Kmiec on Korzen, Kelly and Chaput – A Matter of Priorities

“Catholic Answers: Two books for voters who take their faith seriously”– Doug Kmiec, who has lately become something of a poster-boy and spokesman for ‘Catholics for Obama’, reviews Archbishop Chaput’s Render unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (Doubleday, 2008) and A Nation for All How the Catholic Vision of the Common Good Can Save America from the Politics of Division , by Chris Korzen and Alexia Kelley.

As to be expected, Kmiec finds a sympathetic ear in Korzen & Kelley, given their assertion that Catholics have become ‘preoccupied’ with abortion to the subordination of peace, the environment and welfare:

In a thoughtful chapter on issues of church and state, Korzen and Kelley demonstrate how emphasizing anti-Roe strategies alone sits uneasily with the church’s promise of religious freedom to all in Vatican II’s Dignitatis humanae (1965). Catholic social doctrine, they write, quoting Benedict XVI’s Deus caritas est, “has no intention of giving the church power over the state. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith.” And quoting John Paul II’s Evangelium vitae, Korzen and Kelley note that “when it is impossible to overturn or repeal a law allowing abortion which is already in force…an elected official…[may] support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law.” To reduce abortion they suggest providing health care and economic assistance to women and families, robust alternatives such as support for adoption and appropriate and effective sex education for young people, and a host of other policy measures that have proved capable of reducing the abortion rate in the United States and around the world. Thanks to the efforts of Sen. Obama, much of that language is now in the Democratic Party platform.

As I’ve contended elsewhere, I think it is a mistake on the part of Korzen and Kelly to frame the abortion debate as a chiefly “religious” issue — and Roe v. Wade as involving one’s “religious freedom.” As Dr. Robert P. George observed, this is a fairly commmon tactic among those who advocate unrestricted access to abortion:

It was Justice Harry Blackmun who claimed in his opinion for the Court legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade (1973) that “at this point in man’s knowledge” the scientific evidence was inconclusive and therefore cold not determine the outcome of the case. And twenty years later, the influential pro-choice writer Ronald Dworkin went on record claiming that the question of abortion is inherently “religious.” (See Ronald Dworkin, Life’s Dominion(Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).) It is pro-choice advocates, such as Dworkin, who want to distinguish between when a human being comes into existence “in the biological sense” and when a human being comes into existence “in the moral sense.” It is they who want to distinguish a class of human beings “with rights” from pre-(or post-) conscious human beings who “don’t have rights.” And the reason for this, I submit, is that, short of defending abortion as “justifiable homicide,” the pro-choice position collapses if the issue is to be settled purely on the basis of scientific inquiry into the question of when a new member of homo sapiens comes into existence as a self-integrating organism whose unity, distinctiveness, and identity remain intact as it develops without substantial change from the point of its beginning through the various stages of its development and into adulthood.

As Catholics we believe in the sanctity of human life — but this is not to say that the proposition that innocent human beings deserve protection under the law, particularly those in the womb unable to defend themselves can be seriously engaged by anybody.

Catholic conservatives would readily concur that we should — beyond the prohibition of abortion and the legal recognition of the unborn — strive to reduce abortion by other socio-economic means. However, in appealing to Evangelium Vitae in defense of the Democratic Party’s platform, they skip over the Holy Father’s admonition that:

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection

In fact, one would be hard-pressed to square Catholic support for Obama on this matter given his stated intention to pass The Freedom of Choice Act, which — as Cardinal Rigali recently warned — “if enacted, would obliterate virtually all the gains of the past 35 years and cause the abortion rate to skyrocket.”

Chaput asserts that in order for Catholics may vote for a pro-choice candidate, they must have a reason of such gravity that “with an honest heart, expect unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions-as we someday will.” Kmiec laments:

That is indeed a high threshold; unfortunately Chaput applies it only to the cultural methods of promoting life usually favored by Democrats. Of course, voting for a “prolife” candidate does not guarantee that he will appoint Supreme Court justices who accept the church’s natural-law arguments against abortion. Nor does it mean that anti-Roe appointees will be approved by what is sure to be a Democratic Congress. Is a Catholic voter supposed to overlook how the Republican Party has failed to deliver Roe’s reversal in thirty-five years? Given that political reality, how could “voting prolife” in that narrow and unsuccessful sense be a sufficient explanation to the victims of abortion?

Several points of criticism here:

Despite Kmiec’s appreciation for Chaput’s “well-constructed, thoughtful, and accessible arguments” and “impressive command of church documents and literature,” he is disappointed by the fact that “apart from the issue of abortion and related sexual matters, most of the social gospel that dominates Korzen and Kelley’s book is absent from Chaput’s.”

Korzen and Kelley argue that the GOP’s claim that voting for anti-Roe candidates is the way to vote Catholic has hampered a fuller presentation of the church’s social teaching. Does Chaput make their point for them?

Perhaps, perhaps not. I think if you asked Chaput directly, he would counter:

“Obviously, we have other important issues facing us this fall: the economy, the war in Iraq, immigration justice. But we can’t build a healthy society while ignoring the routine and very profitable legalized homicide that goes on every day against America’s unborn children. The right to life is foundational. Every other right depends on it. Efforts to reduce abortions, or to create alternatives to abortion, or to foster an environment where more women will choose to keep their unborn child, can have great merit—but not if they serve to cover over or distract from the brutality and fundamental injustice of abortion itself. We should remember that one of the crucial things that set early Christians apart from the pagan culture around them was their rejection of abortion and infanticide. Yet for thirty-five years I’ve watched prominent “pro-choice” Catholics justify themselves with the kind of moral and verbal gymnastics that should qualify as an Olympic event. All they’ve really done is capitulate to Roe v. Wade.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t end this without mentioning Amy Welborn’s magnificent demolishing of the “You know, the anti-abortion movement just has to get over its fixation with overturning Roe and put its effort into reducing abortion”criticism . . . which just so happens to be Kmiec’s, Korzen’s and Kelly’s. If you haven’t already, I greatly recommend it.

5 Responses to Kmiec on Korzen, Kelly and Chaput – A Matter of Priorities

  1. I cannot help but believe that these guys simply have no interest in abortion as an issue. I don’t believe their insistence that they are somehow pro-life, nor can I believe that they honestly think that Barack Obama will cure war and poverty in the same way that they criticize Republicans for not having ended abortion.

    At best, these guys may think that they’ll be pro-life later, when there ain’t-a gonna be no war no more, and when the poor are no longer with us. But I can’t help my suspicion that, even if they could achieve these things, they’d still want to uphold the “right” to an abortion.

    Their refusal to be taught by the bishops and the Holy Father on this issue is most telling. They are desperate to justify their vote for Obama and the new ardently pro-abortion regime he promises. Maybe they can sleep at night after spending their days giving such scandal, but I couldn’t.

  2. I believe it is utter rationalization to vote for Democrats, who champion the culture of death in all its forms, because the Republicans haven’t eliminated abortion themselves. Congress operates on coalitions, and, Bush has only been able to get two Supremes through…both pro-life.

    Simply put, it is the ONLY issue this year…everything else pales next to the sacred duty of all Christians to uphold “personhood!” The Natural Law, upholds the dignity of each human life, but, for Christians, it is the Holy Trinity, ie., “three Divine Persons in communion,” which bestows ultimate dignity on human personhood. “Personhood” is the ultimate victim in every abortion.”

  3. “Of course, voting for a “prolife” candidate does not guarantee that he will appoint Supreme Court justices who accept the church’s natural-law arguments against abortion. Nor does it mean that anti-Roe appointees will be approved by what is sure to be a Democratic Congress.”

    Is Kmiec trying to say that only “natural law” jurists will be anti-Roe?

    One of Kmiec’s arguments that really concerns me holds that we’ve been counting anti-Roe justices wrong.

    First, because the GOP is unwilling to make openly the case for overturning Roe, we have to judge anti-Roe justices by circumstantial evidence, like whether his wife is a strong pro-life woman.

    Even if a justice is putatively anti-Roe, he or she might not completely overturn Roe but only make minor piecemeal changes. The justice might be more committed to stare decisis or schools of jurisprudence that would mitigate his or her desire to fully overturn the decision.

    As for FOCA, I’d like to know if it has a realistic chance of passing even under a predominantly Democratic Congress.

  4. Zach says:

    But why is the GOP unwilling to openly make the case for overturning Roe?

    I think it is because this type of campaigning is easily misunderstood; people may misunderstand the Constitution and the law. It also might not be a very winning issue politically.

    I don’t think this is a good excuse, but it’s probably why they’re not doing it.

  5. Nathan says:

    Kevin – FOCA has been attempted in the past. However, there is more support for it from members of Congress than ever more. The current legislation was introduced April 19, 2007. Planned Parenthood is actively campaigning for the bill. See:

    Given our country’s political climate at this time in history, it would be imprudent for Catholics to assume the FOCA is too radical to ever be passed.

    The house bill has already more than 107 cosponsors (106 Democrats, one Republican). To view an always-current list of co-sponsors, arranged by state, click here for the current list:

    The senate version introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.), had more than 19 Democratic cosponsors, including presidential candidate Barack Obama (IL) plus Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY), and independent Joseph Lieberman (Ct.). To view an always-current list of co-sponsors, arranged by state, click

    This bill is so dangerious that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Secretariat has urged clear, vigilant, and persistent advocacy against the “Freedom of Choice Act” (or FOCA). The Pro-Life Secretariat has expressed grave concern to state Catholic conferences that FOCA would, if enacted and signed into law, sweep away hundreds of pro-life laws and policies at the state and federal levels! Check out the USCCB-approved alert released September 24, 2008:

    For a careful legal analysis of FOCA by the USCCB’s Office of General Counsel, see:

    Cardinal Rigali recently warned “if enacted, would obliterate virtually all the gains of the past 35 years and cause the abortion rate to skyrocket.” See the September 30, 2008 press release from USCCB about FOCA:

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