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FOCA

On another thread William Collier brought up the recent letter which Cardinal Rigali sent to the members of Congress with regard to the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Rigali's letter can be found here along with the legal opinion on which Rigali relied. It is an act that is said to "codify" Roe v. Wade and to sweep away any laws that "interfere" with a womans "fundamental right" to an abortion. In that respect, it is in fact more radical than Roe v. Wade. Sen. Obama has declared his support of the bill; presumably Sen. McCain opposes it.I dont believe we have had much discussion of this bill. It seems to me to raise issues different from those that arise when the question is whether to repeal Roe v. Wade, with regard to which people can differ, as our discussion of Doug Kmiecs position has shown. This would be a case of turning abortion into a "fundamental right" and, it seems, of eliminating some of the restrictions that now are enacted as law in some states: e.g., parental notificationthis is alsothe interpretation of the bill by NARAL and Planned Parenthood. It is one thing to conclude that it is not politically possible or practically helpful to overturn a law permitting abortion; it is another to vote to extend that permission.

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Unless the legal opinion upon which Cardinal Rigali is fundamentally flawed, I have to agree with Fr. Komonchak that it would be seriously wrong for a Catholic to support the adoption of FOCA. I remain convinced that the election of Sen. MacCain would be harmful to many innocent people. Now I am confronted with the question of whether I can still support Sen. Obama in spite of his endorsement of FOCA. May I still rely on the view that it is permissible to support Sen. Obama provided that my support does not spring from my own wish to see something like FOCA enacted into law?I will welcome any thoughtful comments.

I am an Obama supporter, and I have been challenging people who make the outrageous charge that he is "pro-infanticide." However, I think FOCA goes way too far. The majority of Americans have mixed feelings about abortion and are somewhere in the middle between the adamant pro-life proponents and the adamant pro-choice proponents. I think there would be a firestorm if there was a serious effort to pass and sign FOCA. I know I would make my voice heard. I seriously doubt that anything is going to happen with it. However, Obama's statements in support of FOCA have been quite clear, so it is perfectly legitimate for those who are appalled by it to judge Obama by his words, not by what might or might not happen.

David:Why do you doubt that anything would happen with it? Especially with a Democratic Congress? And does not Obama' support for FOCA indicate that his fundamental stance on the issue is, even if FOCA did not pass, in support of the tenets of FOCA so that we can reasonably expect that a Justice Department and HHS in an Obama administration would be hostile to anti-abortion groups and efforts?Thank you, David, for being honest and not blowing off these concerns. I don't see any indication that Obama is in the least interested in "decreasing the number of abortions" as some of his Catholic supporters claim. It seems to me that his stated views indicate that he agrees with NARAL and NOW which see the number of abortions as unproblematic and not subject to a moral calculus.How is that compatible with Catholic Social Teaching?

Bernard,Let me just express once again the opinion I have given before, and that is that I think way too much weight is being given to one's vote for president, as if it were the only moral and political thing a person did (and as if abortion were the only issue that counted). For pro-life people who are leaning toward Obama, I would say there are any number of things you can do to have a "correct" position on abortion besides voting against Obama. Become active in organizations that lobby for changes in abortion law. Donate money to organizations that work with women who have crisis pregnancies. Write to Obama and tell him you are considering voting for him but can't do so if he supports FOCA. Join Democrats for Life (if you are a Democrat) and push for Obama to endorse the 95/10 plan. There must be a million things I am not thinking of.I know this is somewhat in contradiction of the "remote material cooperation with intrinsic evil/proportionate reason" argument, but it strikes me as in line with the reasoning of Luke Timothy Johnson on Humanae Vitae, to be found in his Commonweal article on John Paul II's theology of the body:

First, the encyclical represents a reversion to an act-centered morality, ignoring the important maturation of moral theology in the period leading up to and following Vatican II, which emphasized a persons fundamental dispositions as more defining of moral character than isolated acts. I am far from suggesting that specific acts are not morally significant. But specific acts must also be placed within the context of a persons character as revealed in consistent patterns of response. The difference is critical when the encyclical and John Paul II insist that it is not enough for married couples to be open to new life; rather, every act of intercourse must also be open, so that the use of a contraceptive in any single act in effect cancels the entire disposition of openness. But this is simply nonsense. I do not cancel my commitment to breathing when I hold my breath for a moment or when I go under anesthesia. Likewise, there is an important distinction to be maintained between basic moral dispositions and single actions. The woman who kills in self-defense (or in defense of her children) does not become a murderer. The focus on each act of intercourse rather than on the overall dispositions of married couples is morally distorting.

http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/article.php?id_article=200It just strikes me as very wrongheaded to accept the argument that you define your position on abortion by a single act -- your vote for president.

David,So an effective ban on any law prohibiting abortion of a post-viable infant does not support intanticide?"Health of the mother" as an exception is something that NARAL and PP have been pushing for years. Why? Because it is effectively meaningless as a restriction, and this law does nothing to change that. Oh, you're eight months pregnant and run a risk of post-partum depression? No problem, have an abortion. Back problems? Abortion. Joint pain? How about an abortion.Doesn't happen? Read the Kansas Health Department's statistics - as reported by the abortionists themselves - about the "health" of the mother in late term abortions. Out of over 2000 abortions - 1 involved a significant physical health issue. Not 1%, just one. None, nada, zero involved a threat to the life of the mother.Also, the law has a non-discrimination provision that very likely will be used against Catholic health care facilities and providers. If you don't think Obama will support such a move - think again. His close friend and advisor, Patrick Deval, is trying to do it in Massachusetts.I suppose I would rather be "wrongheaded" in your view, than to bury my head in the sand and say Obama's a good guy. he really doesn't like abortions, his heart's in the right place. I am not saying he likes or wants abortions, I am saying he doesn't care. Do you really think, in your heart of hearts, that he cares one whit what Catholics think about FOCA or anything else?

So an effective ban on any law prohibiting abortion of a post-viable infant does not support intanticide?If you want to define abortion (or even just late-term abortion) as infanticide, then Obama is in favor of infanticide, and so is Roe v Wade, and so is every pro-choice politician in the country. That is not how I would define infanticide. Obama has personally defined "life and health of the mother" much more strictly than the prevailing definitions in legal use, although how (or if) that could get translated into law, especially if FOCA were passed, I don't pretend to know. (And I doubt that it would. But I also doubt FOCA would.)Do you really think, in your heart of hearts, that he cares one whit what Catholics think about FOCA or anything else?I do not believe Obama is an amoral monster. I do believe he is a good man. I believe Obama cares what people (including Catholics) think at least as much as McCain. This presidential race is not a choice between a evil man and a good man.

Bernard--You often raise such interesting questions. Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems you are asking if the principle of double effect, which I usually think of as applicable in situations involving medical ethics, is applicable in the context of political choices. I'm afraid I don't know the answer, but I look forward to comments by those more familiar with ethical analysis.David N. --You're taking a bit of a whipping since your first post. :) Though I have disagreed with your pro-choice conclusions in the past (though not your thoughtful and considered advocacy in pursuit of those conclusions), I admire your willingness to take a hard look at FOCA. I hope everyone commenting on the difficult issue of abortion will bring civility and respect for one another to the discussion.

The stock market goes down. The stock market goes up. Housing prices go up. Housing prices go down. Wars start. Wars end.And abortions continue, year after year after year.That's the status quo. The status quo is unacceptable, in the same way that a status quo of genocide or apartheid would be unacceptable.South Africa was the way it was for many decades. It was a stable and democratic political regime. Many observers thought it was the brightest light on the African continent. It produced educated citizens whom the polite world considered to be civilized, a diverse and productive economy, a comfortable standard of living for white citizens, and many other good things. Unfortunately, it also involved the systematic deprivation of human rights and horrible torture and abuse.Yet the abortion regime in the US is worse. Far, far worse than anything perpetuated by white South Africans.Clearly, Barack Obama is able, intelligent and a natural leader. I'm sure he can be charming in person.Not all evils in the world are on the front page of the newspapers from day to day. Abortion is the greatest evil of our time. Candidate Obama is committed to perpetuate it. He is frequently criticized for the brevity of his resume, but one thing that his legislative record illustrates beyond all doubt is his wholehearted commitment to the unlimited abortion license.

The status quo is unacceptable, in the same way that a status quo of genocide or apartheid would be unacceptable. The greater majority of humanity will agree with you, Jim, about genocide or apartheid. However, when it comes to abortion, the weight of public opinion is far from being so strong for the anti-choice position. And it IS viewed as a matter of choice by most people. The churches have been dismally insufficient in their arguments about abortion being the taking of a life that is as valuable as the life (and circumstances) of the woman who has to make a choice.It is time to stop thinking and acting in 30-second sound bites and engage instead in serious moral discourse on abortion. A blanket No is simply not a sufficient nor compelling response to those who believe that the pro-choice position is the only possible position to adopt in this multicultural, essentially secular, country of ours.We also need to question the commonly held assumption that the pro-choice and pro-life camps inhabit completely different philosophical and moral worlds. Both sides see themselves as struggling against tyranny. The two camps diverge by maintaining differing intellectual conceptions of the tyranny against which they are fighting.Amid all of the stress caused by our uncertainties and conflicts over the abortion issue, it is still incumbent on the church to influence more surely the definition of life. She needs to persuade people that we too have something important to say about it. The facts of the matter of todays reality indicate that she has yet done so.As far as the election itself goes, I would like to quote David Leonhardt in the N.Y. Times, 3/27/08: In campaign after campaign for more than 30 years now, Republicans have been denouncing Roe v. Wade. Yet even though they have held the White House for most of that time and made 12 of the last 14 Supreme Court appointments abortion remains legal.This straddling has served Republicans well. They have been able to win over voters who care about abortion above all else without alienating swing voters, most of whom, polls show, think it should be legal at least some of the time. Talking tough and governing gently helped the party build a majority.In closing, may I quote from a venerable journal of opinion, dear to our hearts? Abortion has to do not only with a right of individual women to choose and individual fetuses to live; society has a legitimate interest here. Public policy should embody society's judgment that resort to abortion is not a matter of indifference and not just a form of birth control, but a deeply unfortunate expedient sometimes justified by compelling circumstances. Except to protect the life of the mother, abortions past the twenty-third week should be illegal. (That is the age of viability. Some babies born at twenty-three weeks survive; none born before that age survive. Fewer than 1 percent of abortions take place after that time) ... The appropriate government resolution of the abortion question is to reject the extreme positions and to craft moderate alternatives. That will not satisfy people who hold either polar position, but it respects the wishes of the majority and is a reasonable stance to take in a debate that frequently has not been characterized by reasoned dialog. John E. Brandl, Minnesota State Senator (District 62), Dear Constituents(article), "Commonweal", 12/1/89.

Oops .... " indicate that she has NOT yet done so."

"The appropriate government resolution of the abortion question is to reject the extreme positions and to craft moderate alternatives. "This is a great quote, Jimmy Mac ... I'm picturing your basement with stacks of old Commonweals :-)Until Roe v Wade case law is set aside in some way it seems unlikely that any government could resolve the issue as Senator Brandl recommends. A lot of pro-lifers would welcome the chance to return the question to the states and let the body politic thrash it out.And FOCA seems designed to prevent that from happening(?)

However you slice it "it is not demonstrable that killing fetuses is killing persons. Not even evangelicals act as if it were. If so, a woman seeking an abortion would be the most culpable person. She is killing her own child. But the evangelical community does not call for her execution.""Nor did the Catholic Church treat abortion as murder in the past. If it had, late-term abortions and miscarriages would have called for treatment of the well-formed fetus as a person, which would require baptism and a Christian burial. That was never the practice. And no wonder. The subject of abortion is not scriptural."Lacking scriptural guidance, St. Thomas Aquinas worked from Aristotle's view of the different kinds of animation -- the nutritive (vegetable) soul, the sensing (animal) soul and the intellectual soul. Some people used Aristotle to say that humans therefore have three souls. Others said that the intellectual soul is created by human semen."Aquinas denied both positions. He said that a material cause (semen) cannot cause a spiritual product. The intellectual soul (personhood) is directly created by God "at the end of human generation." This intellectual soul supplants what had preceded it (nutritive and sensory animation). So Aquinas denied that personhood arose at fertilization by the semen. God directly infuses the soul at the completion of human formation."

Source for the above.http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-op-wills4nov04,0,7799993.story?co... need a "tax the church" Sunday. This way there will be plenty of money to aid women in raising children.

Bill,Your devotion to this short op-ed piece by Garry Wills is troubling. I agree that it is one of the smartest "Catholic" cases against the church's teaching available, but that is a very small achievement.The fact that you cannot baptize a person until she's born does not prove she becomes human only at birth. The fact that in the Middle Ages the aborted fetus was not baptized and buried tells us nothing about the moral status of the aborted fetus -- it does not even tell us what Christians in the Middle Ages believed that status to be. Do you really imagine that people were going to bring an aborted fetus to their parish priest to have it baptized and buried? No? Do you really think this proves that no one considered abortion to be profoundly immoral? This is a non-sequitur piled on an absurdity.It is interesting that neither you nor Wills likes to address the arguments against abortion being made today, as opposed to those made over seven hundred years ago. You'd think there had been no developments in embryology since the Middle Ages. Talk about obscurantism.

I think a vote for McCain represents only the status quo on abortion, and not a change in a pro-life direction. Therefore, I thought I could put abortion mostly aside and vote for Obama. But, FOCA goes beyond the status quo towards even more liberal abortion laws, and removes the issue from the states where various compromises might be worked out. I'd be interested in hearing from commentors here about how they will balance FOCA with a vote for Obama. David Nickol has offered the idea that FOCA could be balanced out by working against abortion in a variety of other ways. I think this is a very important thing to do, but I don't think it absolves us from considering abortion when we vote too. For example, I protested against the Iraq war, and have made my opposition known to my representatives, but I still have to consider the war when I vote, and indeed the war is a reason that I was planning to vote for Obama. My question: As Cardinal DiNardo says, FOCA actually seems like it would promote abortion. How can a Catholic vote for someone who supports something that will promote abortion?

Matt,Then what about miscarriages. Have you seen any attempt to baptize these "persons.' Carl Rahner said that with that view the church has too acknowledge that half of the human race is in limbo. Talking about limbo, do we still push the "always taught" jargon. You might be more specific about the arguments being made today. We now know it is human DNA. Still there is no proof that this is a person. Again, the big issue here is women. Males can discount all they want about women's insights and feelings. The fact is males have no idea. I work on listening to what women are telling us. I admit it took a long time. I find also find this issue troubling indeed. It is a freebie and it is male driven.

A second thought or two.First, William, I do not think that the principle of double effect is relevant here. It applies when one and the same act has two specific or determinate consequences, one of which is clearly good and the other of which is clearly bad. That's not the issue here, at least so far as I can see.Second, the important relevant distinction, or so I now think, is between (a) voting in a referendum, and (b) voting for a candidate for an establisned political office.It would be unequivocally wrong for me to vote for FOCA In a referendum. My vote would have no other meaning than that of making FOCA the law of the land.But when I vote for a candidate, at least in our system of government, I do not thereby give that candidate a blank check to do whatever he or she chooses. We all, if we're thinking well, realize that, during the term of office of the candidate i choose I may well work against initiatives he or she proposes. This is David Nickol's point above, I think. If I have reason to think that my candidate is likely to have mostly responsible policies, then I can rightly vote for him or her, even though I foresee that iIwill have to oppose some of the things he or she has expressed support for. This, I take, it , is not some fancy footwork. It's facing up to what it means to vote for a candidate in our political system.AmI wrong? If so, please tell me.

I don't know many who think FOCA is a good idea, and I think David Nickol sums up the ambivalence of many Obama supporters about his embrace of it. On the other hand, in the real world it is also considered much like the so-called Human Life Amendment--not much of a chance, and most likely unconstitutional. Over at God-o-Meter on Beliefnet, Doug Kmiec responds to NRLC's Doug Johnson re FOCA, after Johnson took him to task for supporting Obama. The text is hard to follow, with Kmiec's responses interspersed with Johnson's as he responds point-by-point. But not always clear when Kmiec starts and Johnson ends. And I found it hard to follow Kmiec's arguments at times. But it's worth reading. A lot of extreme claims seem to be made regarding this bill:http://blog.beliefnet.com/godometer/2008/09/doug-kmiec-responds-to-natio... thread. Enlightenment welcome.

David Gibson: Thanks for the reference to the Kmiec interview, or whatever it was. The discussion of FOCA on the NARAL and Planned Parenthood websites is worth consulting, for what they think it would do.When I was in high school, a middle-aged teacher told me that he had never voted for someone in a presidential election, but always against someone. I thought that was terribly cynical. But now that I am on the brink of departing from middle-age, I know what he meant. At the moment I am inclining either to write in a candidate's name or, more likely, to simply not vote for president, something which I have done in the past.

I remain unconvinced that FOCA is an impossibility. The abortion-rights lobby have it as a priority and this will be their first chance in 8 years - and, who knows, perhaps their last if Obama only lasts one term - there are a lot of chips to be called in. And I really want to re-emphasize what I said above. Obama's words indicate that he agrees with the intent of FOCA, which is to get rid of any restrictions of any kind on abortion. It stands to reason then, that even short of FOCA, abortion-related actions that would be undertaken in his administration by (to repeat myself) Justice and HHS and other entities would reflect that conviction. If that doesn't matter, we just should state it outright - if we don't think there should be restrictions on abortion either, then just be honest. For Obama has made it clear, through his support of FOCA, that he is opposed to restrictions on abortion, even those that have been enacted over the past 35 years under Roe.We can regulate smoking, we can regulate (in some areas) what kind of fat restaurants can put in food, we can regulate who can get tatoos and under what condition, but we can't regulate abortion? It seems to me that's worth discussing within the framework of Catholic social teaching.

David Nickol has offered the idea that FOCA could be balanced out by working against abortion in a variety of other ways. I think this is a very important thing to do, but I dont think it absolves us from considering abortion when we vote too.What I would say is that if you feel FOCA will become law if Obama is elected, and preventing that from happening is the most important thing to you, by all means let that determine your vote. What I object to are two things: first, making the act of voting for president into a weighty moral act that defines you, and second, giving a complicated formula to determine whom you should vote for.I think if you follow your conscience, or your heart, or your gut, and cast your vote accordingly, you are doing the right thing, and you're not going to go to hell for it! If you are pro-life, and your gut tells you Obama will be best overall for the country, voting for him in spite of his stand on abortion will not make you pro-choice. If there is a final judgment, God is not going to focus on your vote in the 2008 election to the exclusion of everything else. I think if you say to yourself, "Voting for Obama would be remote material cooperation with the intrinsic evil of abortion, but it won't be a sin if I have a proportionate reason, so let me try to determine a proportionate reason," you have been unnecessarily confused by a formula that it takes specialized training even to understand, let alone apply. Your conscience, or your heart, or your gut will tell you how to vote, not plugging numbers into an equation. I am not saying that voting should be based entirely on emotion and that you shouldn't think through how you are going to vote. But I am saying that choosing a leader involves a certain "leap of faith" that can't be arrived at by working through a formula someone else gave you.

It seems to me thats worth discussing within the framework of Catholic social teaching.Mark,If a politician made it clear that he proposed strict regulations on abortion, along with what's outlined in the following paragraph, I would say, "I recognize here a truly Catholic approach to abortion. I can support you as long as there are exceptions for rape, incest, and the life and health of the mother (strictly defined)."

On the contrary, it is the task of law to pursue a reform of society and of conditions of life in all milieux, starting with the most deprived, so that always and everywhere it may be possible to give every child coming into this world a welcome worthy of a person. Help for families and for unmarried mothers, assured grants for children, a statute for illegitimate children and reasonable arrangements for adoption - a whole positive policy must be put into force so that there will always be a concrete, honorable and possible alternative to abortion.

As I see it, anything less than that is not Catholic Social Teaching.

The text of the latest FOCA language: http://www.nrlc.org/foca/FOCA%20S.2020.pdf

"Freedom of Choice Act"FOCA"The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do." -- Senator Barack Obama, speaking to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, July 17, 2007

"Bomb, bomb, bomb . . . . bomb, bomb Iran." - John McCain, April 19, 2007

David:McCain was joking, Obama wasn't.Don't draw flase dichotomies to justify your choice. Obama has been clear and transparent with respect to his policies and the manner in which he would symbolically exercise whatever executive legislative privledge he had.Live with your selection and your rationale. Drawing straw men charicatures of other choices is evading responsibility IMO.

George D,McCain was joking, Obama wasn't, but I was. It is not because of McCain's jokes, bad though they are, that I am supporting Obama. Although I think McCain's jokes do say something about how he thinks. (Do you know the McCain joke about Chelsea Clinton? It is the most vile joke I think I have ever heard.)I have been quite clear about Obama's position on FOCA -- which I will actively oppose should Obama get elected and should an attempt actually be made to enact it -- and about his position on abortion in general. McCain is erratic and impulsive. I have never seen anything to compare with his bizarre performance over the economic bailout over the past two weeks. His choice of Sarah Palin was breathtakingly irresponsible. His campaign is the most deceptive I have ever seen since I have been old enough to vote in 1972. (I am not defending the Obama campaign as being totally devoted to undistorted truth, but McCain's campaign is far worse.) For someone who allegedly holds honor in high regard, he has been less than honorable of late. On life issues, he supports embryonic stem-cell research while maintaining life begins at conception. (""Babies" have human rights, but it's apparently okay to use them for experimentation.) He does not show any real sign of wanting to overturn Roe v Wade. Having said that, for people whose number-one issue is criminalizing abortion, he is the clear choice. For people whose number-one issue is reducing abortions, good arguments can be made in favor of Obama.

Mr. Nichol: Then why is he so enthusiastic about FOCA, which isn't likely to reduce the number of abortions? This is not the only issue in my mind, nor even the most important one, but it is an important issue, and it distresses me that Obama should be so in favor of FOCA.

Fr. Komonchak, I don't know that I can speak for Obama, but I suppose he would say that he believes that each case where a woman considers abortion is different, and in each situation it is the woman, her physician, her family, the baby's father, the woman's minister or rabbbi, and so on, who should weigh all the circumstances and make the decision. Obviously, if you are against abortion, then you don't believe a woman has a right to make a choice. But if you acknowledge that abortion is a difficult issue on which people of good will can disagree, it seems you pretty much have to acknowledge it is not a radical idea to believe that if there is a right to choose, that right should be available to everyone, including women who don't have money, or women who are in a circumstance where the pro-life movement has managed to make it more difficult to get an abortion.It does not seem at all contradictory to me to firmly believe that people should have a choice in a specific matter, and also to hope that people never have to face that choice. For example, I would adamantly defend the right of people to refuse medical treatment they find expensive, burdensome, and possibly futile. But it's a right I hope no one ever has to exercise. So I don't see any contradiction in wanting to guarantee abortion rights and wanting to work toward having a country with social policies such that "there will always be a concrete, honorable and possible alternative to abortion" (Declaration on Procured Abortion). Obama has said we should acknowledge "that nobody wishes to be placed in a circumstance where they are even confronted with the choice of abortion. How we determine what's right at that moment, I think, people of good will can differ. And if we can acknowledge that much, then we can certainly agree on the fact that we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion."Having said that, I do believe FOCA goes too far (although Doug Kmiec argues that some things I was concerned about would actually not be affected). And I don't believe it can be passed. But even if it could be passed, the abortion rate has been declining for years, and I doubt that it would go back up. One of the things I think is important is to determine why the abortion rate is on the decline, and whatever factors are involved, do whatever can be done to augment them.

As you will see, overnight I've become infatuated with the distinction between voting in a referendum and voting for a candidate that I referred to above. See what an exciting life I lead!But seriously, let me add another consideration. In the U. S. a majority of voters have aligned themselves in some fashion with the two main parties. Very often,people vote for a candidate largely because he or she is the candidate of the favored party. That's pretty much true of me. I'm a proud "yellow dog" Democrat. I also find that the policies and proposals of the Democratic Party fit more snugly with Catholic Social teachings than do the policies etc. of the Republicans. This year, as usua, I would vote for whomever the Democratic Party nominated. But I gladly admit that the issue is not simple. There are good, respectable reasons for a person to be a diehard Republican and, accordingly, vote for whomever that party nominated.I grant that neither major party is all that any of its adherents could reasonably wish it to be. But one way to participate responsibly in U. S. politics is to be an active party member and to work within it, supporting its candidates, etc., to make it a party that genuinely promotes the common good of all citizens.It follows, then, that I can rightly vote fro my party's candidate even when I find his candidacy flawed. In short, a vote for a candidate, unlike a vote in a referendum, is a part of a more or less long way of engaging in our country's political life.If all this is so, then for a bishop to suggest that a vote for Obama is morally questionable is to show a faulty understanding of what the complexities of political practice in the U. S. are.Even worse is the remark of Archbishop Burke about the Democratic party as the "parrty of death." Does he really claim that no Catholic should be a Democrat? Does he want a return to a clericalist political party of the kind seen in Europe in the past.As best I can tell from this comment of his, he is either a fool or a knave. I do hope that I am mistaken. If I'm not and his clerical career has flourished as it obviously has, then what does that say about the Church's central hierarchy?

I tried to present the matter of FOCA as raising issues different from those already discussed many times and at length here and elsewhere. FOCA has to do with future legislation, and its supporters urge it as sweeping away the few restrictions on abortion now in place in some places. Whether it is likely to be enacted, I don't know, but a Democratic president and a sufficiently large Democratic majority in Congress would increase the probability, unless we are not to believe anything the candidates for those offices say--which is a distinct possibility. I am simply watching to whom the candidates are pandering, and I do not like to see Obama pandering to the supporters of FOCA. He didn't have to say what he said.

Fr. Komonchak,I think Obama may, probably does, believe strongly in FOCA.I think it all boils down to whether you think the best way to deal with abortion is (1) to prohibit it by law (one part of what the Declaration on Procured Abortion advocates), or (2) "to pursue a reform of society and of conditions of life in all milieux, starting with the most deprived, so that always and everywhere it may be possible to give every child coming into this world a welcome worthy of a person. Help for families and for unmarried mothers, assured grants for children, a statute for illegitimate children and reasonable arrangements for adoption - a whole positive policy must be put into force so that there will always be a concrete, honorable and possible alternative to abortion" (the other part of what the Declaration advocates).McCain is offering 1 but not 2. Obama is not offering 1 (quite the opposite), but comes a lot closer to offering 2 than one could ever hope McCain would. So unlike a lot of people, I don't see this as a choice between voting for McCain and being in conformity with Catholic teaching on abortion, versus voting for Obama and trying to come up with a "proportionate reason." I see it as choosing which part of Catholic teaching, 1 or 2, you think is the better approach. The Catholic Church wants both, but there is no candidate offering both, and as long as we have Republicans and Democrats, there never will be. So the people who are firmly in favor of 1 will be appalled that Obama wants to loosen rather than tighten legal restrictions on abortion. The people who are firmly in favor of 2 don't believe legal restrictions are the way to go, so loosening them is not such a concern. I believe McCain was truly pandering when he said human rights begin at conception, since he supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Bernard:"a faulty understanding of what the complexities of political practice in the U. S. are."On political practice and its relationship with personal morals and values.If you stand back and simply view this issue (that is the issue of abortion politics) it is obvious that Obama, based on his brief public record and his clear, consistent rhetoric has adopted as an operative political ideology, abortion on demand, at any stage. I think to argue otherwise is disingenuous. He has not articulated even the Clintonian position of abortion as being safe, legal and rare.With respect to his position, it is a legitimate public policy position and it is clear. Now, even with that degree of clarity on an issue that Catholics at least say they are opposed to, he is STILL being supported by a significant number of Catholics. In fact, Obama even struck an advisory group made of Catholic intellectuals to advise him on policy. Consequently, I think the view that Catholics can remain in the party and change the dominant perspective to a pro-life seamless garment approach a la Bernadin and Martin Sheen is becoming less credible as a tactic. I dont believe that an analysis of the evidence (even anecdotally) will bear this hope or expectation out. On this Catholic board, which can affectionately be referred to as the Democratic party at prayer, I have seen many Catholics who I dont think are even personally opposed to abortion. Or else the opposition to abortion is largely perfunctory. There are many for whom this is a genuine struggle but among the activists I really doubt it. That is not a judgment at all. It is just a dispassionate observation which I suspect would be supported by research. But thats just a hunch. What has occurred is that the Democratic ethos with respect to abortion, has enveloped whatever previous moral opposition Catholics had. (I am speaking of activists)That said, I do believe that a Catholic can vote for a Democratic candidate who favours abortion rights for other reasons. However, in so doing that Catholic has to take responsibility for the consequences of the executive legislation that they know will occur with respect to expanding the access, availability and even acceptability of abortion as a morally legitimate choice. The distinction both in practice and even in terms of personal morality will slowly diminish.I think JP II accurately understood that culture is far more influential on moral behaviour and personal conduct than external religiosity. Thus, I would hesitate to be so dismissive of Burkes effort in this regard. He is an American and understands American culture.

David Nickol,Thank you for your posts here. You are helping me think through this issue. Indeed, I am trying to do the thing that you don't think is worthwhile: I'm trying to find "proportionate reasons" to balance out Obama's abortion position, not because of fear of eternal damnation, but because I think the bishops are trying to help inform our consciences. If you know of any thoughtful attempts to reason out a vote for Obama using this question of "proportionate reasons " on the web, I'd be interested in reading them. (Kmiec seems to be offering more of a position like your number 1 or 2 bit.) You said: Obama is not offering 1 (quite the opposite), but comes a lot closer to offering 2 than one could ever hope McCain would.Yes, Obama is closer than McCain in offering 2, but that isn't hard to do, is it? Obama has not sponsored or endorsed the 95-10 bill. He has only made rhetorical promises to reduce unwanted pregnancy. The social programs he supports might reduce abortion, but he doesn't seem to support them with that goal in mind. I'm wondering how close he really gets to number 2. McCain is surely closer to offering number 1, than Obama is to offering number 2.

Pardon me if I am too blunt. A number of you, my fellow bloggers, seem determined to treat this presidential election as a referendum of some sort on the two candidates' positions on abortion, or on some other very circumscribed set of topics. In a recent issue of America, Fr. Kavanaugh, the moral theologian from St. Louis University,concluded that he could not vote for either candidate because he had a radical disagreement with both of them.Fr. Komonchak seems to be of the same mind. So does William Collier.Others, e.g., George D, also insist in talking about this election largely in terms of abortion.But whether any of us like it or not, this is not an accurate grasp of what the election is about. Whether we like it oor not, the election is about climate change, health care, foreign aid, education, etc., etc. To decide that one's outrage about abortion stands or any other small set of issues entitles one to sit out this election in which so many other large issues are at stake strikes me as, I'm sorry to say, silly.I do appreciate that abortion is a huge and important issue. For a person confronted with making a decision to have or assist in an abortion, it is as great a moral issue as there can be. But for us voters to lose sight of all else that is at stake and retreat to some putative high ground of abstaining from voting is, objectively speaking, to abdicate one's serious moral responsibilities to one's fellows, bot fellow citizens and others who wili be affected by the policies that the elected leaders will promote.To claim some sort of refined sensibility requires abstention from voting strikes me as simply bizarre.Note that this is not an argument that one ought to vote for the candidate I endorse. It is, instead, an argument that claims that one has a serious obligation to vote for one of the candidates, or at least to vote for one of the minor party candidates.

David,The law would prohibit states from banning abortions of viable infants. Viable, meaning able to live independently, outside the womb. Like, wel, an infant. Most people, even most "pro-choice" people find that morally objectionable - most think it is infanticide. It may not be exposing a newborn on the side of a mountain, but it is still killing a baby.If Obama has such a restrictive view of "life and health of the mother," why doesn't he bother to put it in the law. He supports the law as it is written, he has said so. What his personal view of life and health of the mother means is meaningless.I never said he is an evil man, I said he doesn't care what Catholics think unless they already agree with him, or if like many here, will support him regardless of his stands on issues like abortion - no matter how radical. Indeed, I expect if Obama and his wing of the Democrat Party actually take power Catholics have a lot more to worry about than abortion. Among his most ardent supporters, religious people generally, and Catholics and Evangelicals in particular, are the enemy.

JC,Actually, one of my points is that concepts like intrinsic evil, formal cooperation with evil, material cooperation with evil, remote material cooperation with evil, and proportionate reason are all technical terms that those of us who have not been trained in moral theology are not equipped to use. I don't recall seeing any arguments that use all these terms and argue that one may (or should) vote for Obama. There are many arguments from conservative Catholics against Obama that attempt to use the terminology, but to the best of my knowledge, they are misusing it. The basic form of the anti-Obama argument is that since there are around 1.3 million abortions a year, and McCain is pro-life, one has to come up with a way to prove that Obama will somehow save 1.3 million innocent lives to balance out the 1.3 million lost to abortion. There are many flaws there, an obvious one being that just because McCain calls himself pro-life doesn't mean he will prevent 1.3 million abortions a year. But from what I gather (and I do not claim to be an expert) "proportionate reason" is not a mathematical concept. The whole thing is like presenting lay people with a problem to solve in quantum mechanics when they haven't even read a popular book on the subject.

Sean,I think it would be a rare person who is not troubled by late-term abortions, which are really quite rare. I am sure that many people would say that at least some late-term abortions are the moral equivalent of infanticide. But to say one thing is the moral equivalent of another is not to say they are actually the same thing. And suppose there was a late-term abortion to save the life of the mother. Do you think people would say, "In order to save her life, it was necessary to commit infanticide"? In any case, you are giving a new interpretation to the infanticide charge. It was leveled against Obama because he opposed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, and since viable infants were already protected by the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975, the infanticide charge applied only to allowing born-alive pre-viable fetuses die, when of course they could not be saved. I have long maintained that the infanticide charge against Obama is basically an article of faith among certain pro-lifers. People who detest Obama's position on abortion take the infanticide charge to be true, and then prove it by coming up with new interpretations of infanticide, like fundamentalists who must force meanings on scripture to "prove" it is inerrant.If Obama has such a restrictive view of life and health of the mother, why doesnt he bother to put it in the law. He supports the law as it is written, he has said so. What his personal view of life and health of the mother means is meaningless.This is what Doug Kmiec says

It is well known that Senator Obama has clearly stated on numerous occasions his support for restrictions on late term abortions. Indeed, Senator Obama has identified the need to draft a clearly defined health exception, the responsible narrowing of which Doug Johnson and I - and perhaps the entire right to life community, including the dear late Henry Hyde himself -- have been advocating for decades.Obama, to the best of my knowledge, has not drafted such a law, but as far as I know, neither has John McCain. I believe we've heard more from Obama during the campaign about restricting late-term abortions than we have from McCain. (McCain, by the way, says there will be no litmus test on abortion, or anything else, if he gets to make appointments to the Supreme Court. That is as it should be, but without a litmus test, you don't know whether you are appointing "pro-life judges.") Indeed, I expect if Obama and his wing of the Democrat Party actually take power Catholics have a lot more to worry about than abortion. Among his most ardent supporters, religious people generally, and Catholics and Evangelicals in particular, are the enemy.Who are these "ardent supporters"? Can you cite any facts to support those allegations?

Apologies! Here, with correct coding (I hope) is the last half of the message above:This is what Doug Kmiec says

It is well known that Senator Obama has clearly stated on numerous occasions his support for restrictions on late term abortions. Indeed, Senator Obama has identified the need to draft a clearly defined health exception, the responsible narrowing of which Doug Johnson and I - and perhaps the entire right to life community, including the dear late Henry Hyde himself have been advocating for decades.

Obama, to the best of my knowledge, has not drafted such a law, but as far as I know, neither has John McCain. I believe weve heard more from Obama during the campaign about restricting late-term abortions than we have from McCain. (McCain, by the way, says there will be no litmus test on abortion, or anything else, if he gets to make appointments to the Supreme Court. That is as it should be, but without a litmus test, you dont know whether you are appointing pro-life judges.)Indeed, I expect if Obama and his wing of the Democrat Party actually take power Catholics have a lot more to worry about than abortion. Among his most ardent supporters, religious people generally, and Catholics and Evangelicals in particular, are the enemy.Who are these ardent supporters? Can you cite any facts to support those allegations?

I cannot understand why abortion is such a defining issue in the U.S Presidential election whereas it hardly finds any mention anywhere else. (I am not American, but am Catholic.) Whatever law a President may enable, it cannot compel anyone to have an abortion. That is a choice individual persons will have to make. But no individual can take decisions like starting a war or on economic policy. It seems obvious to me that these should be far more important while choosing between candidates.

Dear Bernhard Dauenhauer and Sunil Korah,Please read the original post. This thread is about FOCA. FOCA is an abortion law. That is why most of the comments on this thread are about abortion. Why do people at this blog always assume that people are only going to vote based on abortion, whenever there is a discussion about abortion? Should we never discuss abortion because there are other issues? David Nickol,Thank you for your help. As I mentioned already, I don't think McCain is going to stop any more abortions. I was thinking that proportionate reasons likely meant some other issue where innocent life is being taken, such as bombing in war, or ??

In the US abortion is a symbolic issue and has an impact in other areas. For example, appointments to federal health services posts, appointments to federal judicial appointments and supreme court, positions on population control inititatives at the UN, selection of ambassadors who project US image abroad and igniting base support for measures such as FOCA that would otherwise languish (speaking of Obama).McCain has not made abortion a central feature of this race. In fact, in terms of sub-text the Obama camp is far more likely to utilize the pro-choice theme to mobilize the base in times of crisis (as happened a month ago) than McCain. However, McCain did it via his Palin pick. So aborion politics often feature at the very least as a unifier particularly for Demcorats. That is the reality of US politics as far as Democrats are concerned. I think that is fair and not partisan.Obviously Republicans have their own orthodoxies as well.

David,You're kidding right? There have been a number of posts on the Maher movie. Ask yourself, if you ran a poll of people attending that movie on who they support, how would that come out? Remember Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan - Edwards famous anti-Cathlic bigots - go read their blogs today. Go look at moveon's site. The Huffington Post.If you or Kmiec think that when push come to shove Obama would support any meaningful restrictions at all on abortions, I have some mortgage backed securities you will be interested in. You really think that when there will be a choice between liberal pro-lifers and NARAL he will swing your way? That's insane.Face it, he doesn't need to please any anti-abortion contituency - liberal or conservative. The conservatives won't support him anyway, and the liberals will just look the other way - they always have.Sunil - Why is abortion important? It is a bell weather issue. You say we should worry about war and economic policy. What kind of an economy will we have in one or two generations when we have aborted 30% of society's productive members? Why should anyone care about the pain or suffering accross the sea when a mother can destroy her child up to the moment of birth? You say no one is forced to have an abortion - think again. Leaving aside that the practice is common in places like China and India, some studies show that nearly half of all abortion in the US there is some element of coercion or compulsion by a third party. And for those who laud women's rights, that third party is almost always a man - a boyfriend or father or husband.

Youre kidding right? There have been a number of posts on the Maher movie. Ask yourself, if you ran a poll of people attending that movie on who they support, how would that come out? Remember Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan - Edwards famous anti-Cathlic bigots - go read their blogs today. Go look at moveons site. The Huffington Post.Sean,On the other hand, McCain has supporters in the American Nazi Party and the KKK. And if Obama loses by a narrow margin, it could very well be that racists who might otherwise have voted Democratic could not bring themselves to vote for a black man. But the fact is, it is unfair to judge either Obama or McCain by the fringe groups who support him or by the most unsavory of his supporters. I am unable to predict the future. All I can say is that Obama has on several occasions made it clear that he supports a stricter interpretations of "life and health of the mother" when it comes to permitting late-term abortions. He has said he would define mental health strictly as a clinical mental disorder, not as "mental distress" or "feeling blue."

What kind of an economy will we have in one or two generations when we have aborted 30% of societys productive members?Sean,This is an extraordinarily weak argument against abortion. You are worried about its impact on the economy? Is abortion hurting the economies of China or India? Would you be in favor of abortion if it was good for the economy? Why should anyone care about the pain or suffering accross the sea when a mother can destroy her child up to the moment of birth?One might turn it around and say why should anyone care about the unborn when millions of children all over the world die from hunger each year? I don't think you can make a case against abortion based on the amount of suffering inflicted on the unborn. A child who starves to death experiences suffering and is aware that it is suffering. You can make a moral case against abortion by claiming life begins at conception and an abortion is the unjust taking of a human life. But I am much more moved by the suffering of the poor and starving of the world than I am by the suffering of aborted babies (if indeed there is any). And I don't think the issue of suffering even comes up when discussing embryonic stem-cell research.

David Nickol said: "But the fact is, it is unfair to judge either Obama or McCain by the fringe groups who support him or by the most unsavory of his supporters."You really think the examples Sean gave of moveon.org or the Huffington Post represent "fringe groups"? Just today the Huffington Post has a posting from the Junior Senator from Vermont and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.. And I believe MoveOn PAC has an annual operating budget near $100 million. Now, I don't read those sites often enough to have an opinion if they are hostile to religious people, etc., but they don't seem "fringe" to me in the way I imagine the American Nazi Party and the KKK are.

MAT,You're right. I wouldn't call Huffington Post (which I do look at with some frequency) or Moveon.org (which I never look at) "fringe." I would call them highly partisan. I was reacting to Sean's reference to Marcotte and McEwan. I just took a very quick look at Marcotte's site, but I am really not interested enough to read so I can give an opinion of it. I was perhaps a little unfair in my examples, although the point still is valid. I thought Ronald Reagan had a good line when he was being pressed to disavow support from the John Birch Society and said something like, "I don't support them; they support me." I don't think Catholics are an embattled minority or will be in any danger from an Obama administration. I would be curious to know what people who are appalled by Huffington Post and Moveon.org recommend as alternatives from either a neutral or conservative point of view.

David,Where is your evidence that the American Nazi Party and the KKK support McCain? Did he speak at their national convention? Have they raised millions of dollars for his campaign? Do they sell McCain t-shirts, bumper stickers, books etc. on their web site?As for the economy - that's not an argument against abortion. It is an example of how rampant abortion on demand is a symptom of a society in decline - in my opinion, one with a fatal disease. We are wringing our hand about the credit markets while we have aborted ourselves into a situation where our children, when they grow old, will have no one to support the economy on which they will rely. As for China and India - their time will come. When your population has a deficit of 200-300 million women, and you continue to abort on demand where will the next generation even come from?As for moveon etc. my point has nothing to do with whether they are "fringe." While I think they are far to the left of average Americans, my point is that when the time comes to make a choice on something like tightening up restrictions on late term abortions it is them and NARAL and PP, not the Kmeic's of the world, that Obama will listen to - and he knows it even as he says he favors more restrictions. As the old saying goes, why buy the cow when you get the milk for free - or for being really really sincere about your feelings. Starving children and aborted ones - for Americans, they are exactly the same - invisible.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.