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How We Shouldn’t Engage Obama

July 5, 2009

Way back in the distant past before the November election, I took it upon myself to criticize the position of John McCain on abortion. I argued that an approach to abortion that would simply send the matter back to the states to decide is ultimately a ‘pro-choice’ position, since it leaves the fate of the unborn child in the hands of the electorate. Various conservative acquaintances did not hesitate to point out that, in spite of this truth, “politics is the art of the possible”.

I agree with the basic idea contained in that statement. It does no good to insist upon what cannot be, or what is highly unlikely. Our political vision may be broad in scope – I like to think mine is – but that vision is often constrained by concrete political realities with which we have no choice but to navigate with skill and caution.

I therefore find it strange that some of the same folks who told me that “politics is the art of the possible” when it came to defending John McCain’s views are acting as if nothing short of a total pro-life conversion will allow them to listen to, and perhaps try to work with, President Obama on life issues.

I hope I am not misunderstood. I do not believe, as a good number of Catholics do, that Obama is somehow “the real pro-life president” because of his positions on economic issues or any other issues. This was always a dubious proposition. Neither do I believe, however, that he is as fanatically committed to abortion as many on the Christian conservative right make him out to be. Obama is neither pro-life or pro-abortion, in my estimation, but just plain-old pro-choice.

I base this estimation on the numerous statements he has made indicating that a) he does not believe that abortion is a positive good but a necessary evil (a flawed argument, but not a pro-abortion argument), and b) that he is interested in working with the pro-life movement on issues where they can both agree. Some people ask, “where are the ‘abortion reduction’ initiatives?” But I must ask them, “when did you indicate that you would be interested in taking up the President’s offer?” The answer is, they never have.

Instead they continue to repeat lines such as “Obama is the most pro-abortion president in this nation’s history”. Is he “more” pro-abortion than say, Bill Clinton was? I haven’t done an in-depth policy comparison to know the answer to this question, but I do know that Obama hasn’t even been in office a year yet. It is much to early to make such a judgment.

Most of this started when Obama “pledged” to sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law as soon as he became president. As some of us knew at the time, this was campaign bluster; there was no reason to believe that FOCA would have even come up for a vote, let alone that it would pass, and indeed it hasn’t. Then there were the claims that Obama supported infanticide as a state senator in Illinois. While I don’t think his reasoning for failing to support the proposed born-alive infant protection legislation was sound, his argument was that it was already illegal to kill the survivors of botched abortions. It was a far cry from arguing that they ought to be killed for the sake of abortion rights, as was later insisted upon by the right. I do not believe that continuing in this vein is a wise choice, especially for those who recognize that “politics is the art of the possible”.

Perhaps its only me, but it seems at times that Obama’s opponents actually want him to be the most pro-abortion president in US history. They deride his political rhetoric on abortion as nothing but cynical appeasement of his supporters on the religious left and a cover for his true pro-abortion agenda.  But it is  undeniable that continually referring to abortion as a “tragedy”, as something that ought to be “rare”, as a “difficult decision”, and so forth, can only serve to raise questions about the moral nature of abortion in the mind of anyone paying attention. Even if Obama never lifted a finger to reduce abortions on his own, to repeat over and over that “abortion reduction” is necessary and good can only end up making abortion itself look wrong.

At the very minimum, the pro-life movement ought to be taking concrete steps to put Obama’s conciliatory rhetoric to the test. He says he is willing to work with the pro-life movement on certain issues; let us put those issues before him. Given the reality of a pro-choice president and a Democratic Congress, it is we who are pro-life that must accommodate the political majority and not vice-versa. In doing so we might make what could turn out to be the worst eight years for the pro-life cause since the passage of Roe v. Wade into something a little more tolerable. We may actually end up reducing abortions as well, if say the USCCB endorsed Pregnant Women Support Act is signed into law.

To conclude, I must say that I don’t see how constantly railing against Obama is going to change a single thing, or save a single life. We live in a democracy where the majority chose a pro-choice candidate, and there is no other relevant political point of departure.

I propose that the pro-life movement approach Obama both critically and civilly. We must not hide or diminish our views, but we must also be willing to compromise at the political level while continuing to work relentlessly at the (in my opinion) much more important grassroots level. There is no reason at all why engaging in reasonable discussion with the administration ought to detract from a vigorous campaign to shape local laws and inform the public about the immorality and danger of abortion.

  1. July 5, 2009 2:17 pm

    Excellent post Joe! This very clearly makes practical some of what I am trying to say in a more general way in a post I will probably publish tomorrow.

    Thanks for this!

  2. July 5, 2009 5:26 pm

    Joe I think there are three things going on here

    (1) I think pro-lifers would reach and out compromise with Obama on real matters that would help reduce abortion. The problem is what are those proosals. Pro-lifers have had a very bad few months. Now we have a bill going through the Congress that would allow Federal funded abortion in D.C. for the first times in 18 years. Added to that is new movbes made in the U.N. Obama has in many way disappointed many of his core Democrat/left bases. We have seen this on items from the war on terror, to rention of prisioners, to elemnets of the National Security, (perhaps even on the gay marriagef ront, etc etc.) However as to abortion it appears on a domestic and international level it is full steam ahead.

    (2) While I am glad to see that Obama is uttering the words abortion reduction this is not much different than the Clinton era Safe legal and rare talk.

    (3) There is of some the practical concerns that many proposed solutions to reduce abortion many parts of the pro-life movements will not be able to get behind. I suppose there are segements of it that will have no problems of no doubt news aspect of Federal Finded COntraceptions and other programs but others will not. I think there is a fear there. I think the every increasing Funding of the multi billion dollar empire that is Planned Parenthood is a non starter

    There are two bill in COngress right now. The Pregnant Women Support Act was developed by Democrats for Life of America and introduced in the House by Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN) and Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) and supported by many pro-lifers. THe Obama administration is showing very little interest in that bill

    THe Secon bill is Prevention First Act which is being sold as a ABortion reduction bill and is a Pro-life, Christian/Catholic nightmare. This appears to have much mor einteresting the in the administration

    So what shall we do.

  3. Joe Hargrave permalink
    July 5, 2009 6:16 pm

    I’m not exactly sure what we “should” do, but I am fairly certain that not much is to be gained by taking a hostile approach.

    The link you provided was informative though. I’m not at all against criticizing the administration and calling it out when necessary. Except for item 2 on the list concerning this bill, however, I don’t see that it is anything we wouldn’t expect from a Democratic administration.

    Of course I am opposed to the kind of “sex education” where the schools hand out condoms. Part of abortion reduction for non-Catholics though – and in this we have to include the majority of American Protestants and Obama himself – is the promotion of contraception. I support the Church’s teaching on contraception and follow it in my life, as I believe all Catholics should.

    But again we are back to that “art of the possible”. Is it possible that in a country that has no exclusively Catholic major political party we are ever going to see a disappearance of contraception? I don’t see how. The pro-life movement is strong because both Catholics and Protestants oppose abortion for the most part, but contraception is a different story. There we are reminded just how in the minority we are, especially when we consider how many Catholics openly or privately dissent from Church teaching on contraceptives.

    I don’t like to say it, but I don’t see many alternatives to accepting these political initiatives as a part of checking abortion. If someone can point them out to me, however, I would be grateful and listen.

  4. Gabriel Austin permalink
    July 5, 2009 6:24 pm

    I remain confused, no doubt because of my age and lack of education in a school in the Jesuit or Notre Dame [meat-head] traditions.

    Why is abortion reduction considered a viable option?

    Which baby shall be killed before another?

    Put in another context: would the reduction of the number of Jews gassed have been an acceptable option?

    This may seem an unacceptably rigid attitude. But perhaps a compromiser can suggest which babies are of greater value. Perhaps one might suggest that the babies of the poor are more to be valued than the babies of the middle [or upper = richer?] class [Mr. Obama comes from a broken home]; “defective” babies rather than healthy babies; black babies than white, and so on.

    • July 5, 2009 7:43 pm

      Wow. As a Saint Louis University grad (a Jesuit school) and a current Notre Dame student, I feel the lead-in to your comment is a bit flippant and unfair. I think your comment would retain more force if you leave out the stereotyping jabs.

      • July 5, 2009 11:29 pm


        As one who was also Jesuit educated and is a CSC priest, I find your opening remarks amusing precisely because your comment did not at all play to type!!

        I should add that I concur with your points completely. I dont think there is ever room to compromise with such a extreme evil as abortion. One may say that politics is the art of the possible and thus we should work for political ends which are at least a step or two closer to our goal. However, that political view is not the view of the Gospel. Jesus did not teach his disciples to make nice-nice with those who persecuted them. In the early Church Christians did not negotiate to offer just a half pinch of incense to the gods in order to spare their lives. They either offered no incense and were given martyrdom or offered their pinch and were spared at the cost of their conscience and their witness to Christ before the world.

        Abortion is life and death. Since at least the Didache, Christians have regarded abortion as one of the greatest evils one could commit. We must not be fooled by people who use appeasing words like “tragedy” or “rare” for abortion who simultaneously strive to expand abortion rights, government funding, and even infanticide.

        No, we must call this holocaust what it is. We must not be reconciled to evil. We must stir the consciences of our fellow citizens.

        If the mere reduction of an absolute evil within certain limits were morally sufficient, then the limitation of slavery to the Southern States would have been enough for the abolitionists to demand. But, with absolute evils, we must strive to irradicate them absolutely. Else, a horrible bloody Civil War was unnecessary and slavery could be justified even today.

      • Gabriel Austin permalink
        July 5, 2009 11:32 pm

        St. Louis is not a Jesuit school, but a school in the Jesuit tradition, as its mission statement calls it [“Saint Louis University is a learning community in the Jesuit tradition”]. The web description of the school carefully avoids mentioning the Church, referring instead to the Judaeo-Christian tradition. This could refer to any number of Protestant colleges.

        A reading of the book by St. Louis University’s Prof. James Hitchcock – THE POPE AND THE JESUITS – will enlighten you about the decline of the order. Fr. Teilhard – forsooth!

        A graduate [1956] of the basketball playing St. John’s University, I found it difficult to resist our name for Notre Dame’s corn-fed students. I was on the university’s Library Visiting Committee in the mid-1970s when the university almost lost its accreditation because of the poverty of its libraries.

      • July 6, 2009 1:59 am

        I’ve been there. SLU is Jesuit, and here’s what the website says under About SLU:

        Saint Louis University is a Jesuit, Catholic university ranked among the top research institutions in the nation. The University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 12,700 students. Founded in 1818, it is the oldest university west of the Mississippi and the second oldest Jesuit university in the United States. Through teaching, research, health care and community service, Saint Louis University has provided one-of-a-kind education, leadership and service for 190 years.

        The Jesuits are very active on campus, and I found my faith deeply enriched by their ministry and witness. The order is still quite strong, and I think the tumultuous 60’s-90’s are well behind it. And, by the way, I never read a scrap of Teilhard de Chardin nor did I hear his name uttered during my time at SLU (indeed, I don’t think anyone really reads him anymore).

      • Gabriel Austin permalink
        July 6, 2009 2:44 pm

        Dear MJ,
        You bring water to my mill. [You will note that I have avoided the use of the term “jesuitical”, tempting as it is. I am pleased to learn that Fr. Teilhard’s idiocies are no longer promoted on the campus, but they are in other jesuit locales].
        You cite the website. [“One of a kind leadership” is presumptuous, and the language of advertising].

        But you do not reply to what I consider the main point: the administration avoids such terms as the catholic tradition of prayer and piety. Anyone can pick up philosophy and theology and biology and physics later in life. Actually it is much better if ones does, concentrating rather on mathematics and languages.

        Indeed it is a commonplace that, upon graduating, one must unlearn most of what one has been taught.

        I can but repeat my suggestion that you pick up a copy of Prof. Hitchcock’s book. The jesuit tradition can be hypnotic. You might have a read of Pascal’s PROVINCIAL LETTERS to break the spell.

        I remain unrepentant in my opinion that football is a meat-head’s game. Now, soccer – that’s different. Even small people [consider Pele] can play it successfully.

  5. July 5, 2009 6:54 pm

    Joe I guess the question of what hostile is. I know that is often in the eye of the beholder. You have extremes like Michael WInters at America for instance that seem to be worried about manking Obama mad and almost treating him like a King. Not a Public Servant.

    THis weekend I was reading the incredible comments of the the retired Swiss (if retired is the right word) Cardinal from Switerland that was praising President’s Obama poltical thoguht toward abortion and saying it was THomas Aquinas like. This I suppose coming from his Notre Dame SPeech in which lets be honest nothing much was groundbreaking. In most other areas of polticals engagement on issues suchld not be met with Universial appaulse. Can one imagine for instance if Bush or a President McCain spoke of the environment in such terms. Would there be a rush that all praise it.

    THe Cardianl, despite appearing not to know the poltical system of the United States or the poiltics of abortion here, seems to be clueless many of those incremential steps to reduce abortion have been swept away.

    It is increasing becoming frustrating to see new abortion iniatives being pushed through domestically and internationally and this facade go on.

    That being said I think what we must do is to quit being defeatist. I think the problem is that many pro-life people are going whasts the point. Of course this a wrong attitude to take on many levels.

    ONe thing we can do is to start pressing and getting the public to know the Pregnant Women Support Act which you mentioned. That is a good start.

    Further while the poltical situation is so depressingly handcuffed by the Federal branch there are still many things on the State level we can do. That should not be ignored either which I think sadly it is often

  6. Joe Hargrave permalink
    July 5, 2009 7:00 pm

    “Why is abortion reduction considered a viable option?”

    What do you mean by “viable”? It may be the only option there is, besides doing nothing.

    “would the reduction of the number of Jews gassed have been an acceptable option?”

    It’s not a valid comparison. Abortion is not carried out by the government – it is permitted by the government. It is carried out by millions of Americans, your neighbors, co-workers and sadly fellow parishioners.

    If it were up to me, abortion would be illegal tomorrow in all circumstances. It isn’t up to me, and it isn’t up to you.

    • July 5, 2009 11:40 pm


      Ah, but it IS up to you and I. It is our moral duty, our obligation as Catholics to oppose abortion in every way possible. If Catholics were to actually vote pro-life over the course of a generation, abortion would be ended. It is the failure of Catholics to act on their moral conscience on this matter that we have abortion legal in this country. Their blood is on our hands.

      • Joe Hargrave permalink
        July 6, 2009 12:30 am

        “If Catholics were to actually vote pro-life over the course of a generation, abortion would be ended. It is the failure of Catholics to act on their moral conscience on this matter that we have abortion legal in this country. Their blood is on our hands.”

        I can’t disagree with this. But the reality is that abortion has never been at the top of the American voters’ priority list, even a good number of Catholic voters.

        Now, what do we do about that? We can continue to proclaim the truth about abortion and hope that at least our fellow Catholics vote pro-life. But that only goes so far. A better option, in my opinion, is to do what we can to wed the pro-life agenda to an economic and social agenda that the majority can accept. This is not mere pragmatism either, since our economic system is certainly not in total (or anywhere near total) accord with Catholic social thought. People did not vote for Obama because he was pro-choice, but because they believed that economic issues were more important than life issues.

        What I’m saying is, where a candidate stands on abortion isn’t that important to the majority of voters. If we want people to care about abortion, to see at as more than a “wedge issue”, we have to care about them. Politics is give-and-take.

    • Gabriel Austin permalink
      July 5, 2009 11:47 pm

      I believe that prayer is the most viable option for controlling the plague which is abortion.

      How do you propose reducing the number? Evidently not copulating is the most obvious option – one that seems to be carefully avoided by Mr. Obama and abhorred by the abortion lobby.

      Whether abortion is carried out by the government is side-stepping the issue. It is as abominable as the Shoah. It is encouraged by the government, teste Mrs. Pelosi. It was a branch of the government that established its legality. [Talk about pussy-footing language]. Through Medicaid, it is greatly financed by the government.

      It is accepted by a great many of the populace, including Catholics here and abroad. It is not discouraged by many of our bishops who take a look the other way attitude, thereby condemning many of their flock to sin doubly. [Receiving Holy Communion].

      It is said to be a medical procedure. But as Senator Boxer once asked “since when is pregnancy a disease?”. Mr. Obama considers it a punishment.

      • Joe Hargrave permalink
        July 6, 2009 12:35 am

        “How do you propose reducing the number?”

        I would start with the Pregnant Woman Support Act. But I would also encourage the pro-life movement to keep doing what it has been doing: educating, appealing to the conscience of the nation, sidewalk counseling, crisis pregnancy centers, and yes, praying.

        “Mr. Obama considers it a punishment.”

        I don’t think that is true. I think he was referring to his underage daughters – that isn’t the same as saying all pregnancy is a punishment. It was, however, a most irresponsible thing to say. I don’t think it changes anything I’ve said though. What he says is not as important to me as what he may be willing to do.

  7. Joe Hargrave permalink
    July 5, 2009 9:14 pm

    I’ll also point out that, unlike the Holocaust, unborn children are not killed simply because they are unborn, but because they are “unwanted”. It is a decision made by a parent or both parents. The desire isn’t to kill a child, but to not be a parent. Unfortunately a lot of people will not think much more beyond that.

    • Gabriel Austin permalink
      July 5, 2009 11:52 pm

      “Not because they are unborn but because they are unwanted” is a distinction without a difference. They’re not “unborn”; they exist. The method of not being a parent [apart the obvious one of not copulating] is to kill the child. What difference [as Peter Singer points out] between killing the child at 5 months or at 12 months.

      • Joe Hargrave permalink
        July 6, 2009 12:24 am

        There is no MORAL difference, I completely agree. An unborn human being (and please, lets not quibble about a word that much of the pro-life movement routinely uses to describe the people they are trying to protect) has the same value as a Jew in Nazi Germany or any other human being.

        But there are, I believe, strategic differences. In one case the government is rounding people up and killing them. In another, it is the people who are doing the killing with the permission of the government. Moreover, it is not a campaign against unborn human beings as such, but against parental responsibility and obligation.

        I don’t see how you can deny that these require different approaches. If anything, comparing abortion to the Holocaust conveys the false notion that the government is to blame, when really, it is cultural decay of the electorate.

  8. G-Veg permalink
    July 5, 2009 10:37 pm

    A question and a comment:

    Q: Isn’t there an intellectual connection between limited government and opposition to the very kinds of programs that the “Catholics for Obama” crowd favors? What I mean is that President Obama stakes his claim to looking for compromise issues on the issue of abortion reduction on programs that would, purportedly, reduce the incentive to have abortions. Theoretically, if there were enough education programs, adoption programs, and contraceptives available, there would be a meaningful reduction in abortion. (Whether or not this is so is seriously debatable.) However, those programs don’t comfortably fit under the Commerce Clause and the creation of such programs under the Federal government would be a serious move back from the States Rights perspective of the GOP. I ask, therefore, whether or not we are missing the connection between denying Federal prerogative to conduct social programs and refusing to “engage” President Obama on abortion alternatives.


    The fine distinctions you make between those who favor abortion and those who favor “choice” are lost on me.

    The closest parallel, to my mind, to the abortion question is not the Holocaust but slavery in America. We have the same dynamic in that some favor absolute prohibition, some favor “reduction,” and a sizeable number favor the institution itself, regardless of its justice or utility.

    Applying your reasoning to Slavery in, say, 1859, Abolitionists were wrong to seek abolition rather than reduction of slavery. However, history shows us that the kind of reductionist measures that you propose, as they were enacted between 1789 and 1861, did not reduce the number of slaves or improve their conditions. Indeed, I would argue that Abolitionists drove America into the Civil War and a final showdown on the issue.

    Would it have been better if they had not? Would it have been better for Abolitionists to have “given a little” so that compromises could be reached? Would it have been better for slavery to linger for another hundred years?

    At its core, compromise on issues of profound moral and ethical concern is nothing more than cowardice. It is the selfishness of the man who chooses to “go along” rather than taking a strong moral stand.

    Abortion is murder. It doesn’t matter whether it is the choice of one parent or both. It doesn’t matter whether it is because one lost a job, might die from childbirth, or, as is most often the case, because it seems “easier” than carrying a baby to term.

    If one doesn’t believe that abortion is murder, then there is nothing to talk about because there is no common ground. If one DOES accept that basic, underlying premise, then I fail to see how anything but abolition of the institution of abortion is acceptable.

  9. Joe Hargrave permalink
    July 5, 2009 11:54 pm



    “Joe I guess the question of what hostile is. I know that is often in the eye of the beholder. You have extremes like Michael WInters at America for instance that seem to be worried about manking Obama mad and almost treating him like a King. Not a Public Servant.”

    Yes, I suppose it is a subjective call in the end. But there is a difference between a critical approach and a hostile approach. I believe the hostile approach is what allowed people to believe that FOCA was going to become a reality within the first months, if not weeks, of the Obama administration. I don’t think sound political analysis played a role in that at all.

    I want to distinguish again between the government level and the grassroots level for political activity. On the latter, we should be on the offensive. On the former, however, we are necessarily limited in what we can do. I don’t see why we would want to make a bad situation worse.

    For Fr. J (and partially G-Veg, whose specific concerns I will address below):

    “But, with absolute evils, we must strive to irradicate them absolutely. Else, a horrible bloody Civil War was unnecessary and slavery could be justified even today.”

    One might infer, from this, that the answer to legalized abortion is civil war. I don’t think anyone in the pro-life movement beyond the fringe in groups such as the Army of God are quite prepared for such a drastic measure.

    If we are going to remain within the bounds of lawful and peaceful political resistance, then I don’t see the point in making thinly-veiled recommendations for civil warfare. Nor do I see the point in rejecting political compromise. Conservatives were prepared to support John McCain and his “send abortion back to the states” approach to abortion – that too is a compromise, and if you do the numbers, it really wouldn’t affect the abortion rate in this country that much, given that the states with the most abortions have already passed laws securing abortion rights in the event of an overturn of Roe v. Wade.

    Living in a democratic society means living with the possibility that some people will choose evil over good. It means that our work at the grassroots level is all the more important than the levels of hostility and contempt we show for the administration in power. That administration is a legitimate government not only according to civil law but, I am fairly certain, in Catholic moral law as well.


    First, I must say that abortion reduction is NOT “my strategy”. As I have said, if I had my way, I would ban abortion with no exceptions as a first step. But I’m not going to have my way because the people are not with me – with us.

    Abortion reduction is what the regime in power is offering. All things considered, it is better than nothing. We still have the ability to affect our communities, our towns and cities, and our state legislatures.

    “At its core, compromise on issues of profound moral and ethical concern is nothing more than cowardice.”

    For some reason, though, I don’t imagine that you’ve been stockpiling weapons and training recruits for the Army of God. If I’m right, then you have the rhetoric of war without the means of war. I’m not so sure that you can or should separate the two.

    “If one doesn’t believe that abortion is murder, then there is nothing to talk about because there is no common ground.”

    I disagree. I believe that abortion is murder. I also know that there are over a million abortions performed annually in the US every year, and that given the political realities we face, a reduction in that vast and obscene number is better than no reduction, or heaven forbid, an increase.

    Coming to terms with the secularization of a democratic society is difficult. Unless we are ready to abolish that mode of government, I believe our best options are:

    a) continuing to build the Culture of Life, to raise the priority that people place on abortion as a moral and political issue, and affect as much as we can at the local level (and I absolutely encourage showing graphic images of aborted babies to make that point)

    b) making peace with the administration that has been chosen by the majority of our fellow citizens, doing what we can to reduce the carnage and the slaughter, and, as a new article I am preparing argues, wedding pro-life ideas to a more progressive and innovative economic philosophy so that they do not recede into permanent political irrelevance.

    The Church does not have an army, she cannot impose her will on a people who do not wish to obey it. But the Church will, as we know from Scripture, prevail against the gates of hell.

  10. G-Veg permalink
    July 6, 2009 12:59 am

    With respect, you latched onto the metaphore without applying it to the issue at hand.

    I am not calling for a Civil War and there is no “thinly veiled” call to unlawful opposition. I love my country and I am a Christian.

    Perhaps there would not have been a Civil War if, when the slave trade was abolished, abolitionists had pushed harder for the complete abolition of slavery. Then, as now, Americans allowed themselves to debate whether or not the injured were fully “American” and, therefore, entitled to the protection of law.

    My point is this… You lecture me on not calling for insurrection when I have not done so and then ignore the substance of my post. If you disagree with placing abortion and slavery in the same context then say so and explain why you see them as different.

    From where I sit, one who supports abortion is so defective as to their reason and humanity as to be unworthy of respect or admiration.

    Before you jump on that as unreasonable in and of itself, consider that the David Dukes of the world are rightly condemned as utterly depraived because they believe persons of a different skin color, ethnicity, culture, and religion to be unworthy of the protection of law. The same is true of those who advocate for abortion and those who are willing to let personal choice rule. They commit the same sin and crime as the KKK. Why should they have a place at the table of reason?

    No… There can be no half measures in abolishing abortion, just as there could be no half measures in abolishing slavery. Either the victims are human and entitled to the protection of law or they are not.

    • Joe Hargrave permalink
      July 6, 2009 1:14 am


      Truth and relevance are not always the same thing. I know it sounds terribly insulting to dismiss a point someone makes as “irrelevant” but I don’t know any other word to describe the comparison of slavery to abortion. I have heard the argument many times, and I in fact agree with the substance of the argument.

      But I don’t see the point in making it here, since the topic is not the morality of abortion but rather how we go forward given the political realities we face. I notice that you can only make it by resorting to the following statement:

      “Perhaps there would not have been a Civil War if, when the slave trade was abolished, abolitionists had pushed harder for the complete abolition of slavery.”

      The Civil War, though, is proof that the abolitionists’ hardest push (are we going to fault them for not “pushing hard enough” when lives were lost in the process?) was not enough. After the American Revolution, many of the Northern states abolished slavery immediately. The Southern states did not do so then, and they would most likely have never done so. The big difference, again, politically (please understand that this is different than morally) is that it was the South that opposed the legitimate abolitionist policies of the North – it was the South that started the Civil War to preserve slavery, not the North to abolish it. That is because abolition was on the side of the upward demographic trends while slavery was confined to a region of declining demographic and therefore political significance.

      I hate to say it but we are in a political – again, not a moral, but a political – situation more comparable to the South than to the North, in that the government and the majority are not with us at the moment.

      “You lecture me on not calling for insurrection when I have not done so”

      How could I lecture you on not doing a thing you haven’t done? What I believe is that saying “no compromise” and then comparing abortion to slavery doesn’t seem to leave many other options. What happens when your “hardest push” doesn’t cut it? You are left with only with the options of war or compromise. If war is not an option, then there is nothing but compromise – again, at the governmental level.

      For heavens sake, I’m certainly not calling for a cessation of the most truthful and forceful arguments and images we can show to change hearts and minds. But I am calling for a dose of political realism and a charitable approach to those in power whose views differ with our own. I don’t like the alternatives to that.

      “From where I sit, one who supports abortion is so defective as to their reason and humanity as to be unworthy of respect or admiration.”

      Well, even if I believed this were true – and I don’t – it wouldn’t make a difference. My original article had nothing to do with the morality of abortion. It is a given that abortion is wrong. But it is also a given that people disagree, and that right now, people who disagree are in the majority and in power. If we don’t deal with those facts, abortion will never go away.

      “Either the victims are human and entitled to the protection of law or they are not.”

      You are conflating things quite badly if you think that this is at all the issue.

      Again, truth and relevance are different. The truth is that unborn children are entitled to that protection. The reality is that we are in no position to grant it to them. What is relevant here are those tactics and strategies that will bring us closer to our goal. In the long-term, our goal is to abolish abortion. In the short-term, with the political odds stacked against us, our goal ought to be to continue making the strongest case against abortion and for life as we can, while accommodating ourselves to the realities of the political system we live under.

  11. G-Veg permalink
    July 6, 2009 1:35 am

    What a difference a misplaced “not” makes, eh?

    Lets accept, for a moment, that you are right. I am willing to consider the notion that those not in power must work with those who are in power if they are to exert influence.

    I think it was in 1808 that the importation of slaves was abolished – the legal importation that is. Slave owners were permitted to retain their slaves and transfer them within slave states.

    Is this the kind of compromise that we should work for?

    Should we, for example, compromise on an early-term abortion bill that makes it a federally protected right to an abortion during the first trimester if the same bill barred abortions thereafter, but for the health of the mother, victims of incest and rape, and “defective” children in the womb? Should we push our purportedly pro-life legislators to support such bills?

    I’ll bet we could reach such a compromise if we wanted to. Think of the thousands of babies that would be saved. Surely, since the majority of Americans do not favor late-term abortions, such a compromise could be reached.

    Would it be worth it?

    Compromise is the essence of a Democratic Republic.

    Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, and President Obama ask those who “disagree” with their stand on abortion to work with the present Congress and Administration to reduce abortions. However, what is the cost? We don’t know because not a single bill has been submitted that would address that issue.

    FOCA isn’t off the table and US tax money is now paying for abortions overseas.

    How can we be expected to analyze whether supporting a new social-justice policy would be sinful if none has been submitted for our consideration? Why should we trust the three of them in any event?

  12. Joe Hargrave permalink
    July 6, 2009 2:05 am

    “Is this the kind of compromise that we should work for?”

    I think we have to use caution when making these historical parallels. The slave trade was abolished in 1808 but the decision was made much earlier during the ratification of the Constitution. I bring it up because it was made during a volatile time, when the existence of America itself was still a questionable proposition. It is arguable that had the compromises not been made then, we may have just had a civil war a lot sooner – a civil war that a fledgling country that had just exhausted itself defeating a powerful opponent could not afford.

    So, no, I do not believe that we should make any sort of long-lasting compromise that would in any way give the impression that we no longer regard the unborn human being as valuable and worthy of protection under the law. I don’t think we have to say that or pretend to believe that in order to work with the administration. I don’t believe we are being asked to rethink our position on the morality of abortion or the value of the unborn, or to do anything that would actually further entrench abortion – so I don’t think your hypothetical scenarios are likely to occur

    This is what Obama said at the press conference with Catholic reporters recently:

    “”I’ve never been under the illusion that there are going to be … that we were going to simply talk all our differences away on these issues,” said the president. “[…] I can tell you, though, that on the idea of helping young people make smart choices so that they are not engaging in casual sexual activity that can lead to unwanted pregnancies, on the importance of adoption as an option, an alternative to abortion, on caring for pregnant women so that it is easier for them to support children, those are immediately three areas where I would be surprised if we don’t have some pretty significant areas of agreement.”

    Now, obviously as Catholics we believe the only acceptable, let alone “smart” choice is to not have sex outside of marriage. There will be disagreement there.

    But what about the promotion of adoption? That takes away nothing from our position. And what about caring for pregnant women? That is what the PWSA is all about, and so these remarks indicate to me that he might support it. So I think we have two, maybe two-and-a-half areas of agreement. Isn’t that something?

  13. G-Veg permalink
    July 6, 2009 2:09 am

    Before I respond, could you tell me what the “PWSA” is? I did a quick Google but there are too many hits.

  14. Joe Hargrave permalink
    July 6, 2009 2:29 am

    Pregnant Women Support Act

  15. G-Veg permalink
    July 6, 2009 3:30 am

    Thank you for the clarification.

    Fairness dictates that I acknowledge that my information on the Pregnant Women Support Act (“PWSA”) is limited to what I have read tonight. It is interesting that the bill was submitted before and failed to garner support:

    Given the present status of the bill, I wonder if it will ever make it out of committee:

    But this isn’t surprising since my couterparts on the pro-abortion side of the house do not seem inclined to look for common ground either… except on thier own terms of course:

    Though I have been a critic of the concept of “imperial presidency,” whether a Dem or a GOP President is in the Oval Office, I acknowledge that Americans look to the Administration for direction and it is probably fair to ask if President Obama supports the measure, since his full support would carry the measure much closer to a vote:

    But, the Administration has taken a “wait and see” approach and that shouldn’t, in my opinion, suggest seriousness on the “common ground” idea.

    Joe, I am sorry to beat you up on this one.

    Frankly, your optimism is refreshing.

    I admit that I am jaded when it comes to taking public figures at their word.

    I was registered as a Democrat for many years and truly tried find a home for pro-life beliefs under that umbrella. But the Democratic umbrella is too narrow to allow for that belief. The best evidence of this is, though it is an old one, admittedly, the treatment of Governor Casey at the Democratic National Convention in 1992 and the opposition to the Pennsylvania Abortion Regulation Act on which Casey v. Planned Parenthood was based.

    Has anything changed? President Obama wants us to think so. He went to great lengths to court American Catholics.

    It sure looked to me like this was pure political strategy; that Obama’s handlers recognized that Catholics held the keys to key battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, and California. I don’t take anything away from his campaign team… That they recognized the necessity to remain quiet on the substance of the abortion debate while tugging at our hearts for social justice issues bespeaks their intelligence and wisdom.

    But we are no longer in the campaign… Now is the time to see if that was empty campaign rhetoric or not. Is President Obama as interested in common ground as Senator Obama claimed to be?

    Well, he opened to doors to US funding of abortion overseas almost right away so we can safely say that he is willing to appease NARAL and Planned Parenthood. He also removed restrictions on providing abortion to servicewomen through the military hospitals.

    With regards to FOCA, it is still on the table and still contains the probably unconstitutional element that would require Catholic hospitals to provide abortion referrals. President Obama has not rescinded his unequivocal support for the bill and has not withdrawn the statement that he would sign it as soon as it gets to him.

    So we have a President who continues unabashed support for abortion but speaks the language of compromise… as long as he doesn’t have to go on record in favor of compromise bills.

    Forgive me for being skeptical, but I see nothing in this affair that suggests other than that we were a pawn in the Obama campaign. I see nothing to suggest that he cares one iota about or for Catholic thought and much that suggests that he holds us in disdain. Surely, if he truly cared for finding common ground, he would come out in support of efforts to find common ground.

    I fear that you build your house of hopes in this President on sand.

    Besides, even IF the President is serious, he has to have bills in front of him and Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid will NEVER let that happen. So, again, what compromise legislation has those in power championed that Catholics should consider? It sure looks like we are being asked to compromise while the abortion advocates make the murder of the unborn a permanent state of law.

    One final note – I appreciate your patience in this discussion. It is with no small respect that I push you for more specific answers.

  16. July 6, 2009 10:29 am

    I think part of the basic conflict in the minds of pro-life activists is whether it is more productive to work towards incremental achievements with Obama or try to lay the groundwork for defeating him. The two objectives are pretty much in opposition, since if pro-life groups go to great lengths to work with Obama in the next few years and actually score some achievements, they will lack credibility in then making the case for voting against him in 2012.

    Add to this that for some pro-life advocates the “if we provide people with enough social services, they won’t want abortions” seems unappealing from the start — and that pro-choice advocates have little interest in something like the Pregnant Women Support Act in the first place (after all, their “solution” is cheaper and fits with other population control and environmental priorities held by the same people) — and you can see how the PWSA becomes a political orphan.

    Not to say that’s a good thing, but one can see how it happens. I suppose my own attitude is (and perhaps it’s lacking and unhelpful) that if progressives who say that abortion is a “tragedy” are willing to get the PWSA to the point of an up or down vote, I’d support it. But given that it fits much better with their priorities than mine (I simply don’t think it will achieve it’s stated aims very well) I’m less than excited to do the initial heavy lifting.

  17. G-Veg permalink
    July 6, 2009 11:09 am

    I am of a similar mind on the issue of whether or not such measures will provide more than a token benefit at a huge cost.

    I don’t want to be coldly calculating on this but, as I intimated before, social programs by the federal government run right up against the edge of the Commerce Clause. Setting aside the dollars cost of such programs, there is a constitutional cost as well in that we invite the federal government into turf reserved to the People throught their states.

    Perhaps I am willing to pay that cost for programs with undeniable benefits to the broadest portion of Americans but I am not sure that all that many babies are aborted solely because of the support issue… even if long-term support were on the table; which it is not. There are four persons known to me who have had abortions: three of them did so because they were in college and a baby would have, in their minds, “destroyed their lives.” One of them did so because she and the child’s father had dated for several years and they had broken up several months prior to the child’s conception. This is to say that she had the abortion because she was no longer with the child’s father and said that it was because she knew doing so and telling others about it would hurt him.

    So, making available additional adoptions services, prenatal care, and maternity healthcare makes a lot of sense for a host of reasons but it may not affect abortion all that much. With Planned Parenthood at the table of discussion (a more loathesome group of money grubbing vultures is hard to imagine) and one can fairly question whether compromise measures make any sense at all.

  18. July 6, 2009 11:52 am

    Very well said, Darwin Catholic. That PWSA is really a political orphan without any passionate supporters from either side, to me demonstrates that it is a Democratic political rouse designed to fool Catholic swing voters that the Dems can be “semi-pro-life.” I dont buy it at all. Catholics who dont want to vote Republican for various good reasons are looking for anything that will ease their consciences on the abortion issue. Such a political rouse fits the bill and allows Planned Parenthood with a 54% majority of the Catholic vote for their radically pro-abortion candidate.

    As a Catholic committed to certain absolute values, I think it is always dangerous to play politics. We have to stand by our principles and not get sucked into party politics and deceiving half measures.

  19. Joe Hargrave permalink
    July 6, 2009 12:24 pm

    “The two objectives are pretty much in opposition”


    I don’t think they are. The very minimum of “work with” is to simply not be deliberately obstructionist and lacking in all charity and civility, to be open to the possibility that some good may yet come of such an attitude. I don’t think we have to get in that deep.

    In the meantime I have no problem with developing a strategy to defeat Obama. But anyone who thinks that getting indignant about taxes and deficits is going to win an election (certainly this next one) is sorely mistaken. And anyone who attaches the pro-life agenda to such a discredited and unpopular platform has to share responsibility for its failure to come to fruition.

    Which brings up another problem: where in the heck was the widespread pro-life support for Huckabee? Why did Fred bloody Thompson win the NRLC endorsement when Huckabee was the only serious pro-life candidate? I knew from the start that John McCain had no chance against Obama. Huckabee has given eloquent speeches in defense of life from the moment of conception (and the second amendment and other important moral issues), but instead we were served up with a publicity stunt called Sarah Palin. He could have at least been the running mate. No botched interviews, no embarrassing “gotcha” moments, no flight of the conservative intellectuals, no combative press corps. Everyone gets along well with Huckabee, even anti-religious figures such as Bill Maher.

    No one wants to hear the “angry conservative” and no one is convinced by Glenn Beck’s phony crying. If we don’t tear the pro-life agenda away from these politically self-destructive forces and attach it to a political philosophy and movement that has a future (and a pulse), then we are responsible for its death.

  20. July 6, 2009 3:03 pm

    “Which brings up another problem: where in the heck was the widespread pro-life support for Huckabee? Why did Fred bloody Thompson win the NRLC endorsement when Huckabee was the only serious pro-life candidate? I knew from the start that John McCain had no chance against Obama. Huckabee has given eloquent speeches in defense of life from the moment of conception (and the second amendment and other important moral issues), but instead we were served up with a publicity stunt called Sarah Palin. He could have at least been the running mate. No botched interviews, no embarrassing “gotcha” moments, no flight of the conservative intellectuals, no combative press corps. Everyone gets along well with Huckabee, even anti-religious figures such as Bill Maher”

    JOe I was a huge huge Huckabee supporter. That being said I think you are being naive on this alternative Universe of a Huckabee VP pick

    No flight of conservative intellectuals? Good grief they hated Huckabee or at least many of them. One day a book will be written why Huckabee was seen as such a threat. I suspect that there was deal made with Romney on Health Care.

    • Joe Hargrave permalink
      July 6, 2009 6:40 pm

      I disagree. Geroge Will disliked him, I know that – but I don’t think the reaction to Huckabee would have been anywhere near as disastrous as it was to Palin. Huckabee knows how to play politics well without compromising his principles. They may dislike his principles but they have to appreciate his political acumen.

      As for the Limbaughs and Hannitys, they don’t really count.

  21. Gabriel Austin permalink
    July 6, 2009 3:35 pm

    There are many issues mingled all together in this discussion. Slavery is a red herring. To become a slave, disagreeable as it was, was not to die. Indeed as has often been pointed out, the lives of human beings under industrial capitalism, was far more disagreeable.

    The Shoah and abortion are indeed comparable. The underlying principle is to be rid of undesirables. The government supports abortion by not declaring it a crime. To say that so many practice it, therefore it is unstoppable, is like saying that many people cheat on their taxes, or break traffic laws.

    Bishops are, alas, not to be relied upon, no more than they were in the days of Arius. They are too comfortable with the powers that be.

    Denying Communion to abortion supporters may not be a much of a political act, but it at least draws the line where it should be drawn. Not to deny Communion is to put at risk the souls of the abortionists – doubling the sin.

    It would likely be useful to refers to “catholic born” instead of “Catholic” supporters of a woman’s right to choose [to go to hell].

    • Joe Hargrave permalink
      July 6, 2009 6:41 pm

      “To say that so many practice it, therefore it is unstoppable, is like saying that many people cheat on their taxes, or break traffic laws.”

      I didn’t say that, and hope you don’t think I said it. It is stoppable – but only with the right strategy.

  22. G-Veg permalink
    July 6, 2009 5:56 pm

    My mistake in the last General Election was that I was more focussed on winning than on choosing the right candidate. I saw a single party controlling the entire government and that possibility made my skin crawl. Consequently, I evaluated the candidates on whether or not they could first, beat Hillary Clinton and then, beat Mr. Obama.

    What is particularly daft about this “strategy” is that it assumed that I was competent to pick the most likely candidate to win. Far better informed persons with a more reliable cadre of insiders were in a better position than I was to choose the best candidate – from a strategery point of view that is.

    I didn’t give Huckabee even a passing chance at being elected and so gave him almost no consideration from the perspective of whether or not he would be a good President.

    I won’t make the same mistake next time.

    • Joe Hargrave permalink
      July 6, 2009 6:41 pm

      It takes more self-honesty than is usually displayed on internet forums to admit you made a mistake and call your own thinking “daft”. My kudos to you for that 🙂

  23. July 6, 2009 6:53 pm

    I disagree. Geroge Will disliked him, I know that – but I don’t think the reaction to Huckabee would have been anywhere near as disastrous as it was to Palin.

    Probably depends who one considers. I seem to recall that a good portion of the National Review writers strongly disliked Huckabee. I can’t recall what the big talk radio guys thought. (This is where never listening to talk radio becomes a handicap, I guess…)

    I would tend to think that Huckabee would have been attacked pretty ferociously by the left and mainstream media, while being repulsive to some secular conservatives in basically the same way Palin was.

    That said, I think Huckabee has more qualifications to be a serious candidate in future than Palin does, and I suspect he has a future in national politics which she probably does not.

  24. G-Veg permalink
    July 6, 2009 9:49 pm

    I wouldn’t count Gov. Palin out yet.

    I read an interesting post (on ACE I think) saying that then Senator Obama acknowledged that Gov. Palin’s greatest handicap is that it takes months of preparation and coaching to become a national candidate and that, at that point, she lacked that exposure.

    Gov. Palin has an undeniable appeal to a narrow but important segment of the GOP and the GOP would be wise to make sure she continues to pull those voters out to the polls.

    She very well might be ready for a campaign in 2011.

    Look, everyone said that the Philadelphia Eagles couldn’t win a Superbowl either but… Oh, wait…

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