Being Pro-Life: Rhetoric Versus Reality

Being Pro-Life: Rhetoric Versus Reality August 10, 2012

I wanted to draw attention to an excellent article by Nicholas Cafardi on the issue of pro-life rhetoric versus practice. I’ve been grumbling for years that Republicans don the pro-life mantle for political purposes, and quickly toss it away when they are in positions of power. But people still insist on judging the issue by rhetoric rather than actions.  Cafardi really shines a bright light on this when discussing the relative pro-life stance between Obama and Romney.

Let’s get this out of the way: I do not believe Obama is pro-life. Not just because of his abortion policy, but because of his foreign policy. In fact, the latter is far more serious as it is something he controls directly. He is the acting moral agent. While he has not aided in the abortion of any unborn children, he has indeed given orders for drone attacks and assassinations.

But overall, Obama does not look much less pro-life than Romney. Consider the evidence marshaled by Cafardi:

  • The only substantive difference between “Romneycare” and “Obamacare” is that the former included direct taxpayer funding for abortions, while the Affordable Care Act did not. The Affordable Care Act also includes $250 million to support vulnerable pregnant women and alternatives to abortion. More broadly, it seeks to never put a woman in the appalling circumstance of having to choose between paying upwards of $20,000 out of pocket for maternity costs versus $400 for a quick and dirty abortion.
  • The key doctrinal guidance document on abortion, the Declaration on Procured Abortion says quite clearly, “one can never approve of abortion; but it is above all necessary to combat its causes”. And here, Romney’s embrace of the social safety net gutting provisions of the Ryan budget, his support for shifting the tax burden from the rich to the poor and middle class, and his vowed repeal of the Affordable Care Act all work against the pro-life cause.
  • There’s something even more direct to consider. As Cafardi puts it: “Obama does not financially profit from the abortion industry. Romney does”. When Romney was still associated with Bain, the company invested in a company described as a “major disposer of the dead bodies of aborted children”. Bain made a lot of money from this tawdry piece of death profiteering. We have a peculiar tendency to hold public figures morally accountable for every political stance they might hold, but financial leaders are held to lower standards, even when their moral proximity to the evil action is far closer.
  • Much of the seed money for Bain Capital in the 1980s came from a group of wealthy El Salvadoran investors that included people who were bankrolling death squads – the same death squads that killed Oscar Romero and countless other martyrs for the faith. And yet Romney cynically calls Obama anti-Catholic!

So let’s have a little perspective here.  There is plenty in the history of both these men that violates the gospel of life. That does not mean you cannot support either of them – as long as you yourself do not support the activity in question. So let’s not start pretending that one candidate can be excluded from consideration based on some falsely objective standard. Instead, let’s just do what the Church has been doing for 2000 years – support temporal leaders that you think make the best contribution to the common good out of the imperfect choices available to you.

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  • Rat-biter

    If we bring in El Salvador and comparable regimes, then neither has the hierarchy been pro-life. But decide for yourselves:

    If life means life, and not birth alone, the CC’s behaviour is not pro-life except sometimes. It has often promoted a culture of death.

  • Carl Diederichs

    This is a breakthrough! We need to get Cafardi’s article into the hands of every Knight of Columbus and every bishop, too.

  • Jordan

    Morning’s Minion, I am a broadly a co-partisan. So far as I can surmise from your post series, we are both social democrats and advocates of the comprehensive-life-ethic as political action. However, your posts as of yet have neglected the role of the “Southern Strategy”, post-McGovern identity politics, as well as socioeconomic alienation.

    Anomie shadows both identity politics and the wallet. Many Americans, especially those without higher education and employment autonomy, have difficulty voicing their disquiet about same-sex-marriage from the Left and also “pelvic politics” from the Right, for example. Neither party truly listens to their often daresay bigoted pleas. I strongly suspect that many of these voters are not entirely comfortable with GOP economic exploitation. Many vote for conservative candidates because of the perception that the Left is the province of the intelligentsia and the financially wealthy who vote identity issues despite their checkbooks. I suspect that the less educated view progressive discourse as condescension or even haughtiness.

    Conservative talk radio, Fox News,, etc. speak the language of inarticulate alienation. Cafardi, though logically consistent and objective about both identity and fiscal issues, speaks and writes in the alienating “professor-tone”. If we as Catholics, as progressives, are to win over many of our brothers and sisters, we must listen to their concerns with an unflinching charity despite the pain. Bigotry is often the painful birth-cry before the acceptance which precedes rational discourse.

  • At Mirror of Justice, Rick Garnett took you seriously enough to offer a 3-point rebuttal to your latest pro-Obama screed. I suspect you will not be generous enough even to respond to his thoughtful reflections:

    • Do not presume. I happen to regard Rick as a friend, and I take what he has to say seriously, even when I disagree with him.

  • Rick Garnett

    Once again — and I apologize for being a broken record — this claim of Prof. Cafardi’s is badly mistaken. It is beyond debate, among serious observers of American politics, that a GOP administration will use its powers, and a GOP-controlled legislature will use its powers, to reasonably regulate abortion (and to appoint judges who will uphold such regulations) to a far greater extent than their Democratic counterparts (who are nearly-certain to use their powers to reduce such regulations, and to subsidize abortions, and to appoint judges who will strike down regulations of abortion). People as smart as Morning’s Minion and Prof. Cafardi know this, and so — in my view — really should stop asserting that the abortion-related stakes in this election are not stark. And, this starkness has nothing to do with the two candidates’ personal virtues or how they made their money. The *political* reality is, again, that administrations staffed by Democrats promote abortion rights, and those staffed by Republicans do not (or, at least, do so much less). I’m happy to concede that reasonable, faithful people can disagree about whether, in the end, this stark difference should matter. But such people should not pretend the difference is not there.

    • Rick – if the question is, “Which party will make a show of opposing abortion?” then the answer is the Republicans. If the question is, “Which party actually gives a rat’s ass about the legality of abortion?” – either way – then the answer is “neither.”

      The Republican Party doesn’t care about abortion, except that making noise about it allows them to pitch their program of economic elitism to socially traditional people in the more rural states. The Democratic Party doesn’t care about abortion, except that making noise about it helps them get campaign contributions from upper-middle-class city folks.

      Neither party shows much evidence of actually caring in any substantive way about abortion.

      Call me cynical, but I think “OMG ABORTION!!!1!!” is a big shiny thing used by the powers-that-be to distract the rubes from the fact that they are getting economically reamed by the oligarchy.

      • Jordan

        MM: I apologize for [August 10, 2012 11:05 pm]. I should say that just because one is lower-income does not necessarily make him or her bigoted or unintelligent. I do maintain however that Democrats ignore their concerns, and the Republicans merely pay lip service to their social beliefs. Sacred Heart, teach me charity.

        Matt Talbot [August 12, 2012 12:55 pm]: Rick Garnett is not a bigot, but a thoughtful advocate of the pronatalist position now ascendant in the American Catholic establishment. If consistent-life-ethic Catholics like myself are to voice their convictions despite the establishmentarian emphasis on abortion, we must be prepared not for ostracism but also the requirement to exercise charity in our exclusion. Do note, that I find this charity quite difficult, as evidenced by my VN posts.

        • Why must a consistent ethic of life be in conflict with an emphasis on abortion?

        • Jordan – I’m absolutely NOT calling Rick a bigot, and I apologize to him and everyone else if my last comment created that impression.

          My only point is this: given the insincerity of both major political parties’ institutional (and here I’m referring to the leadership, not the rank-and-file) commitment to abortion policy, I think it is reasonable to consider other factors when choosing who to pull the lever for this November.

          That said, I’ll personally probably take the approach of my friend Mark Shea: refuse to pull the lever for any party which advocates or supports grave intrinsic evil — which pretty much rules out both major parties — and pull the lever for a doomed, quixotic third-party candidacy.

        • johnmcg [August 12, 2012 7:23 pm]: A concern for the unborn is a very important part of the consistent-life-ethic. However, the preservation of human life before birth is just the beginning of a commitment to human dignity. The consistent-life-ethic also embraces the notion that the taking of any human life is only moral when done in personal or national self-defense. Wars of strategic interest and capital punishment are examples of life-taking which are not-self-defensive but rather undertaken for material, political, or retributive gratification. Also, many (but perhaps not all) in the consistent-life movement agree that certain social initatives, such as a living wage, provide the basic material needs for a dignified human life.

          As a person committed to the consistent-life-ethic, I am utterly frustrated by institutional American Catholicism’s almost exclusive emphasis on unborn life. Why should abortion be the litmus test for Catholic participation in political life? Neither party is consistently for life. We Catholics must pressure both parties for change, and not settle for one party’s support of the unborn even while this same party advances manifestly anti-life policies in other areas.

        • Why should abortion be the litmus test for Catholic participation in political life?

          Because it is the mass intentional killing of innocent children, which any consistent ethic of life should find abhorrent.

        • Kurt

          Is it the singular thing a consistent ethic of life should find abhorrent?

        • Jordan

          johnmcg [August 13, 2012 3:02 pm]: Because it is the mass intentional killing of innocent children, which any consistent ethic of life should find abhorrent.

          Indeed. Abortion is intrinsically evil and must be opposed ipso facto. Even so, innocence, or prenatalhood, does not grant the unborn child a higher level of intrinsic human dignity than the inhabitants of a village carpet bombed for American political strategic interests or a serial murderer on death row. Human dignity and the value of life is objectively extrinsic to a person’s age, his or her legal culpability, or a nation’s foreign policy of collateral damage. Human dignity is. So long as “orthodox Catholics” and American social political conservatism places prenatalism far above absolute human dignity, we do not have society.

        • My perspective is that speaking about human dignity while “looking beyond” or “seeing past” the pile of thousands of dead unborn children, reveals blindness and a failure to prioritize rather than a cosmopolitan sophistication.

          Prioritizing abortion is not to “place prenatalism far above absolute human dignity.” I do not place the unborn above the death row inmate or the village inhabitant. But I recognize that the harm being done to the unborn is greater in scale and (at least in some cases) gravity to the harm being done to these other groups. And that our comfort with abortion leaves us open to be comfortable with other evils.

          So, I say both-and. I believe in a consistent ethic of life, and also believe that a truly consistent ethic of life demands justice for the unborn. Even if that means prioritizing it over other issues.

      • @ Matt — Precisely. Well stated.

  • Julia Smucker

    MM, I wholeheartedly agree with the sense in which you use the term “pro-life”, both more broadly (in the very CST sense of applying it to the full spectrum of life and to a dignified life beyond the mere right to remain alive) and more stringently (in terms of judging by action rather than rhetoric) than the superficial form it tends to take in political discourse. But my question remains: since neither Obama nor Romney is pro-life on pretty much any point within that, how can we conscionably support either of them?

    • Melba Hill-Paschalk

      If you don’t vote, you dont count at all! That means no complaining or bad mouthing. You take what others decide for you!

      • Hmm. I suggest that voting for either of the major party’s candidates when you find both of their views unacceptable is no less taking what others decide for you.

        In fact, I think those who don’t vote, and publicly say why, can in fact count. What if the election turns this year based on Catholics refusing to vote for Obama due to his abortion views, or for Romney based on his foreign policy or apparent indifference to the poor? Then, the parties might need to change.

        As it is now, they will continue to do just enough so that some Catholics can convince themselves they are acceptable.

        • Kurt

          The Church tried that after Italian unification — ordering Catholics to sit out fo the elections and wait for the politicans to come to them.

  • Mark VA

    MM, you try so hard to be fair and balanced to both sides. So here is a little something for your amusement:

  • Rat-biter

    The article – and the article to which it refers – could almost come from a different Church from some of those on the same and related subjects at the NCRegister. They are not directly relevant to the article, but they are not irrelevant to it.

    Is it too much to suggest that the status given to abortion as a kind of ultra-sin has contributed to this ? This fetishisation of abortion has done untold harm – it’s as daft, in its own way, as the functionally dogmatic status acquired by the requirement of clerical continence. Why has this happened ? Were people waiting to find an issue to fight over, or what ? Why is the issue that of abortion ? Is it a replacement for not being allowed to despise Jews any more ? Maybe the CC needs issues that it can abhor, in order to lay its inner demons. It does seem remarkably like the “monster from the Id” in “Forbidden Planet” – full of suppressed and unexpressed tensions that build up like the magma that makes a volcano “blow its top”.

    The issue has gone from being important, to being determinative of whether people are Catholics. Would it do so, if the CC were not also tormented by rifts over the Liturgy ?

    • BTW, if VN contributors wonder why some people regard them as representing the perspective of the Democratic Party more than the Catholic persepective, you might want to consider how this post, with its unfounded speculation that Catholic anti-abortion activism is merely a channel for the Church’s hatred once anti-Semitism was no longer tenable, made it through the moderation process.

      I know, I know, you’re not responsible for the comments. But given what you guys do moderate out, (, well, to adopt the “concern troll” language of VN discussions of the bishops’ statements, readers may rightly wonder why the VN moderators are more concerned about silly (perhaps even unintentional) shots at the Democratic Party than they are about unsupported attacks on the motivations of their fellow Catholics who are concerned about the killing of the unborn.

      • Mark VA


        Astute observation. Take a look at the second row of this site’s banner – do you recognize a certain bearded individual (seventh from the left)?

        His inclusion in the pantheon of worthies presiding over this website “from above”, well, speaks for itself.

    • Mark VA

      I take it, Rat-biter, that you don’t view the unborn as human beings.

      Yet, I must also admit that your psychologizing about the inner demons of the Catholic Church (abortion as a “… replacement for not being allowed to despise Jews any more”) is original, in a “Coast to Coast Radio” sort of way.

      Collect your wits, Rat-biter, and think:

      Do you really believe that the Catholic Church, in Her very essence, has a need to hate, and that this need is driven by the demonic nature of this institution?

  • VivianM

    As a Catholic, Pro-life is very sacred to me. Two candidates are vying for the position of president of the United States. As a Catholic social justice and pro-life issues are viewed as major concern in the Christian political arena. I don’t think Ryan (a Catholic) upholds social justice teachings and scriptural virtues within his proposed health care bill. Ryan’s bill will suppress the poor and elderly. My decision will not be based on a the merit of a Catholic Vice President nominee who ignores the teachings of Catholicism values and belief.

  • Rhetoric also matters, though.

    The president has even less power over marriage law than abortion. Try telling a same-sex marriage advocate that they should not consider that when making their voting decisions (or their fast food dining decisions for that matter).

    The office of the vice president has very little formal power of the the federal budget. Yet, Rep. Ryan’s budget proposals will be rightly be a regular subject of debate in this election season.

    Your own guilt-by-association arguments against Romney make plain the danger we put ourselves in when we support those who engage in public immorality.

    It is also most unlikely that the pattern of thinking that leads one to the erroneous conclusion that the unborn should not have legal protection would not lead to other errors in moral judgement on issues that may confront the president over which he may have more direct influence.

    How our president feels about protecting the unborn matters a great deal. It is not all that matters, but it can not simply be waved off by saying he doesn’t have any power over abortion so let’s move on and compare health care policies. Whom we support as president says something about what views we thing are acceptable.

    Same sex marriage advocates would not support a president who does not share their views on this issue. Heck, they don’t even want someone who disagrees with them on this to sell them fast food.

    Yet pro-lifers should support a president who will work to ensure there are no restrictions on the ongoing killing of the unborn?

    No wonder we’re not making any headway. We’re not serious. And it’s not just those hypocritical right-wingers.

    • If there were an award for post-of-the-month on Vox Nova, I would nominate this one. The thrust of MM’s original post–and of many of the comments–is that political rhetoric about abortion has little if any effect on public policy or personal behavior. The gay-marriage comparison exposes the fallacy of that claim. These lines make the point perfectly: “Same sex marriage advocates would not support a president who does not share their views on this issue. Heck, they don’t even want someone who disagrees with them on this to sell them fast food.”

  • A major thrust of this post seems to be, “Romney should not be considered pro-life because he has had business dealings with the abortion industry and other nefarious organizations.”

    Is it that far to go from there to, “JohnMcG shouldn’t be considered pro-life because he supported a presidential candidate who would oppose all legal protections of the unborn.”?

  • Have you considered the possibility that it’s such a big issue because it involves the intentional killing of thousands of innocent unborn children? That maybe, just maybe we’re concerned about it for the reasons we say we are and that your mocking of our concern only serves to make us think you don’t get it?

    • This was meant to be in response to Rat-biter’s speculation about why the Church makes such a big deal out of abortion, but I composed it on my phone, and apparently messed up the threading. Didn’t mean to filibuster the end of the thread.

  • Matt Bowman

    Obama promotes abortion worldwide with his state department, he funded abortions in DC, he appointed two pro-abortion supreme court justices and will appoint one or two more (Bush appointed two pro-life votes), Obama appointed pro-abortion Sebelius who is forcing people to pay for abortifacient drugs (and numerous NARAL, Emily’s List, and PP activists throughout the executive branch), he is going around the country funding Planned Parenthood when states block the funding…and ON and ON and ON. Romney will not do these things. “But Romneycare!” you say. Romney flip flopped–your point? You can call him a hypocrite but you can’t say he will do these things that Obama does. He changed–for crass, political reasons; it doesn’t matter–it is a change of ACTION whether you think it is a change of heart or not. In this respect MM cares more about rhetoric than action–he holds Romney’s insincerity against him despite the actions Romney will do, versus what Obama has done for four years and will continue.

  • Joanne

    Abortion regulations are silly. No women who decides to terminate her pregnancy (whether rape, her own health, baby has a disease etc) is going to consult with a law book. If she cannot find the service legally in her state, she’ll take a 20 minute car ride to another state. or she can even go to another country. –

    • Even stipulating that you’re right, which I seriously doubt….

      Do you think there is some value in establishing that the unborn have the same legal protections as the rest of us? That they are equal under the law?

      Should we tolerate a legal regime where the unborn can be arbitrarily killed?

    • dominic1955

      That people are this willing to travel to another country, buy suspect drugs in an anything-goes type of pharmacy to do something which is objectively evil for the sake of not owning up to the consequence of their actions and/or taking up their cross just speaks to the level of depravity people can sink to. However, legislators cannot act like Judas and wash their hands of it. At the least, knowing that people will jump through hoops to sin, they should say clearly that they cannot have any part in the legalization of the murder of untold multitudes of people. That is the very least they can do.

  • Kurt

    I had been preparing to post in response to John that he makes serious points that need to be heard. I may not always admit it, but John frequently pulls me in his direction.

    Then I read Matt’s post, full of false statements and partisan rhetoric.

    I could (and I have) voted for pro-lifers like John. I am very disinclined to put into positions of high civic responsibility people who make statement’s like Matt’s.

    Regardless of if you agree with me, I think there are millions of American voters similar to me in this regard. Voting pro-life doesn’t just put into place a policy, but particular people to implement that policy. Some of those people comfort us and some scare us. I know this goes off the check off the negotiable/non-negotiable issues formula, but it is where I am and election results would suggest I am in a lot of company.