles of protecting innocent life but savagely attack people like Radical Catholic Mom over disagreements about tactics. Also, “pro-life” means mainly “anti-abortion” and “anti-stem cell research,” maybe opposition to the death penalty, but often does not include the seamless garment approach, which I take to be the authentic Catholic position.

  • Mike McG…


    Please reflect on the unintended consequences of terminology. Taxing intergenerational transfer of wealth is saleable; taxing death is not. Word selection is highly consequential. The tension between seeming to be prophetic and succeeding in being effective is one we need to wrestle with.

    I can guarantee you that a far larger proportion of Americans are willing to ‘restrict’ abortion, recognizing of course that violation of restrictions will be sanctioned, than are willing to ‘criminalize’ it.

    Tragically, the prolife movement has been all too successful in driving ambivalent Americans toward prochoice identification. As Mickey points out above, it’s time to take another look at strategy.

  • Whatever the case in the world at large, Mike, here, among Catholics in dialogue with other Catholics, we all ought to be able to agree that we all absolutely, and without reservation, equivocation, tergiversation, or any other -ation support the criminalization of abortion.

  • Franklin Jennings

    We ought to, but apparently we don’t, Zippy.

  • Steve Nicoloso

    Whatever the case in the world at large, Mike, here, among Catholics in dialogue with other Catholics, we all ought to be able to agree that we all absolutely, and without reservation, equivocation, tergiversation, or any other -ation support the criminalization of abortion.

    So, Zippy, ought we also agree that we all absolutely, yada, yada support the criminalization of contraception? If not, why not? And if so, for the same reasons?

  • So, Zippy, ought we also agree that we all absolutely, yada, yada support the criminalization of contraception?

    Well, my personal inclination is to say yes, but Evangelium Vitae only says it with respect to abortion. So I can’t claim that my position on the legality of contraception is doctrine requiring religious and intellectual assent, but our position – all of our position, that is, the position of all faithful Catholics that abortion absolutely must be criminalized – is doctrine requiring religious and intellectual assent.-

  • Kurt

    You cannot be Catholic and say killing little kids is a good idea and these women going out and killing their little kids need to be told what aweful people they are.

  • radicalcatholicmom

    Yeah, Kurt. Just as Jesus did!

  • David Nickol

    Mike McG,

    I am not aware of consistently using “criminalize,” and when I do it, I am not doing it for effect. I would be pefectly content never to use the word again. I don’t think anyone who reads Vox Nova would be swayed by me saying “criminalized” instead of “restricted.”

    Basically, I think the idea that life (personhood) begins at conception is a religious belief and should not be used as the basis for civil laws against abortion. However, that does not mean that there cannot be restrictions on abortion, since abortion laws in the United States prior to Roe never equated abortion with murder.

    I am not sure about a fetus’s “rights,” but even Roe v Wade permits the state to put at least some restrictions on abortion. I think almost everyone would be appalled (and I know I would be) at abortion for trivial reasons such as sex selection. One does not have to believe a fetus is a person with rights to believe it is human life deserving of a certain level of protection.

    As I have said before, I think there is a lot of common ground in the United States on what constitutes reasonable restrictions on abortion, and I don’t think the fact that currently the battle is between two extremes is conducive to finding that common ground.

    I am also kind of amazed that when you listen to the pro-life movement in the United States, you get the impression that this is a horrible country and Barack Obama is an “extremist,” when many other countries have fewer restrictions on abortion (such as Canada) and many European countries like Italy and France provide free abortions to any women who want them (including minors, without parental permission) through their national health services.

    Finally, most of the pro-life Catholics I have had discussions with want laws that punish abortionists but not women who procure abortions, and I find it very difficult to reconcile that with the idea that abortion is murder. And I also find it at odds with canon law, which deals very harshly with women who procure abortions, by excommunicating them. A woman who drowns her five children in the bathtub is not excommunicated, but a woman who procures an abortion is. If abortion really is murder, and the law is supposed to teach (which I understand to be the Catholic view), then I can’t understand why a woman who procures an abortion should not be punished.

  • Pollywolly


    You have done what many do: equated life with personhood. The question of when life begins is a matter for science and reason only and the answer is clear.

    We have a cultural acceptance that life should be protected – that we all have a “right to life”. But some wish to rationalise the denial of that right to sections of the human community. How to do this? Well obfuscate. Either deny that life begins at conception or redefine conception or redefine life or steer the discussion away from life and toward personhood (conveniently defined). I do not suggest this is your purpose but let us be clear that this is a strategy employed by many and we need to recognise it for what it is.

    The second strand of this strategy is to retain the original moral status for your redefined terms. So, for example, since many would agree that life begins at conception and should be protected from that point we redefine conception as implantation rather than fertilisation. Or we redefine life to be personhood then debate when ‘personhood’ begins without actually having an agreed definition of what it is. Then everything is on the table including down the road (see Joseph Fletcher or Peter Singer) IQ level.

    As to religious belief, religion follows the science in knowing (it is not a matter of “belief”) that life begins at conception (properly understood). And the state has, or should have, a legitimate interest in protecting life.

    I don’t think you can be right re the Catholic Church’s position in canon law but it is not my area so I just flag that up.

  • David Nickol


    The only problem with almost everything you are saying is you are describing things as you want them to be, not as they are. In our legal tradition (common law), abortion has never been considered homicide, let alone murder. Even in the countries like Chile and Nicaragua, where abortion has been banned at the urging of the Catholic Church, abortion is not treated as murder.

    The pro-life Catholics want civil law to be based on the belief that a human person, with human rights, comes into existence at conception. That is an entirely novel legal concept with all kinds of unanticipated consequences. Should a pregnant woman who takes less than optimum care of herself be charged with child neglect? If she drinks a glass of wine, is she serving alcohol to a minor? If she is a drug addict, may she be incarcerated to protect the life of her unborn child?

    As you may or may not know, if life (personhood) begins at conception, up to 80 percent of all lives end within a few days due to failure to implant. I these are all persons, the death rate from early embyo loss is staggering. Is there any medical research going on to try and do anything about it? The Catechism says, “2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.” Now, if 80 percent of babies died within a few days of birth, no amount of money would be too much to spend on medical research to find out the cause and save all those babies. But 80 percent of “persons” conceived die within a few days of coming into existence, and nobody cares. (People who breed cattle, on the other hand, are aware of the problem of early embryo loss in their animals, and it matters to them, since it holds down their productivity.)

    We don’t even need modern science, or knowledge of DNA, to know that a new human life begins at conception. (It is actually not quite so simple as that, but it will do for the sake of argument.) But science cannot prove that a fertilized egg, or an embryo, has rights. And it certainly can’t prove that a soul is present. It the whole abortion debate could be solved by science and plain old common sense, we wouldn’t still be arguing.

    Abortion is one of a small number of offenses that incur automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication. Assaulting the pope, desecrating the eucharist, absolving an accomplice, breaking the seal of confession, and anointing a bishop without authorization are some of the others. Infanticide or other kinds of murder do not incur excommunication.

  • radicalcatholicmom

    David. Very interesting perspective. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, because I have had a couple of miscarriages and my neighbor has had too many to count. And I REALLY have to wonder, if these zygotes/embryos have dignity how odd that the majority die within a couple of weeks. And really, the Church doesn’t require women to keep the remains of their period to see if there is a human there. As a matter of fact, when I miscarry my child is disposed of by the toilet. This sounds gross, but it is true. Yet we know the Church requires some sort of burial ceremony for born humans.

    I have certainly been questioning the typical pro-life assumptions lately.

  • radicalcatholicmom

    The other thing is, I should add, some of the fetal protection laws have actually had very interesting consequences. The major ones being forced c-sections on women (mostly pro-life women btw) who didn’t feel their c-sections were necessary. Yet the hospitals were able to get court orders to do so because of the fetal protection laws.

    Go here for the video

  • blackadderiv


    I would be skeptical of the material presented in the video to which you linked. It says, for example, that Ms. Marlowe “fled” the Hospital after it had gotten a court order. In fact, she only found out about the court order when her husband was told about it by a reporter after the birth. The video also suggests that the various incidents recounted occurred because states had adopted legislation similar to what was being proposed in Colorado and South Dakota. In fact none of the states mentioned have such legislation.

  • radicalcatholicmom

    Thanks, Blackadder. I was concerned because the group that put it together is deeply pro-abortion. But I know of cases where women have been forced or coerced into c-sections so the info wasn’t that far off.

    Anyway, thanks for doing the legwork for me.

  • Pollywolly


    You accuse me of “describing things as I would like them to be rather than as they are”. That is not so.

    In your posting on 6th November you voiced the view that “the idea that life (personhood) begins at conception is a religious belief”. The purpose of my response was to contest that view and to point out that the debate on abortion is often obscured by efforts to suggest that the question of when human life begins is a moral, rather than scientific one – or, if you like, as a matter of belief rather than fact. I made no comment as to the law in the States or elsewhere other than to observe a general acceptance that the right to life should be protected by it and that the exception so often made for unborn life rests on questionable arguments.

    I note that you have now acknowledged that human life begins at conception.

    However you now misrepresent the “pro-life Catholic [is that not tautological?] position” when you claim that it is “based on a belief that a human person, with human rights, comes into existence at conception”. That is not the Church’s approach. Morally, it is sufficient to acknowledge that human life begins at conception. That is the Church’s approach (see Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Declaration on Procured Abortion 1974 §13).

    Criteria suggested for personhood are, characteristically, arbitrary. Even if one accepts ensoulment as the criterion there is no way to objectively establish the point at which this occurs. The Catholic Church does not, therefore, pronounce on this. The Church is, however, absolutely clear that since we do not know, then we should not risk “a grave sin to dare to risk murder” by failing to protect human life from the time of conception. To put it another way “to be willing to kill what might be a person is to be willing to kill a person”. Therefore the embryo should be protected, and this has always been the position of the Catholic Church (ibid § 6).

    The high mortality rate of the early zygote does not justify its intentional killing any more than it would for centenarians. The scenario you paint in which monitoring and perhaps strenuous intervention follows (presumably) every act of sexual intercourse is clearly untenable and impractical. The Church does not require us to go to extraordinary lengths to defy nature. It does, however, require that we do not intentionally kill. In the more general context of life-sustaining treatment, for example, it recognises that extraordinary, unduly burdensome treatment is not required. The assessment of what is unduly burdensome would take into account resource and practical considerations.

    You have pressed your observation on Church law so I have looked now into this. It seems to me that your observations are somewhat selective and potentially misleading. What follows is my personal reading of it and, at the very least, I would suggest to other readers that they do their own research before accepting your inferences on this.

    You note the ‘latae sententiae’ excommunication status of abortion and suggest that an approach which seeks not to criminalise women is inconsistent with this. But you fail to note the canon law caveats (1323-1324) which recognise that the offence may be mitigated by the state of mind and circumstances of the woman. In the present context we must recognise that a woman can also be a victim of the abortion. We should not be deluded by the usual abortionists’ portrayal of women seeking abortion as determined, fully informed, free to choose and freely making that choice. Neither is it true that a woman who commits infanticide does not incur excommunication. It is not automatic (‘latae sententiae’) but she would be excommunicated with the same canon law caveats and subject to an examination of the circumstances. The ‘latae sententiae’ status of abortion should not be taken to imply that infanticide is a lesser offence.

    I am not too sure what the purpose of your comments is. You seem to be seeking to establish a lack of clarity in that which is actually very clear and suggest that the Church’s position is inconsistent and questionable when it seems eminently cogent, coherent and defensible.

  • According to a Fox News Poll, only 5% of the electorate, and only 9% of Republicans, regard stopping abortion as an important issue. According to a Marist Poll done for the Knights of Columbus, 50% of Catholics call themselves pro-choice. We have gone backwards for the past 40 years. Clearly, the strategy we have used has not worked. Of course, there is always someone else to blame, but I think we have to re-examine our own tactics and take responsibility for our own actions.

    I think the great problem is that the anti-abortion movement was never able to sell itself as a pro-life movement. Indeed, beyond abortion and ESCR, it was difficult to see just what was “pro-life” about it. Instead, they choose to fight this as a Lockean “right”. I always thought that this was a losing strategy, since it is too easy to play off such rights against each other. Such rights are rooted in the political order rather than the natural order and ordering the “rights” always ends up as a matter of personal choice, by the very internal logic of the question.

    I think an anti-abortion movement only makes sense within a pro-life context, only within a context of sacred obligations to one another that transcend politics and “rights-talk.” In the end, the anti-abortion movement came to be perceived as a mere appendage of the Republican Party, which itself came to be perceived as the War Party, the Deficit Party, the Corporate Power Party, and most lately, the Economic Ruin Party. I think in the end, people just got tired of voting for war, for torture, for an imperial presidency, for an expanding bureaucracy, for increasing debt, for off-shoring our jobs, and for economic disaster. The whole thing placed many sincere Catholics in a quandary, and in rebuilding the movement–assuming anybody bothers to rebuild it–we will have to respect that quandary.