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Both John McCain and the Democrats are giving Catholics reasons to reconsider which party can and will do more to reduce the number of abortions in America.
When on August 11, McCain told the Weekly Standard that he welcomed pro-choice Republicans, he articulated openly what has been obvious for some time: the GOP uses the issue to get votes, but will not outlaw abortion. In other words, it is foolish to think that voting for Republicans is the “Catholic” thing to do.
On the other hand, no less an expert than Prof. Douglas Kmiec, once professor of law at Catholic University, and a former Reagan Administration lawyer who wrote briefs for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, now says the Democrats have a stronger approach to reducing abortions.
Kmiec is a veteran of the pro-life cause and his reasoning is best explained in his own words, not in the shortened space of this column. Nonetheless, coming as it does so close to McCain’s embrace of pro-choice Republicans, Kmiec’s redefined position represents a significant shift in the abortion aspect of the “culture wars.”
As I understand him, Kmiec recognizes that as long as Roe v. Wade stands, there can be no legislation or executive orders outlawing all abortions. But even putting together a majority of Supreme Court justices willing to overturn Roe v. Wade will not end abortion, said this legal scholar on August 12. “We’ve been trying to find the elusive fifth vote on the Supreme Court for over 30 years. We have not found it and even if we did find it, overturning Roe will not save a single life but instead merely return the question to the states.”
Kmiec has contributed to the drafting of a Democratic Party platform that includes pro-life positions just as McCain welcomes pro-choice Republicans, tempting one to suggest the proverbial skepticism that “There is not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.” However, Prof. Kmiec has not lapsed into a silent cone of neutrality on the abortion issue. He now suggests that the approach of the Democrats to abortion is better than the Republican one. By emphasizing pro-life programs like guaranteed health insurance, programs in pre-natal care and government support to families, says this pro-life warrior of many years, the Democrats have become the more effective political force against abortion. In his thinking, Roe v. Wade is already being “killed by a thousand cuts” with efforts at the state and local level that impose regulations and simultaneously improve the quality of social services. The overall result is to reduce the appeal of abortion.
I am not suggesting that Prof. Kmiec speaks for all Catholics: but he does represent the thinking of a significant number. Moreover, he is an expert in legal matters where many of those who reject his new definition are amateurs. Strikingly, Kmiec has endorsed Barack Obama for president on account of the Democrat’s pro-life policies. As maintained consistently in this column, such a decision is coherent within Catholic America. In the exercise of the freedom afforded by our faith, a vote for a Democrat is just as valid a decision made from a faith perspective as a vote for a Republican. Any thinking Catholic must pick and choose from among the various partisan recommendations and party candidates as to which one is most likely to pursue Catholic values in office.
Every Catholic is taught by our faith to oppose abortion. Catholics within both parties can take credit for this crusade of a generation that has produced a substantial change of political tides, so that today neither presidential candidate supports abortion on demand. Now, just in time for the 2008 presidential election, Prof. Kmiec tells us that the more effective path to opposing abortion can be found with the Democratic Party, which has just put Catholic Joe Biden into the Vice-Presidential slot. Since Republican candidate Senator John McCain has simultaneously expressed his openness to the pro-choice options for the GOP, every Catholic must reconsider which party will do more to counter abortions. While there are no easy answers, we are at last freed from the knee-jerk right-wing response.