I was in Rome recently and spoke on a panel with pro-life leaders Olimpia Tarzia and Carlo Cassini. The moderator remarked that he hoped that when my turn to speak came, I could shed some light on the upcoming presidential election in the United States. I could sense that most members of the audience, composed of faithful Roman Catholics, were as concerned and interested as he was in the subject.
Sure enough, when my time came, he asked me that question. But he did so in a curious, though not unexpected, way. He asked, “Tell us about Obama and pro-life issues. Is there some hope there?”
I say this was not unexpected because the phenomenon of Barack Obama, his rapid rise from the periphery of the Democratic Party to center stage (indeed, soon, to a stage in the middle of a football stadium where he will accept his party’s nomination), is remarkable. The ascent from junior senator from Illinois to presidential nominee, pushing aside along the way the most powerful female politician and presumptive presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton, must be one of the most astounding political ascents ever.
So his question was not unexpected. I am sure the people of Europe receive, by and large, the same kind of media reports we do here. And those reports are glowing about the Obama phenomenon. There is the understandable excitement of “the new.”
On nearly all issues of public policy, a citizen must make judgments. There are often no clear “rights” and “wrongs”; rather there is prudential judgment applied to evaluation of contingent social facts. For instance, how is one best to fulfill his Catholic duty toward the poor: supporting welfare, welfare reform, or welfare abolition? A Catholic citizen must ask herself what she really thinks is the best solution to a particular problem or set of problems, and then choose a candidate who advocates that point of view.
But not all issues are like that. On some issues, Catholic teaching is clear and uncompromising. The right to life is one of those. Let us recall that John Paul II called the right to life “the first right,” for without it there is no possibility to realize any other rights. It is the foundation stone of a just society; without it justice can never be achieved, no matter how much noble work is done on a multitude of other issues.
I was pressed by my interlocutor on this issue. How did the candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, stack up on abortion? Here is the answer I gave them.
First, John McCain has a nearly 100 percent pro-life rating. Concern over campaign finance reform besmirches his reputation for some pro-life Americans. For more such persons, his willingness to allow IVF embryos to be used in research is a greater concern. Otherwise, however, over many years, he has shown himself to be a solid supporter of pro-life issues. On the foundational issue of the just society, McCain has been rock-solid.
Second, when Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois, and a bill came before the state senate to require that babies who survived an abortion be given the ordinary medical care that any other human being receives, he opposed the bill. Despite evidence that some hospitals, when presented with a baby who was not killed in an abortion, drown that child or drop it in the trash or otherwise dispose of it or leave it alone until it dies, Obama opposed the bill. Recently, he has claimed that he did so because other laws already existed to protect infants born alive.
Further, as presidential candidate, Obama has stated that he would like for his first act as president to be signing FOCA. FOCA is the Freedom of Choice Act. That bill would put in place the same abortion regime we have now under Roe v. Wade (and later cases) – that is, abortion on demand, for any reason, at any time – as a federal law. Thus, if the Supreme Court ever reversed Roe, there would be a federal law in place to keep the abortion regime going, unaffected, as it is now.
And as to overturning Roe, what does common sense tell us about the different kinds of people each candidate would nominate to the federal courts? The judicial usurpation of the legislative role is, along with Islamic terrorism, the greatest threat our democracy faces. John McCain and his compromise with Democrats on appellate judge nominees created the atmosphere in which judicial conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who believe the Court should not legislate but leave it to the people to decide difficult social issues, were confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If Catholics take seriously Church teaching that the right to life is the first right, is there any doubt who is the stronger pro-life candidate? Some in my Roman audience seemed surprised. They shouldn’t be. The answer is clear.