news commentary
June 15, 2007


Government should stay out of the abortion issue
by Tom Bogdon

It is an unhappy commentary on the state of American politics that the National Right to Life Committee, meeting June 14-16 at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City, will hear speeches from just two Republican presidential candidates and none of the Democratic contenders. It’s something that reflects the extreme polarization among national and state politicians on the sensitive and morally important abortion issue.

Scheduled to speak to the convention were former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a current front-runner in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who is trying to break out of the pack of GOP White House hopefuls.

Romney, who adopted a more liberal stance when he ran for governor, has been characterized by some as a political opportunist for taking the position that abortion is the “wrong choice” except in cases of incest, rape and to save the life of the mother. Brownback, a convert to Catholicism, lately has questioned whether abortion should be permitted even in cases of rape.

According to The Kansas City Star, several other leading Republican presidential candidates are not coming to the Kansas City convention, including U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

But it is the absence of any and all of the Democratic presidential candidates from the National Right to Life meeting that is most disturbing. Perhaps none were invited. Whatever the reason for the Democrats’ absence, it is an indication that the 2008 presidential campaign may again be played out as a Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life contest.

There is no question the National Right to Life Committee and its allies will be a powerful factor in the nomination of the 2008 Republican presidential ticket. Its members across the country, particularly in the Midwest, will campaign for pro-life candidates, donate funds to their campaigns, and participate in primary elections and caucuses. And in November 2008, they will vote a pro-life (probably Republican) ticket.

By the same token, abortion rights advocates, mobilized in such groups as NARAL Pro-Choice America and Missouri Pro-Vote, will be equally active in choosing the Democratic presidential ticket. They will campaign for pro-choice presidential candidates (probably Democrats), donate money to their campaigns, and participate in their behalf in primary elections and caucuses. And in November 2008, they will vote a Democratic ticket, in large part because the candidates are pro-choice.

As a Catholic and as an admirer of such Democrats as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, the polarization of our nation’s politics along pro-choice/pro-life lines tends to break my heart every four years — and, in Missouri, more often than that. Fortunately or unfortunately, none of my heroes (who served before Roe v. Wade was a factor in American jurisprudence and politics) had to take this litmus test.

As a Catholic with Democratic leanings, I have concluded after covering political campaigns for more years than I care to remember that the “abortion issue” has a lot more nuances than are usually accorded to it in the print and broadcast media. Most reporters throw the terms “pro choice” and “pro life” around with the same lack of precision as “conservative” and “liberal.”

Although I am not a lawyer or an expert on U.S. Supreme Court decisions on abortion issues, it is my understanding that Roe v. Wade, which confirmed a woman’s right to choose an abortion, was based on an implicit constitutional right to privacy. I have no quarrel with that reading of the Constitution. However, I have long thought that the real constitutional guarantee that should be applied is the right to freedom of religion.

It is significant, in my opinion that much of the contention surrounding abortion springs from strongly held religious and/or moral beliefs. While abortion opponents argue that the procedure wrongly destroys the life of an unborn child, those who insist on abortion rights believe, just as strongly, that it is sinful to force a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or, in the alternative, to force her to resort to a back-alley solution to a seemingly insoluble problem.

As The Star noted in an advance article to this week’s National Right to Life convention, the group met in Kansas City previously, in 1984, and that on that occasion Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago urged those in attendance to find “common ground” with activists for peace, the disabled, civil rights and other causes that he said were “pro life.”

Indeed, Cardinal Bernardin could have been referring to some of the same issues that attract me, and millions of others, to some bedrock Democratic Party issues, issues including economic and social justice, and responsible stewardship of the environment. Unfortunately, some of the interest groups that pro-life Republicans have made common cause with include some of the greediest and most jingoistic elements of Wall Street and Big Business.

What I am getting at is that since Roe v. Wade, American politics has been distorted by single-issue voting by both pro-life and pro-choice adherents, and the nation has suffered for it. Millions must hold their noses when they go to the polls because of the poor quality candidates they believe they have to choose from, and millions more simply abdicate the right to vote entirely.

I believe that the abortion issue is first and foremost a religious matter, and I believe it should for the most part be treated as such in the courts, in Congress and state legislatures as well as in the political arena. Furthermore, the Constitution mandates religious freedom and I believe this decades-long struggle has demonstrated that the only solution is a compromise that respects the bedrock principles of both the pro-life forces and the pro-choice adherents.

In other words, the government and politicians on all sides should get out of this issue and stay out of it, other than to pledge governmental neutrality. A constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion is an idea whose time has come…and gone. Government and the courts should not prohibit or endorse abortion, beyond the minimal health regulations already in place. Let the churches and such organizations as Planned Parenthood continue or even expand their roles in encouraging or attempting to deter women confronted by an unplanned pregnancy from obtaining an abortion.

Moreover, there should be no government funding or subsidy of abortion, any more than government should fund an established state religion. There should be no governmental entitlement to abortion on demand as some pro-choice organizations advocate. Some pro-choice advocates seek such an entitlement because, they say, poor women who may need an abortion may not be able to afford the cost. My suggestion: Let Planned Parenthood obtain private donations to pay the cost of abortion for those who need the procedure but can’t afford it.

Government should not be placed in the position of paying for — and thus endorsing — abortion services, even if, as many suggest, Congress establishes a single-payer health care system. The vast majority of the 1.3 million abortions performed each year in the United States are performed as an emergency form of birth control, and are not basic health care. As a matter of principle, government should not give its imprimatur to abortion any more than it should prohibit the procedure.

I doubt that either the National Right to Life Committee or NARAL Pro-Choice America would recognize these principles as the basis for a truce in the seemingly endless struggle over the abortion issue, but if I were a political candidate running for elective office in Missouri, Kansas or the United States of America, I would be willing to take my chances telling American voters that I consider abortion a religious question, and “here’s why….”

Tom Bogdon can be contacted


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