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From the December, 2008
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Morality Ploys by James Hitchcock

Morality Ploys

Big Bailouts & Culture War Maneuvers You Can Expect

If 2008 is remembered as the year of the “bailout,” when the federal government spent billions to rescue the nation’s financial system, it should also be recalled for another kind of bailout—Christians with impeccably pro-life records who suddenly abandoned what they declared to be a sinking ship.

Abortion seemed to be one of the few issues on which Senator Barack Obama had an unambiguous and unchangeable position during the campaign, as he promised that “the first thing I’d do as president is to sign the Freedom of Choice Act,” something that would nullify all existing laws restricting abortion.

The most notable of those pro-lifers who turned their backs on the movement in 2008 was Douglas W. Kmiec, an official in the Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan, former dean of the law school at Catholic University of America, and now a professor at Pepperdine University, who announced the extraordinary phenomenon of “Reaganites for Obama.”

Kmiec’s explanation for his conversion revealed that he no longer considered abortion a moral issue. Repeating what had become a standard liberal line, he denied that the drive to restrict abortion by law had saved even one life, even though pro-abortionists themselves protest that, the more difficult it is to get an abortion, the fewer there will be.

Kmiec ignored the obvious point that the drive to restrict abortion by law is primarily for the moral imperative of placing the lives of the unborn under constitutional protection. A just society cannot allow a whole category of persons to be denied that protection, but in Obama’s kind of society, the killing of the unborn must be enshrined as a constitutional right.

Although Kmiec claimed that Obama is committed to reducing the number of abortions, nowhere did Obama himself make such a commitment, and the 2008 Democratic platform abandoned its previously stated goal of keeping abortion “safe, legal and rare.” Its “solution” turned out to be merely more of the same—“access to affordable family planning and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education,” policies that will make abortions even easier to obtain, since abortion is an integral part of “family planning” and minors are given access to it even without the knowledge of their parents.

Pro-Lifers Denigrated

Kmiec’s espousal of Obama inevitably forced him to denigrate his former allies in the pro-life movement, by accusing them of thinking that they have done their duty merely by voting for certain political candidates, who (unlike Obama) are insincere in their professions of principle.

Kmiec did not acknowledge that, besides voting, many pro-lifers picket abortion clinics and attempt to persuade women not to undergo the operation and that various pro-life counseling agencies exist for the same purpose. Most obviously, many in the pro-life movement operate and support programs for unwed mothers.

But pro-abortionists have repeatedly tried to suppress even those activities by law, and there is every reason to suppose that an Obama Justice Department, and judges appointed by Obama, will facilitate such suppression.

An even more dramatic repudiation of former allies came from the Greek Orthodox Frank Schaeffer, whose father, the noted Evangelical author Francis Schaeffer, had been largely responsible for first alerting Evangelicals to the evils of abortion. The son has now denounced both Protestant and Catholic leaders for having no interest in the unborn but of simply “milking” the issue for financial and political gain. Bafflingly, he attributed the prevalence of abortion to “racism,” “homophobia,” and the fact that “we still denigrate women and female sexuality.”

Several prominent Evangelicals also repudiated the “narrowness” of their previous pro-life commitments and deplored the fact that religion had become “too politicized.” But whatever those leaders may have intended, the secular media not unnaturally interpreted them as simply moving towards a different political agenda, under which it was now permissible, even perhaps imperative, to support Obama.

Just More Welfare

Despite enthusiastic claims that the Democratic party has changed its position on abortion, in reality the change amounts merely to the expansion of welfare programs, something the party has long advocated for other reasons.

But there is scant empirical evidence that an increase in welfare programs does reduce the number of abortions, and this “solution” is also based on the assumption that poverty is the motive for abortions, whereas in fact abortion is the sacred cause of the upper middle class. (Imagine the reaction if it were proposed that only poor women should be allowed to exercise that “right.”)

Kmiec and others who dismiss the pro-life movement as misguided and futile also ignore the way in which the legal struggle over a 35-year period has kept the moral question before the public. If henceforth the principal way of opposing abortion is to offer alternative possibilities, it will cease to be a moral issue and will become merely one of a number of pragmatic solutions to a social problem.

The role of “pro-lifers” in the Obama campaign was not to persuade the candidate to moderate his stand on abortion (there is no evidence that they even tried to do so) but to persuade pro-lifers to forget about the issue.

Wide-Ranging Repercussions

But if social conservatives follow this advice over the next four years and beyond, they will be required to overcome their “narrow” outlook on more than just the issue of whether abortion should be legal. The Obama administration can be counted on to initiate systematic government funding of abortions and embryonic stem-cell research, to support efforts by international agencies to promote (and sometimes require) abortion in Third World countries, and to endorse efforts in the United Nations to define abortion as a “right” that must be recognized by all nations.

The new administration will probably go on to support “assisted suicide” and homosexual “marriage” and espouse the philosophy of the American Civil Liberties Union on “separation of church and state.” The rights of parents, as in homeschooling, will be further eroded, and demands for the criminalization of “hate speech,” as in Canada, will be heard sympathetically in Washington.

During the campaign, Senator Joseph Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi continued the custom—begun by former Governor Mario Cuomo of New York—of liberal politicians offering themselves as religious leaders more reliable than the clergy themselves. Thus, Pelosi repeated the long-discredited claim that the Catholic Church has not always condemned abortion, while Biden implied that only those Catholics who doubt church teaching can be credited with “thinking.” Kmiec also directly contradicted the official statements of the American bishops.

The acceptance by the public of certain politicians as moral leaders is necessary to the liberal agenda, because the nation appears to be on the verge of a major cultural revolution—the belated implementation of the entire vision of the counterculture of the 1960s, now directed from the White House.

James Hitchcock, for the editors


James Hitchcock is Professor of History at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He and his wife Helen have four daughters. His most recent book is the two-volume work, The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life (Princeton University Press, 2004). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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