October 12, 2004


Not In Good Conscience: Kerry would perpetuate a great evil (Robert P. George and Gerard V. Bradley, 10/12/04, National Review)

“History will judge our society's support of abortion in much the same way we view earlier generations' support of torture and slavery." These words appeared Monday in an essay published in — are you sitting down? — the New York Times.

You can get back up. There is an explanation. The point of the piece was to explain to Catholic citizens why they can in good conscience — indeed, why they should — vote for John Kerry. [...]

Having conceded the gravity and scope of the evil of abortion, the author, Mark W. Roche, dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame, unwittingly makes the decisive case for reelecting George W. Bush — the candidate who will be vindicated by history for his opposition to injustice on the scale of slavery prior to its abolition by the Thirteenth Amendment.

Dean Roche opens his case for Kerry by saying that while President Bush and the Republicans have the superior position on abortion and embryonic-stem-cell research, "the Democrats are close to the Catholic position on the death penalty, universal health care, and environmental protection."

This argument doesn't work. Neither candidate would abolish the death penalty, though Kerry would invoke it in fewer cases than Bush. But even assuming, as we are willing to do, that Catholics should oppose the death penalty on the basis of the Pope's recent development of the Church's historical teaching, no one can say that this teaching has the same status or urgency as the Church's teaching against the direct killing of the innocent, whether in abortion, embryo-destructive research, euthanasia, or the deliberate targeting of civilians in warfare. Nor is the degree of injustice the same or even close to the same. Nor is the scale of the wrong anything approaching 1.3 million deaths per year by abortion plus thousands more, if Kerry gets his way, in embryo-destructive research.

On questions of universal health care and environmental protection, the Church does not presume to bind its members to specific policies as matters of strict justice. True, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has developed policy proposals on health care, environmental protection, agricultural policy, immigration, tax policy, the minimum wage, and a host of other issues; but the bishops fully acknowledge that reasonable people of goodwill — including faithful Catholics — may legitimately reject these proposals in favor of alternatives. Many bishops themselves reject them. No Catholic is bound by them in the way that every Catholic is bound to oppose policies that license the injustice of deliberately taking innocent human life.

Roche's next move concerns the war in Iraq. He suggests, without ever quite saying so, that President Bush's decision to use military force to remove Saddam Hussein violates "the Catholic doctrine of 'just war.'" It is true that the Pope opposed the use of force. But he did not declare the war to be unjust; nor did he forbid Catholics from supporting it or Catholic soldiers from fighting in it. He respected the teaching of the Catechism and the entire tradition of Catholic thought about just war: It is up to the leaders of nations, and not to Church officials, to make the crucial prudential judgments as to whether a threat is sufficient to warrant the use of military force, and whether the legitimate alternatives to force are exhausted or will prove unavailing. Of course, Catholics needn't think that President Bush made all the right prudential judgments, nor need they agree with the president's strategic conduct of the war. But no one can legitimately claim a moral equivalence between Bush's decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein and Kerry's efforts to preserve, pay for, and even extend the practice of killing innocent human beings in utero and in vitro.

Roche's final bit of argument is the least promising of all. He says that "politics is the art of the possible." Then he argues that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to elect liberal Democrats like Kerry — the most virulent and uncompromising supporters of this slavery-like evil — because their social policies lead to lower abortion rates. His main piece of evidence for this remarkable claim is that "the overall abortion rate was more or less stable during the Reagan years, but during the Clinton presidency it dropped by 11 percent." So he suggests that the pro-life thing to do is to vote against the pro-life party and in favor of the party that would (1) implicate Catholics and other pro-life citizens in the evil of abortions by paying for them with taxpayer's money; (2) make sure that every single one of its Supreme Court nominees will support the virtually unlimited abortion license created in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton; and (3) create a massive industry in the production and destruction of embryos for purposes of biomedical research.

The attempt to reconcile one's conscience with the politics of the Democratic Party necessarily renders one morally incoherent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 12, 2004 7:33 PM

Wouldn't it be fun if a pol said, Quite Right, I agree w/your agenda 100%.

To fund it, we're going to remove your tax-exempt status.

Expression on face, priceless.

Posted by: Sandy P at October 13, 2004 12:12 AM

Yes, moral incoherence. A kind of blindness of the soul, due, perhaps, to an unwillingness to consider other possibilities than the tired, old, disproven favorites, which seemingly must be defended at ANY cost - moral, intellectual, or any other.

Posted by: D. L. Meadows at October 13, 2004 11:49 AM