Roman Catholics for Obama '08
Some ignore his pro-abortion voting record, others rationalize it.
by Paul Kengor | June 2008
The first time I learned about the practice I was horrified. It was the mid-1990s. The source was Sharon Dunsmore, a nurse in a hospital NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) who wrote a small booklet about the experience. One day on the job she had been summoned “stat” to the delivery room to deal with an “oops abortion”—a failed abortion in which the baby unexpectedly survived, or, as Dunsmore quoted the pediatrician on the scene, “had the audacity to survive.”
The team struggled as to whether to continue intubating the child—now a little boy, not a “fetus”—who clearly was not going to make it, mangled and destroyed as he was. He gasped for air as the doctor left the room, allowing nature to take its cruel course, leaving the boy with Dunsmore. No further medical care would be administered.
Typically in these situations, the infant is left alone—on a cold metal table, in a corner, on a bare bed, in a trash can. Dunsmore did not have the heart to do that. She stayed with the boy.
In her account, Dunsmore went into painstaking detail about what happened next—the breathing, the wetting—with such vividness that I, a mere distant reader, couldn’t decide whether to cry or vomit. Recalling the scene she described never ceases to make me sad. She wrote of how she named him “Tiny Tim,” took him in her arms, held his little hand, and sang to him: “Jesus loves the little children….” The little boy fought as best he could, but to no avail. She whispered “goodbye” to him, and told him he “did matter to someone.”
I have never forgotten that story and since then have even met some of these abortion survivors, one of whom visited Grove City College to speak before a spellbound group of our students at the campus chapel a few years ago.
OBAMA’S STANCE ON ABORTION
The United States Congress has also learned about this grisly reality, and finally, in 2002, passed the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, requiring that babies like Tiny Tim who survive abortions receive medical care from the medical professionals in their midst—medical professionals who suddenly must morph from killers to their traditional roles of healers and helpers.
The bill was so obviously necessary and became so popular that it faced no real opposition, even from the most fanatical of Congress’ pro-abortion extremists, including Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, and Ted Kennedy. Even NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League, supported the legislation.
Indeed, who could ever oppose such legislation? Actually, there is someone: Barack Obama, who appears as of May to be the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, and possibly the next president of the United States.
Obama was not a member of the US Senate at the time that the Born Alive Infants Protection Act passed unanimously through both chambers of Congress. But he was a member of the Illinois state legislature, where similar legislation was introduced at the state level. There, Obama twice voted against the legislation, in 2002 and 2003, and as chair of the Health and Human Services Committee blocked another attempt to bring the legislation to the floor of the Illinois Senate.
The pro-life community in the state of Illinois was aghast, and pro-life Catholics were horrified. Yet today Catholics around the country are lining up to endorse Barack Obama’s candidacy for president of the United States. They are stumping hard for Obama, who, if elected, has promised to do whatever he can to appoint justices and support legislation guaranteeing decades of protection for Roe v. Wade.
CATHOLICS IN HIS CAMP
Who are these Catholics? They are an eclectic bunch, from politicians like Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Democratic Governor Tim Kaine (Va.), Democratic Governor Bill Richardson (N.M.), Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-Mass.), Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) to Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team.
The support of the Kennedys and Kerrys is no surprise; they are pro-abortion party hacks. But the endorsement of Dan Rooney, known to be a daily communicant, is bizarre. Among other reasons, his team’s brutal Steel Curtain and Blitz-burg defenses do not call to my mind the image of the man that National Journal ranks as the most liberal member of the US Senate.
There are also, of course, the predictable “Catholic” colleges that, in defiance of repeated warnings by the bishops regarding Catholic institutions and pro-abortion politicians, have offered platforms to Obama in the form of on-campus political rallies: St. Peter’s College in New Jersey (in January) and Loras College in Iowa (in March).
But no group of Catholics seems quite as odd as the one titled “Roman Catholics for Obama ’08,” which dubs Barack Obama “the best and right candidate for Catholic voters.” The group asserts: “[W]e, as Catholics, believe Catholics can and should vote for Barack Obama because his platform aligns well with Catholic Social Teaching.”
Their website (www.romancatholicsforobama.com) leads with a long quote from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which states, “The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of the moral vision for society … In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and euthanasia.”
But the group completely ignores the fact that Obama’s record contradicts this statement, instead underscoring Obama’s stance on the death penalty, terrorism, Iran, American diplomacy, regional diplomacy, nuclear weapons, the “21st century military,” gun policy, global poverty, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “new partnerships in Asia,” Darfur, and “the culture of secrecy.” In short, the group focuses on everything except the primary moral principles taught authoritatively by the Catholic Church.
Navigating one’s way around the website of “Roman Catholics for Obama ’08” is a dispiriting immersion in inanity, moral equivalency, and delusional thinking. This is likewise true for another (ecumenical) website, www.faith.barackobama.com, which has posted a number of endorsements from Catholics like “Tamara S.” of Roswell, Georgia, who says, “I’m disturbed by the hijacking of the Republican party by far-right Christians.” Or take this one: “I have no interest in living in a theocracy,” writes Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, who is most concerned with “issues of poverty and issues of justice and equal access and opportunity, especially when dealing with children and education and healthcare.”
CASEY SUPPORTS OBAMA
Many of these Catholics dismiss or downplay the Church’s teachings on the sanctity and dignity of human life. But what about the explicitly pro-life Catholics who are supporting Obama? The two most high-profile, Catholic pro-life endorsers of Barack Obama for president are Bob Casey, Jr. and Doug Kmiec.
Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. is the son of and heir to the great pro-life stalwart, Governor Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania. It was hard to find a pro-life Democrat as principled as the late governor, who was named in the title of the 1992 court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The late Casey was shocked by the abortion stridency of his party, so much so that in 1996 he considered a run for the presidency against the incumbent president from his own party, Bill Clinton. In 2006, the younger Casey, who is likewise considered a pro-life Catholic Democrat, unseated the strongest pro-lifer in the US Senate, Senator Rick Santorum. Since then, Casey has been a grave disappointment, not at all picking up the torch from Santorum.
Consequently, it was not surprising to learn that in the thick of the crucial Pennsylvania primary, Casey endorsed Barack Obama for president. He then announced he would be touring Pennsylvania cities with Obama, including, incidentally, those small towns in rural areas that Obama said were comprised of “bitter” folks who “cling” to God and guns out of frustration at the federal government’s failures.
If Obama had won Pennsylvania on April 22 rather than losing to Hillary Clinton by 10 points, he would have been propelled to the Democratic Party nomination in Denver. So, Casey jumped into the fray to do his part.
Casey was also there with Obama at the April 13 “Compassion Forum” at Pennsylvania’s Messiah College, broadcast by CNN. Abortion rights fell into the category of “compassion” for Obama, who fenced a question about whether he believes life begins at conception by saying, “I don’t presume to know the answer to that question.” Earlier in the campaign Obama had made the stunning remark that if one of his young daughters got pregnant out of wedlock, he would not want her to be “punished with a baby.”
THE CASE OF DOUG KMIEC
If any of this bothers Casey, he hasn’t expressed it. Casey’s endorsement of Obama demonstrates that he is first and foremost a Democrat who places party loyalty above moral principle. The same cannot be said, however, of the endorsement of Obama by Douglas W. Kmiec, who has long been thought to be a conservative Catholic Republican.
Kmiec, a former counsel to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, was the dean of the Catholic University of America School of Law. He is currently chair of constitutional law at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He recently was an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Kmiec calls Obama “a natural for the Catholic vote.”
“Today I endorse Barack Obama for president of the United States,” announced Kmiec in a March 23 statement posted at Slate.com. “I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence, and genuine good will.”
Unlike other Catholics who ignore the issue altogether, Kmiec addressed his difference with Obama over abortion. But he deals with the difference unconvincingly. Kmiec acknowledges that he believes life begins at conception, “and it is important for every life to be given sustenance and encouragement,” then renders this stance meaningless with a vague hope about Obama’s openness: “In various ways, Sen. Barack Obama and I may disagree on aspects of these important fundamentals, but I am convinced, based upon his public pronouncements and his personal writing, that on each of these questions he is not closed to understanding opposing points of views and, as best as is humanly possible, he will respect and accommodate them.”
To which public pronouncements is Kmiec referring? Recall Obama’s remarks to a screaming Planned Parenthood crowd last July, to whom he promised, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act,” which would overturn state pro-life laws nationwide and make abortion the supreme law of the land. In that speech, he told the appreciative women that Planned Parenthood was a “safety net provider” that needed to be given “discounted drugs” so that “all women” would have access to “affordable contraception.” In the speech, he hailed Margaret Sanger—eugenicist, racist, and Planned Parenthood founder—as a voice in the “struggle for equality.”
Amazingly, Kmiec read this speech and points to it as an example of Obama’s alleged flexibility. Kmiec sees the speech as lacking the vituperation of so many speeches by pro-choice Democrats to abortion groups, an interpretation that mistakenly assumes that style and tone trumps substance and policy for Obama.
Behind Obama’s smile is an uncompromising advocacy for unfettered abortion rights. Obama is committed to appointing strictly pro-abortion judges to the US Supreme Court. As for Reaganesque pro-life judges recently promoted to the court by President George W. Bush—namely, Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, both of whom Kmiec commends—Obama boasts of his votes against these two judges.
Obama has said that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the most stalwart abortion crusader on the high court, is his ideal justice. Kmiec, given his expertise as a legal scholar, knows this.
To be blunt, Kmiec’s perception of Obama’s openness to accommodation on abortion is pure projection. There is absolutely no reason to conclude that a President Obama would be receptive to a pro-life message. Obama himself has repeatedly made it clear that his stance on this issue will be unyielding. As president, he might say he is open to pro-lifers and that he respects them, but he would not be expected to join them on any meaningful pro-life action.
There is a psychological-emotional attraction to Obama that goes beyond the traditional reasons explaining why people, Catholics included, support certain candidates. What’s more, the Roman Catholics in Obama’s camp are largely typical of the religious left generally and left-leaning Catholics specifically who identify with and support a liberal Democrat for president. The abortion issue simply loses out to a wider swath of “social justice” issues that for them take precedence.
The Church continues to exhort Catholics to reject this moral equivalency in their voting, but Obama’s Catholic supporters don’t care, and from this atmosphere of dissent Obama hopes to ride a wave of millions of Catholic votes all the way to the White House.
Paul Kengor has most recently published God and Hillary Clinton (HarperCollins, 2007) and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). He is professor of political science at G