Douthat v. Kmiec on Abortion (Or: Why Europe Has It Right)

A self-described intemperate broadside by Ross Douthat against Douglas Kmiec re: abortion.

I have some sympathy with what Kmiec is doing.  I was especially appalled by his public rejection of the reception of the Eucharist at Mass, which I find pastorally reprehensible.  You can read Kmiec defend his position (quite lucidly) in this interview.

That being said, I tend to side with Douthat on this one.

Douthat here is spot on:

The trouble with seeking common ground on abortion is that the legal regime enacted by Roe and reaffirmed in Casey permits only the most minimal regulation of the practice, which means that any plausible “compromise” that leaves Roe in place will offer almost nothing to pro-lifers. Even the modest restrictions that prevail in many European countries (and that, not coincidentally, coincide with lower abortion rates) are out of the question under the current legal dispensation. This, in turn, explains why the national debate inevitably revolves around the composition of the Supreme Court and the either/or question of whether a president will appoint justices likely to chip away the RoeCasey regime or justices likely to uphold it.

If you follow the link Douthat provides to the BBC site on abortion in Europe, a majority of the countries have abortion per request in the first 12 weeks and after that only with doctor approval for  legitimate–and there are legitimate cases not scare quotes like John McCain used in the final debate–cases of health of mother.  As well as in some places with genetic screening of abnormalities.

While such a policy wouldn’t go far enough for the more right-wing pro-life movement (particularly on the abortion after birth defect screening issue) I think this is basically the right position.  It’s far from perfect, but I think it’s better than the US (non)debate with either party held by the extremes.

But the European parallel points to government working more in the role of passing legislation for morality/responsibility.  The policy on abortion in European countries is tied much more to the history of paternalism in European governance, which I always hear as the great enemy of true American exceptionalism from some on the right.  iow, Something like FOCA which I (like Kmiec) hope doesn’t pass, it could be argued is more deeply connected to the libertarian right model (no government regulation/influence) then the Euro model.

On the other hand, a point worth considering for Douthat, would be that if Roe were overturned, the legislative backlash that would ensue in many parts would enact pro-choice legislation much more liberal than is currently in place, even with the slanted playing field created by Roe & Casey.  A consistent federalist position on abortion would live with that reality I suppose and fair enough.

In short, it’s a mess and I don’t see anyway it’s going to get better any time soon.

Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Obama and Abortion

Ross Douthat writes:

But Warren, to his credit, didn’t pose a metaphysical question, or a biological one. He asked a legal question: “At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?” Obama tried to dodge by saying that from a “theological perspective” or a “scientific perspective” the issue is “above his pay grade.” But Warren asked a more narrow question, and one that any politician who votes on abortion laws should be able to answer. And of course, as a supporter of Roe and Casey, Obama does have an answer: He thinks that a baby acquires rights when it’s born – well, perhaps depending on how and why it happens to be born – and lacks them at every juncture before birth. He just didn’t want to come out and say it.

There’s two pieces in here. 1)The charge of the dodge and 2)The infanticide charge which Douthat I think being too cute by half references but throws in a perhaps to cover himself.

On the first, I actually think Douthat is (more or less) right that Obama dodged the question. One could argue I suppose that the distinction between a theological/scientific answer regarding status of a fetus and a legal one is without any real difference–i.e. the Warren legal route is simply a back door way of asking the same question. Because who is going to believe a fetus has rights and not believe from a philosophical and/or religious point of view its a full human being. But that aside, I think Douthat’s interpretation that Obama believes the individual has rights at birth is correct.

On the second, I find Douthat’s surfacing of what was originally a fringe-smear depressing (and beneath the quality of his blog, which I think is otherwise high). (more…)

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 5:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Pro-Life Christian Voters for Obama

Some good food for thought from Ross Douthat:

In practice, this means I’m much more sympathetic to a pro-life Catholic who’s supporting Barack Obama in order to vote against the life-and-death consequences of American interventionism, in Iraq and elsewhere – even though I’m skeptical about the merits of that particular calculus – than I am to a pro-life Catholic who’s voting for Obama because he thinks the distribution of the American tax burden conflicts with Catholic social thought. Or again, even as I disagreed with their assessment, I would have been much more sympathetic to a pro-life Mondale voter who took the view that Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy was raising the risk of thermonuclear war above and beyond any reasonable or acceptable level than to a pro-life Mondalenik who thought Reagan wasn’t doing enough to maintain the “preferential option for the poor” that Catholic social teaching calls for.

My position is not quite that of Douthat´s given that at most I would be for the overturning of Roe v. Wade realizing that quickly states would pass legislation in favor of abortion (federalist solution).  i.e. I oppose (not that it would ever happen anyway) a federal (so called) pro life amendment.  But as I see both parties totally dug in on this issue while the candidates from either party make references to possible non-orthodoxy, the reality to me seems otherwise.  e.g. McCain would most certainly appoint a justice that would give the court the veto of Roe v. Wade.  Obama of course would not.

With that particular divide seemingly unbridgeable for now, my vote based on foreign policy in my particular calculus of the life-death question.

And ditto the point that whatever the views on withholding communion to pro-choice voting Catholic politicians (which personally I am opposed to), there is no argument to be made for a Catholic voter having Communion withheld.  As happened to Doug Kmiec, a pro-life Catholic Obama supporter.

Published in: on June 3, 2008 at 11:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Guttmacher Study on Abortion

The comprehensive study which shows that laws criminalizing abortion do not reduce the number of abortions.  Worldwide abortions declined from 1995-2003.  The decline was steepest in countries were abortion was broadly legal and safe and prevention of unwanted pregnancy was the focus of policy.

From the article:

For every 1,000 women of childbearing age (15–44) worldwide, 29 were estimated to have had an induced abortion in 2003, compared with 35 in 1995. The decline was most substantial in Europe, where the rate fell from 48 to 28 abortions per 1,000 women, largely because of dramatic declines in Eastern Europe. On the whole, the abortion rate decreased more in developed countries, where abortion is generally safe and legal on broad grounds (from 39 to 26), than in developing countries, where the procedure is largely illegal and unsafe (from 34 to 29). Significantly, the abortion rate for 2003 was roughly equal in developed and developing regions—26 and 29, respectively—despite abortion being largely illegal in developing regions. Health consequences, however, vary greatly between the two regions, since abortion is generally safe where it is broadly legal and mostly unsafe where restricted.

I have my own moral ambivalence (meaning pulled in 2 directions not apathy) around abortion, being an adopted child.  Nevertheless I have never found myself on board with the legal position of the pro-Life movement in the US.  i.e. The goal of overturning Roe v. Wade.  It seems to me much more seeped religiously in the holiness tradition, the downside of which has always been a separation of individual souls from the reality of the world.  The ones who do no wrong–according to their standard of holiness–are free of the consequences of the evil in the world.  They simply pass the moral upright law and need not consider whether that actually helps reduce the evil in the world.

[For the record, I’m equally disgusted by the pro-choice lobbies, they also of the same position though in the reverse.  What matters most are laws/rights, not my own relationship with all beings.  Not responsibility.  Not consequence.]

26/29 per 1,000 is still too high.  Better than 35 no doubt.  But still too many.  And rather than actually work on the problem itself, the politics and moral arguments are built around the laws and the rules.  Which again has no practical effect on unborn babies/fetuses.  It signifies to me that both sides are more interested in their own righteousness than the issue itself.  Hypocrisy abounding in all directions.

Published in: on October 18, 2007 at 11:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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