The Threat to Our Moral Fabric

In electing Barack Obama as the nation’s chief executive, the American people have chosen the most aggressively pro-abortion candidate who has ever sought to occupy the highest office in the land. The consequences of this choice, which have already begun to play out in the presidential transition, pose a grave threat, both to the pro-life cause and no less to the moral fabric of the nation.

Much of the nation was stunned in 1973 when the Supreme Court tortured constitutional text and tradition to conjure a right to abortion. Neither Roe v. Wade, however, nor any subsequent decision of the Court, has ever addressed the central disputed question – namely, what, or more precisely, who is it that is killed during an abortion. For the past 35 years that question has hovered like a brooding omnipresence over abortion jurisprudence and has roiled our politics as no other issue.

During those 35 years politicians who defend Roe have dodged and danced their way around that issue, preferring instead to hide behind slogans like “the right to choose.” Given their policy predilections, they are wise to do so. For the minute the debate changes its focus from the pregnant woman to the child who is killed, it acquires a wholly different and, for pro-choice politicians, ominous character. It forces them to confront the moral implications of what Archbishop Charles Chaput has aptly called “little murders.” And because the mainstream media are generally sympathetic to liberalized abortion, politicians get a free ride by talking about almost every aspect of abortion other than the nature of the unborn child.

A case in point presented itself during the presidential campaign when Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church asked Barack Obama when the unborn child acquired human rights. Senator Obama avoided the question by recasting it, as if Warren had asked when life begins, to which he said that the answer was “above my pay scale.” But that is not what Warren asked, and in any event, Senator Obama’s answer was disingenuous on at least two counts. He knows perfectly well when life begins, which is why he supports legislation to create human embryos in the laboratory for purposes of scientific experimentation. And Senator Obama certainly does not believe that these tiny creatures are in any sense rights-bearing creatures, which is why his legislation not only allows but requires them to be killed after the technicians have completed their experiments.

More telling still is Mr. Obama’s ardent defense of abortion during every stage of an unborn child’s life, including the grisly procedures entailed in partial-birth abortion. To make matters worse, he led the charge in the Illinois Senate against a state born-alive act, which would ensure medical treatment for babies who, by the grace of God, manage to survive the attempt to kill them. President-elect Obama’s extreme advocacy of abortion does not end there. He has said that “the first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.”

FOCA is an effort to codify the most extreme interpretation of Roe v. Wade by making abortion “a fundamental right” during all stages of a child’s development, up to and including the process of being born. It seeks to eliminate every statutory protection for the unborn that has been enacted during the past 35 years, including restrictions on state and federal funding for abortion, parental notification and consent laws for minors seeking abortion, and conscience clauses that prevent health-care professionals from being forced to participate in abortions. And the man who is about to become the 44th president of the United States says he will support and sign such legislation. He has also said with some emphasis that he will apply a pro-abortion litmus test to nominations for the federal bench.

Observers close to the Obama presidential transition indicate that the new president will by executive order reverse President Bush’s decisions that restrict federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research and international pro-abortion efforts. Combine these gestures with Mr. Obama’s promise to appoint pro-abortion judges and his support for FOCA, and what you get for all intents and purposes is a declaration of war against the unborn child.

The Catholic bishops, who gathered last week in Baltimore for their annual meeting, would do well to think about that fact, and to act soon. According to reports, they were so divided that they had to table any further action. But barring some dramatic change of heart on Mr. Obama’s part, the politics of abortion are likely to undergo a dramatic escalation, up to and including acts of civil disobedience the scope of which has not been seen since the civil rights revolution of the 1960s. If the new administration in fact proceeds along the lines the president-elect has previously indicated he intends to follow, men and women of conscience are simply not going to be passive bystanders. The bishops need to understand that and to take such action as may be necessary to prevent FOCA’s enactment. They might begin by making the depth of their commitment unmistakably clear to Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, and after that doing the same with president-elect Obama, not only by written communication but in person.


Michael Uhlmann (1939-2019) served in the Reagan White House and taught American politics at the Claremont Graduate University.