The Catholic Thing
Compromise on Abortion? Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Thursday, 23 July 2009

Only a deliberate suspension of disbelief can lead you to take Barack Obama at his word that he wants to reach common ground on abortion. His history as a doctrinaire abortion advocate and his actions as president belie his words. Sadly, many people who otherwise defend life, including many in Rome, have fallen for this almost blatantly phony rhetoric.

And now comes a prominent pro-lifer saying something quite similar to President Obama. Rocco Buttiglione is perhaps the most famous pro-life Catholic politician in Europe. A member of the Italian parliament, professor, and public intellectual, he famously was rejected as a European Commissioner because he holds standard Catholic beliefs on marriage, family and homosexuality.

In a just released interview with an Italian newspaper, Buttiglione says those who favor abortion rights today “recognize, thanks in part to scientific discoveries about the embryo and DNA, that the fetus is not a lump of blood in the body of a woman; the fetus is a life.” He sees this as an opportunity and he is right.

But he continues that pro-lifers made a mistake in the past by trying to “defend the unborn child against its own mother.” He argues, “God entrusts a child to its mother in such a special way, that to defend a child against the mother is just, but impossible.” The way to reduce abortions, he claims, is to “make the mother more free. The more free she is, the more difficult it will be for her to renounce the child.”

For these reasons, Buttiglione says he will no longer work to make abortion illegal. He will work to reduce the number of abortions. He wants to find common ground with abortion advocates.

There are many problems with Buttiglione’s analysis.

He is wrong that pro-lifers in the past set the child against the mother. That was done by abortion advocates who set up the child as the enemy within. A woman had the right to defend her life and her life-style from this little intruder. Naturally, pro-lifers defended the child. It was a necessity. In recent years, even this has begun to change. Perhaps Buttiglione has not heard the cutting edge woman-centered arguments of Feminists for Life, or post-abortive women who say there are two victims of abortion.

Buttiglione seems to regard advances in scientific knowledge of the unborn child not as a victory to build on but as a chance to compromise. It is precisely scientific and medical facts, however, that have profoundly changed the abortion debate. The first picture of baby on the refrigerator today is one in utero. Doctors routinely operate on unborn children these days, who are recognized to have brain waves and feel pain. A just released study makes the case that unborn children have memories. Now is not the time to compromise, but to press our scientific advantage.

Buttiglione introduced a successful resolution in the Italian parliament calling for a U.N. resolution in favor of stopping forced abortions in places like China. This is a wonderful initiative, and he thinks Obama would certainly support it. But he is in for a rude awakening. When Steve Mosher first went to China and discovered the one-child policy, he turned to his friends on the left, the radical feminists, for help. They showed him the door and have remained unconcerned ever since.

Buttiglione believes that Obama told the pope that he wants to reduce the number of abortions. This is what the pope’s spokesman said Obama said. But this is a common mistake made by people of good will. In point of fact, Obama never says he wants to reduce the number of abortions. His staff even corrects those who make that claim. What he says is he wants to reduce the necessity of abortion. To see what this really means, consider people saying they want to reduce the “necessity of killing Jews.” At least the Clintons said abortion should be rare. A tiny moral judgment still mattered to them. Obama makes no moral judgment that there could be something wrong with abortion. He wants to reduce the “need,” but if the need is 10 million, then so be it.

Perhaps the most challenging part of Buttiglione’s new approach is that in order for women to refuse abortion, they simply have to be freer. I suspect there is much of a philosophical nature packed into this phrase, but it’s a philosophy that is beyond me. Or maybe he simply means that most women choose abortion because husbands, boyfriends, parents, and fear somehow force them.

Indeed, the Alan Guttmacher Institute reports the number one reason women give for needing an abortion is that they had “no choice.” Specifically, women cited lack of familial and financial support to carry the baby to term. We have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with women facing a difficult pregnancy. If this is what Buttiglione means, then he is right, but it does not abrogate our responsibility in justice to bring the unborn child under legal protection.

Buttiglione has attempted to clarify that he remains pro-life and admits it’s unlikely that he will find common cause with Barack Obama, though he hopes the president will at least remain neutral in the Italian initiative at the United Nations. But Buttiglione insists that popular support in Italy precludes progress in making abortion illegal, though all he cites as evidence is a twenty-eight-year-old referendum.

Buttiglione is a very good man who deserves our praise and our support when he is right. But he is wrong on this. He is coming to the United States to meet with pro-lifers and with the White House. Those who meet with him should bring him up to date on where we stand in the abortion debate, and show him that this is no time for compromise, especially with those who have no real interest in it.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washinton, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy.

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Comments (6)Add Comment
Anti-life Regime
written by Willie, July 24, 2009
I admit, I don't understand Mr. Buttiglione's reasoning. This seems to be a feeble attempt to establish some reason for parlance with the most anti-life regime in US history. One would be well advised to watch what this president does, rather than what he says. How much more freedom? A woman can eliminate her baby even at the point of birth. Some ethicists would allow killing the infant even up to 2 months of age. With Obama one best judge the tree by the fruit it bears.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
written by debby, July 24, 2009
i believe the Aztec people felt they had "no choice" but to offer in continual sacrifice the blood of their children....did they need to be "freer?" Uh, YEA.... but let us look at what held them captive. the father of lies. the evil one. the opposite of LIFE. so maybe what this very mistaken man needs is an encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Indians were poor, but not without value to the Queen of Heaven. Can we ask for Her intervention here & pray for a deeper conversion for this man?
written by Tom Borek, July 24, 2009
Mr. Buttiglione may be simply recognizing how unlikely it is that Europe will prohibit abortions. Therefore, in the absence of a strong societal condemnation and punishment of the practice, he hopes to allow more women (and men) of good will to make the right choice.

Unfortunately, in the fornicator's paradise that is the modern Western world, the burden of an unplanned child will often trump the moral considerations that are dismissed by half of the world's population.
written by Jamie Ballenger, July 26, 2009
Mr Buttiglione may be trying to change the rhetoric of this issue in order that we may actually be able to explain to people exactly what the truth is about the human person and human life, AND be listened to as a result. Calling the President a "liar" as I have seen on other websites, will not provide opportunities at all for a rhetoric change or comprehension on the part of the people supporting reproductive "rights".jb.
Compromise is loss
written by Jeff H., July 27, 2009
Politics is the art of moving the tide of popular opinion and attitudes slowly up the beach of my Utopia project vs. yours. The present Administration is trying its utmost to advance its Romantic/Gnostic humanism agenda in yet another attempt to "immanentize the eschaton" (Voegelin).

Its doing a spectacular job of polarizing itself as an oligarchial monstrosity. I hope everyone is happy-changey with it.
written by Jennifer Halbleib, July 27, 2009
Thanks for the article. I'm in a long-term argument with a friend over the "choice" misnomer. Would it be possible to get the reference to the Guttenmacher Study? I looked, but without knowing if it's US women or worldwide or the year, I didn't have any luck. Thanks again!

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