A Hateful Outrage Print
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 09 January 2012

Electoral politics is dirty business. Most decent people would have nothing to do with it – if there were any other reasonable way to select leaders in modern democracies. But even in popular election campaigns, there are limits. And last week those limits were crossed in unbelievably crass ways out of ideological hatred towards presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Even some of the media figures who defended him, like Ross Douthat in the New York Times, have been so sucked into the bad habits of the neighborhood that Douthat concludes Santorum shouldn’t complain:  “In a culture as divided about fundamental issues as our own, the kind of weird attacks that Rick Santorum is enduring come with the vocation he has chosen.”

Weird is putting it mildly. For once, Douthat’s colleague at the Times, Maureen Dowd, was comparatively modest, just mocking Santorum for his “antediluvian abrasiveness” on moral questions like homosexuality. For La Dowd, the moral sentiments of the whole human race in virtually every age and culture until quite recently – that homosexuality is a moral aberration – is merely some collective delusion, now remedied by the superior moral delicacy of our day. And the opinions of teenagers in New Hampshire campaign events prove it.

The really weird stuff came out last week beginning with Alan Colmes (who later apologized) and Eugene Robinson (who didn’t really – and you can see on the Internet by Googling him how slander spreads beyond anyone’s ability to recall). They weren’t content with criticizing Santorum’s traditional Catholic morals and conservative economics and politics. That’s too much like regular campaign commentary.

After Iowa, Santorum had to be destroyed. They attacked the Santorum family’s bringing home the body of their child, who died shortly after birth, as something incomparably bizarre, like the Mexican cult of death.

Actually, I think both commentators, politically correct liberals, would have commended a brief visit with a dead child as a humane alternative to the American bourgeoisie’s denial of death – if it had been practiced in another, non-American culture.

Instead, despite the fact, as was later reported, that several American medical groups recommend such closure, some of our most prestigious media figures felt they were authorized to wade into this sad story because it confirmed just how weird those traditional Catholics and their cult of the fetus really are – and the voting public ought to know it.

And then there was the story put out by several pro-abortion groups that the Santorums chose to abort the child when Mrs. Santorum had complications during the pregnancy. The implication, of course, is that they’re hypocrites, like all pro-lifers, and jettison their principles when it’s convenient.

The truth, however, was that the pregnancy was one of those hard cases anticipated by and quite well thought through in Catholic medical ethics. Both mother and child were going to die if an infection was not treated with antibiotics, which had the potential to induce labor.


            Closure and memorial: Victorian kids photographed with a dead sibling

The political perspective on these sorts of situations is quite crude. We hear about the need for abortion exceptions in cases of “rape, incest, and life of the mother.” But these are not at all the same thing morally. Rape and incest are sexual crimes, but a child conceived as a result does not merit destruction in the womb.

Questions of “life of the mother” are more complicated. Some abortion advocates think the phrase means everything from a pregnancy that will kill the woman to missing a semester abroad during college.

In more serious analysis, where a mother’s life really is threatened by a problem pregnancy, it’s morally licit in certain circumstances to save her life and, indirectly, cause the death of the fetus. In the ethical literature, this is called the principle of double effect – a situation will produce two undesired outcomes, so you choose one good goal accepting, but not intending, the unfortunate secondary effect that will follow.

Many people don’t understand this especially as applied to problem pregnancies. A doctor, a former president of the St. Luke’s Physician Guild in Washington, told me years ago that his colleagues at a local hospital would mock him for performing “abortions” in such cases, even though he was a vocal opponent of abortion.

No amount of explanation on his part had any effect on the other doctors. They have been brainwashed to think that abortion is just a certain medical procedure. It’s all the same, medically, whatever motives or rationalizations you attach to the brute fact.

Politicians are even more obtuse about such things. We might have expected that Nancy Pelosi, former speaker of the House, and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, both of whom attended Catholic schools – and Trinity College in Washington – would have heard something about double effect. But both seem instead to have heard only about female autonomy – i.e., the right to choose to kill babies – during their Catholic educations. Sebelius recently spoke to a NARAL Pro-Choice fundraiser about “the war” they are in – together. And Pelosi has argued that repealing Obamacare’s abortion provisions may kill women.

It’s not surprising that wild charges such as that the Santorums are “weird” and had an “abortion” are plausible to some very ignorant people. But those who put in motion such vicious and patently false attacks on a campaigning politician bear grave moral responsibilities.

There’s plenty to debate about Santorum’s record and vision (He made a troubling mistake in supporting pro-abortion Senator Arlen Specter a few years ago to preserve the Republican majority). But you can oppose someone’s politics without hateful smears.

Further, Santorum’s socially conservative views – coupled, be it said, with some real compassion for the unfortunate, which have been criticized by some conservatives as “big government conservatism” – were popular in Iowa and also resonate with tens of millions of Catholic, evangelical, Orthodox Jewish, and Muslim voters.

Painting those views, once the standard throughout the entire country, as somehow “weird” divides the American populace unnecessarily in hatred, and we will not be easily healed.


Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

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