Since I filed late Thursday evening about the clash of titans in the Catholic pro-life debate, a lot of what I sent over did not appear in the newspaper for space reasons. Here’s more of the text of the debate between 2 Catholic scholar/lawyers; one of whom sides with the Obama administration and one who does not.
These two men went head to head on whether the Obama Administration has any common ground with the pro-life movement.
In an invitation-only forum at the National Press Club attended by more than 200 people, Doug W. Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University law school, held fast to his assertion that the Obama administration is serious about reducing abortions.
Contesting him was Robert P. George, constitutional law professor at Princeton University, who challenged the administration to do something concrete such as forbidding second and third-term abortions, sex-selection abortions and partial-birth abortions.
Moderating the mini-fracas was former Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon who reminded us this was not a debate but a discussion. Hmmm. The whole thing HAD been pegged as a debate.
Anyway, from Mr. George, “If President Obama were interested in reducing the numbers of abortions, he would not subsidize abortion by public money,” he said. “He would not oppose parental consent laws, waiting periods and other laws that reduce the number of abortions.”
The two men represent different views on how to deal with a pro-choice Democratic administration that holds majorities in both houses of Congress. Mr. Kmiec broke ranks with many Catholics by – as a Republican - endorsing Barack Obama for president in March 2008 and saying Catholics would not be violating the tenets of their faith by supporting him. He has consistently supported Mr. Obama since then.
“Are we as Catholics expected to sit on the sidelines - aloof with the truth - talking to ourselves,” he asked, “or are we to engage our fellow citizens and offer that faith? The 2008 election was very much a test of that.”
The new president lined up on the right side on the environment, immigration and health care reform, he said, before taking a swipe at Catholic leaders who seemed to feel Mr. Kmiec had gone over to the Dark Side by siding with a Democrat.
“And then there is abortion; how to handle that question,” Mr. Kmiec said, adding that some bishops used ‘intimidation’ to keep Catholics from supporting Obama.
“The denial of Communion is intimidation,” he said. “To be separated from the body of Christ even once is intimidation,” referring to an April 2008 incident where a priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles denied Mr. Kmiec the sacrament because of his support of Mr. Obama. The priest later apologized.
For Catholic bishops to oppose pro-choice Catholics, he added, “is not either an effective nor a Catholic approach. Nor is it a Catholic approach to endorse candidates yet certain bishops endorse candidates. Nor should churches allow materials in their vestibule saying it is a sin of the highest order to cast a vote for Barack Obama.”
Fifty-four percent of all Catholics – including those who attend Mass regularly – voted for President Obama, he added.
Mr. George did not discuss the actions of Catholic bishops but instead concentrated on the president’s legislative record. He also leaned over backward to stress to his listeners where he and Mr. Kmiec agree. Those of us sitting in the peanut gallery began to wonder if the word came down that the speakers shouldn’t fight.
“Citizens must oppose the Obama administration’s [efforts] to expand abortion license and stem cell research,” Mr. George said. “I call on all pro-life Americans to find common ground with us in this great struggle for human equality, dignity and rights.”
“[Obama’s] views on the status and dignity and rights of the child in the womb are irreconcilable,” he added. “The issue cannot be fudged as people try to do by asking whether it really is a human being.”
He also added, “Obama’s reconrd as an activist, legislator and now as president is that an unborn baby possesses no rights. Throughout his career, he has denied every fundamental legislation that would discourage its practice or limit its liability.”
“President Obama does not profess to be personally opposed to abortion or feel it is a wrongful act…his belief in his policy is that abortion, if a woman chooses it, is not wrong.”
At the president’s May 17 commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, “he chose his words carefully,” Mr. George added. “He did not say he’d reduce abortions but the number of women who choose abortions…The president and people he’s placed in charge of this issue such as [Domestic Policy Council Director] Melody Barnes feel nothing is wrong with abortion because the child in the womb actually has no right not to be killed.
“He rejects what we and prolifers propose is common ground…He does not believe human beings acquire rights until after birth.”
The event lasted about 90 minutes but came to no obvious conclusion. I heard a few onlookers complain it was much too polite. The two men took a handful of questions from the audience. Mr. Kmiec was asked why he termed the efforts of some bishops to withhold Communion from pro-choice Catholics as “intimidation.”
“Those who saw Barack Obama as an alternative heard him saying the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade was not effective and he was articulating a vision that was,” Mr. Kmiec replied, referring to the landmark 1973 case legalizing abortion nationwide. “For bishops to use Canon 915” a church law that regulates who can and cannot take Communion” to say that’s an advocacy of abortion is just wrong.”
Mr. George was asked why he used words like “blood” and “bones” to describe early abortions when a fetus is barely formed.
“We have to face the facts,” he said. “The shedding of blood and the breaking of bones in surgical abortions are facts and we cannot avert our eyes from them.. .We need to admit what we have got here is a human being in the earliest stages of development.”
Note to readers: Yours truly did not tape the debate but typed quotes as fast as her little hands would allow. Sometimes she got sentence fragments and other times she got whole sentences. (Remember these are college professors speaking who rarely have a sentence with less than 20 words in it).
The overriding them of Mr. Kmiec’s remarks is that President Obama has already relaxed some of his hardline stances on fetal stem cell research (and is sending significant funding toward adult stem cell research) and a bill known in shorthand as FOCA - which would overturn every law restricting abortion. Obama, he said, has already walked away from a campaign promise he made in 2007 to Planned Parenthood that a FOCA bill from the Congress would be the first thing he’d bring about as president.
To be truly Catholic, he argued, one must allow debate and discussion with people one disagrees with. He especially backed the Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, for inviting Obama to speak.
“Father Jenkins, pursuing the image of the university…illustrated brilliantly what it means to be a catholic institution of integrity,” he said. “He engaged with the public discussion openly and respectfully, disagreeing with the president on his positions on abortion and stem cell research but applauding him on poverty, unjust economic system and so forth. The effort on common ground is not just our effort at extending a hand but the president of the United States doing it as well”
Working with the Democrats to get compromise solutions is not wrong he said, adding, “It is wrong to make the perfect the enemy of the good. It is wrong not to recognize the good heart heart toward possibilities toward respect for life from someone coming from a point of view we have not indulged in the past.”
There were more good quotes, folks, but I got some of the better ones.
- Julia Duin, religion editor