Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
October 23rd, 2008

For Your Consideration

Why America's decency, civility and moral integrity is at stake in this year's election


As young people reflect upon this election, they ought to step back from war, the economy, and other pressing issues and recognize that the critical issues of our day continue to be abortion and marriage. Young Catholics stand to gain, or lose more than anyone else in this election because of the candidates’ profoundly different views about these two issues.

Abortion undermines our decency and civility as a society more than any other form of aggression. The imposition of same-sex marriage by courts or legislatures is also likely to erode our society’s moral integrity as well as intensify the culture war. To those who argue that the permission of same sex marriage will establish a consensus on the issue, I simply ask them to consider how wrong people were in thinking back in 1973 that Roe v. Wade would end the debates about abortion in America.

Embryology shows that a new member of the human species is created at conception, and the social sciences (see www.princetonprinciples.org) show marriage between a man and a woman to be the best arrangement for raising children. Same-sex marriage is bad for those with same-sex attraction just as abortion has been very bad for women and their children.

America’s support of both same-sex marriage and abortion reinforce Muslims’ perceptions (increasingly noted by scholars of contemporary Islam) that we actually encourage the breeding of terrorists because of our moral and religious laxity.

Lastly, legal experts warn that if same-sex marriage is enshrined as a right, communities of faith who believe that same-sex marriage is wrong will have their religious freedom taken away from them in various ways. There is already a case in Massachusetts of parents not being permitted to have their child opt out of a school class that teaches homosexuality to be the moral equivalent of heterosexuality.

Religious liberty scholars see a train wreck approaching as two views of homosexuality and how this is treated in the classroom will clash in the near future. People that consider homosexuality to be wrong will be considered bigots in some places they already are.

Profound Effects
As never before in recent history, the result of this election will affect the number of innocent lives killed in this country by abortion. The next president stands to appoint at least one Supreme Court Justice who will either shift the majority of the Court toward overturning Roe v. Wade, leave things as they are, or remove the few restrictions on abortion that have been permitted. We can be reasonably confident that the judges McCain selects will be pro-life and that the judges Obama selects will be pro-choice. The candidates’ records strongly support this view.

To determine how overturning Roe would reduce abortions, we have to realize that the law shapes how we behave by either reinforcing or eroding our good moral intuitions.

We can quibble as to the exact numbers, but the evidence is clear that there was a very significant increase in abortions after Roe was decided in 1973, and yet nothing changed but the law. We can then quite reasonably conclude that overturning Roe will reduce the number of abortions.

One could argue that the culture was changing also, but that would not explain the dramatic increase in such short time. Cultural changes normally occur gradually.

If, as I mentioned above, the legalization of abortion predisposes society to be vicious, would overturning Roe make us not vicious?

Not entirely, but perhaps less vicious.

Overturning Roe would not make abortion illegal: it would only remove the protections on abortion that currently forbid the federal government or the states from prohibiting the procedure (except in the case of partial-birth abortion). Overturning Roe would reopen the process of debate and education about abortion that is vital in a democracy, and would thereby restore the freedom of the electorate.

A law can be bad law because of the way in which it is created or because of its content. Roe is bad on both counts. After Roe some states would permit abortions but others would not, and the result would be better than our present situation.

There would actually be more freedom of choice because people in different local governments would have the freedom to enact laws regarding abortion as they saw fit: either to prohibit it or to permit it.

People collectively would be less angry because those who oppose abortion would not have it imposed on them by unelected court officials as in the current situation. This scenario would not be perfect, but better than the present.

What about the candidates?
Are the candidates positions on abortion relevant only on the presumption that a Supreme Court Justice will retire? No. There are many other ways in which the president can affect abortion policy.

Based on the record of what each one of the candidates has done and has promised to do, it is clear that Obama’s policies, setting aside the question of the Supreme Court, would be the most permissive ever with regards to abortion.

Consider, for example, his strong support for passing the Freedom of Choice Act. Why is abortion graver than, say, poverty, torture, or other forms of killing (none of which McCain supports)?

Because abortion always directly kills an innocent life. No other form of direct, intentional killing or vice is so clearly evil, either in wars, self-defense, or the use of force against criminals.

However, some Catholic politicians, theologians, and public intellectuals have put abortion on par with many other evils. But their arguments neither withstand reasoned scrutiny, nor are they supported by the Catholic Church.

We can debate whether or not to kill in a particular case of self-defense, but there is no debate in the case of abortion. The Catholic Church and common sense teach that the moral gravity of abortion is greater than all others.

Left Up to the States
In terms of the issues surrounding marriage, some say that both candidates’ positions are roughly equivalent.

Not true.
While both McCain and Obama have claimed that they believe marriage is between one man and one woman, and both believe the question should be left up to the states, their positions differ significantly in detail.

For instance, Obama has publicly stated his opposition to California’s Proposition 8, which would overturn the California Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, while McCain has publicly supported the measure. McCain voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, while Obama has stated that he opposes it.

While it may be a matter of opinion whether the leadership of the Democratic Party has been co-opted by forces that make it extremely pro-gay marriage and pro-choice, it is not an opinion without some foundation in reality. Democrats or Independents should reflect on just how difficult it is for human beings to extricate themselves from entrenched positions, unless forced by necessity or God’s grace.

Do not go along with those who have firmly committed themselves to abortion. Vote pro-life and pro-family. Force the Democratic Party to change in these crucial issues.

For a different perspective: “Something New in the Abortion Debate

The Author : Luis Tellez
Luis Tellez is the President of the Witherspoon Institute (www.winst.org). The Witherspoon Institute publishes The Public Discourse, www.thepublicdiscourse.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • John

    Wow…….this truly is crazy talk. Talk like this in our country scares me…

  • Jan Baker

    I am pro-life, myself, in all ways, including environmental ones, and in that pro-life position I am acting as a Catholic. Catholics were the first greens, embracing and celebrating what we call poverty of spirit because Christ chose to be born in the poorest circumstances, not as a prince or rich merchant.

    That said, I go to a local abortion clinic every Saturday to do what I can to give women alterntives. (I carry contact information of women’s centers here who truly help women materially and spiritually.) What I see there convinces me that Roe v. Wade must be overturned to protect women. Every Saturday I see women being literally shoved into the clinic, literally the hand on the back shoving, or dragging by the arm from the front. Several weeks ago I witnessed an African American woman in the foyer on her knees in front of an African American man, clutching his shirt, looking up at him with eyes that were brimming with agony. I don’t think I have ever in my whole life witnessed such naked pain on anyone’s face. And he knocked her hands free from his shirt, and with a look of just horrible disdain, he smoothed out the fabric of his fine pink shirt, and then he pointed at the interior door of the clinic.

    I wanted to kill him. Seriously It’s a good thing I’m a Christian. But she went.

    If abortion were illegal, the law would be on her side. She would have had the moral right to say, I won’t do anything illegal. Now, presently, she has nothing to back her up except “her feelings” and evidentally there are too many women whose feelings don’t count for much in this world. Because I see them every Saturday.

    Roe v. Wade must be overturned, if it takes a civil war. Just as we expect there should have been a civil war in Germany over the Jews. Or in Israel now over the Palestinians, for that matter. Much later, what side you were on during this election may matter to future generations just as much. Obama has committed himself to over-turning every state amelioration of abortion or limitation.

    Oh how we need a candidate with liberal economic policies and firm social values on gay marriage, divorce, and abortion.

  • Kevin

    My biggest concern is when Obama is president he may, or probably in time, force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions—this will lead to THE CLOSING of hundreds of US hospitals as it must since these institutions answer ultimately to a higher authority and must not violate that or lose their Catholic identity. Now imagine the pain, suffering now put onto the poor and others because of an insane and extreme position by our Democrat controlled national leadership. This will happen before additional liberal pro abortion Court jurists are appointed sealing the US fate for 30 or more years. Folks need to get right with God now and leave this mayhem aside.

  • Bridget

    The heading for section two should read
    Profound Effects i.e. what it would cause, instead
    of Profound Affects (deep feelings) which might be a by-product but not the meaning you sought.
    Hey, at least I read it!

  • Zeb

    This is crazy talk. “Gay marriage” is nowhere near as important to me or my country as war, global warming, economics, and many other policy matters. Abortion will keep me from voting for Obama, but I must say that Christians cannot in good faith vote on “issues.” It is real people’s lives that matter. What is a reasonable estimate for the number of lives that will be saved by McCain’s abortion policy versus Obama’s? How about the same question regarding war, climate change, poverty, health care? Both men are so viciously anti-life that I can’t, as a Christian, support either. But this is the first time I have felt certain that a Republican would compensate for his anti-abortion stances with other massively pro-death positions.

  • EM

    Dear Mr. Tellez: Are you seriously contending that the moral/Catholic position should be to totally ignore the issues of healthcare, unjust wars, genocide, poverty, education, immigration, the environment, and the global economic crisis?!? Are these not LIFE issues? Do they not speak to the dignity of persons who are already alive? Or do they not matter? Plus, did you ever dare to consider the possibility that if Catholics made their number one priority the creation of a just world that respected the dignity of all living persons we might see a much greater reduction in the number of abortions than a mere criminalization could ever accomplish?

    I also find your arguments on the gay marriage issue to be very weak. You cite a study that says that the ideal home environment for children is with a married man and a woman. What does that have to do with the issue? Even if gay MARRIAGE is not permitted, gay couples will still live together, and if they have children, the children will still live there. The only possible study that could have any relevance on this issue would be a study that said children who grow up with gay parents who are not married fare worse than those who have gay parents who are married. You cite no such study, probably because common sense dictates that children will thrive most in home settings that are more stable, not less. Your only other argument is that we should support a gay marriage ban because it supports the breeding of terrorists. Are you serious? Does that mean if in some radical version of Islam the lack of honor killings would be sign of “moral laxity” that we should enact laws that support honor killings? Come on. At least make a rational argument before you suggest that we compromise on all issues of social justice.

  • RR

    Afraid to see a McCain endorsement in print on a website I normally enjoy, I have been avoiding reading any election-related Busted Halo entries in print. Now that I’ve read one, I’m removing my name from the subscriber list. See you in another century…

  • JL

    Please remember that there are other offices up for grabs this election that dramatically affect this issue. I believe that current polling shows that the Senate could be looking at a 60% Democratic holding – that would make it filibuster proof. Current polling also shows substantial percentage of the House could swing Democrat. This means that any Judicial nominee would need to be approved by a strongly Democratic Congress. Even should a Republican President nominate.

    These days Judicial nominees are rarely extreme on the ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ sides. You usually can’t get such a nominee past the vetting and approval of the Congress. They also do not want to offer comments on hypothetical cases. To do so would be pre-judging a case and considered a huge faux pas in the nomination process and by his or her peers. You have their past decisions to look to and any papers published over their careers. More than the conservative or liberal labels, you are dealing with strict constructionists or intent when you are talking about a judicial nominee’s perspective on how to interpret the Constitution.

    It is also rare that the Court will take an extreme activist role. When it does it comes to either reverse itself or be supported by laws at the local, state, or federal level. Some judicial activism I’m sure we’d all agree was good – Brown v. Board. Some we can all agree was bad – Dred Scott decision. Some are debatable for people.

    Ultimately, the author is correct. Even if Roe is overturned, it will be sent back to the states. Some will ban abortions, some will allow them. All will have fresh debates on a local level.

    DC, you paint with broad strokes a complex institution made of millions of individuals with two thousand years of theological, moral, and social teachings. You have some valid points, those economic concerns do have a high correlation to abortion statistics. Why cannot both the laws and the economics be addressed? If you do not want us to be single, or double, issue voters, then why should we not expect to have more than one policy agenda?

    I’ll continue to support my faith (Catholic) in its life teachings. I’ll help others to better understand it. I will meditate, pray, and thoughtfully examine my beliefs to continue growing personally and help me make (hopefully) wise and good decisions every day, and on Election Day.

  • dICK

    When Jesus spoke of protecting life he meant all life. Life is the gospel value – not just innocent life.

  • Susan

    Actually the church understands that other issues effect abortion very well. The Bishops put out a recent letter saying that Catholics are bound to support women who seek abortions equally to trying to eliminate abortion on demand. We need both–clearly and absolutely.

    The letter can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/Rigali-Murphy-Joint-Statement.pdf

  • DC

    Why is it that the Catholic Church cannot understand that other issues effect the number of abortions, etc– vis, economic circumstances, particularly among lower income people, who are most likely to seek abortions anyway. In this election, it would seem particularly important to scrutinize the economic proposals of the candidates to see who is more likely to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable, to give options to women who might otherwise seek abortion for fear of not being able to feed themselves or their children.

    Furthermore, this insistence that gay unions (to not even speak of marriage, in the religious sense) somehow cheapen the institution of marriage is absolutely ridiculous– the fact that these people seek to solidify their relationships in marriage should speak to the respect our culture has for that institution, irregardless of the rampant culture of divorce, for which the blame falls squarely “traditional” couples.

    Being a one-issue or two-issue voter is ultimately narrow-minded, bad for the country, and reflects a lack of understanding of the complexity and interrelatedness of all of what we might consider to be “moral” issues.

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