The National Catholic Review

President-elect Barack Obama has tapped Tom Daschle to become Secretary of Health and Human Services, a selection that is due chiefly to Daschle’s expertise in health care and his intimate knowledge of Congress and its ways. The Secretary of HHS, alas, also oversees policies that treat abortion and Daschle is a lapsed Catholic so you can expect the fireworks to have begun by the time you are reading this.

My good friend, and blogger extraordinaire, Rocco Palmo ran an item on Daschle under the headline "Is This War?" Given some of the more outrageous claims among conservative Catholics about the consequences of an Obama administration, there will be no shortage of commentators saying the Daschle choice is a declaration of war. But that is because they want the war: The Church in America today is burdened by a group of conservative prelates and laity all of whom seem to be taking their marching orders from the Republican National Committee.

The Catholic press and blogosphere are the only outlets that view the Daschle selection through the prism of where he stands on the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Most commentators have focused on his other attributes as a policy-maker and noted how these comport with the goals annunciated by Obama during his campaign. The press is not discussing his position on FOCA because they know that FOCA will never pass Congress and the while Deal Hudson and his GOP allies succeeded in making it the bug-a-boo for their friends in the hierarchy, it is a phantom issue, a scare tactic.

But what is Daschle’s position on abortion? Daschle voted in favor of the partial birth abortion ban. He also supported criminal penalties for harming an unborn child when a perpetrator attacks a pregnant woman. NARAL gave him a 50% rating in their voting guide which is remarkably low for a Democrat. In short, it is a mischaracterization to suggest that Daschle is a political tool of the abortion rights movement. When Bishop Robert Carlson asked him to stop referring to himself as a Catholic because of his position on abortion the bishop said, "NARAL claims [Daschle] as one of their number-one supporters." That is factually inaccurate. No one who voted to ban partial birth abortion won such accolades from NARAL.

The pro-life movement has an historic opportunity. A Democratic administration has made reducing the abortion rate a stated goal. This is great progress. The election of many pro-life Democrats in the last two election cycles means there will be a pro-life voice inside the congressional caucuses, men and women who hold seats that could swing back to the GOP. They do not have a veto over Nancy Pelosi, but she can’t remain as Speaker if they lose their seats because the Democrats embrace a radical pro-abortion agenda.

Instead of seizing this opportunity, some pro-life leaders have opted for rejectionism. Before the election, Doug Johnson at the National Right to Life Committee called Obama’s abortion reduction claims a "scam." In a front page story in this Tuesday’s Washington Post, Joe Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League said, "It’s a sellout, as far as we are concerned. We don’t think it’s really genuine. You don’t have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions." Those are the words of a man who has never spoken with a poor woman facing a crisis pregnancy and who has evidently never read a papal encyclical on social justice. These voices can be counted upon to denounce the Daschle appointment.

Despite the fulminations of some, including several bishops, that Obama is the most pro-choice President in history, he is hardly beholden to pro-abortion groups. For starters, they and their donors were mostly backing Hillary Clinton in the primaries. And, so far from being a political ploy cooked up by Obama, switching from the fruitless effort to overturn Roe v. Wade to an abortion reduction strategy of enacting policies that help pregnant women was recommended in the pages of America in an April 19, 1997 article. Eleven years ago. I remember because I wrote it.

Call me an optimist, but I think having a Democrat at HHS with a 50% rating from NARAL is a step in the right direction. The Daschle glass is half-full, not half-empty.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 11/22/2008 - 10:43am
As the longtime legislative director for National Right to Life, I can tell you that Tom Daschle was, in fact, a strong ally of the pro-abortion side during his time in Congress, especially when he was Senate Majority Leader in 2001-2002. During that two-year period, five major pro-life bills passed the House and were killed by Daschle in the Senate, including the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, the ban on human cloning, and parental notification legislation. Some of these bills could have passed the Senate, but Daschle used his power to deny them votes. When the Republicans took control of the Senate in 2003, Daschle became minority leader. In that post, he continued to make every effort to block major pro-life bills, and was sometimes successful. He voted for the partial-birth abortion ban only AFTER losing votes on ''killer amendments,'' which were pro-abortion substitute measures, including one that would have allowed third-trimester abortions based on emotional health claims. On the unborn victims (fetal homicide) issue, he supported a substitute bill (another Feinstein substitute) that would have actually codified the doctrine that an unborn child can never be the victim of a federal crime. Only after that substitute was defeated did he vote for the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognized unborn children as crime victims. Douglas Johnson Legislative Director National Right to Life Committee Washington, D.C. www.nrlc.org legfederal //at// aol.com
Anonymous | 11/25/2008 - 1:29pm
Justin, are you serious? Since I don't know about his ''healthcare expertise'' I'm not allowed to comment? Actually I didn't comment, I asked the question what is his expertise. I am well aware of his passing healthcare legislation and working across the aisle. However as one who is employed in the healthcare field I would like to know what Mr. Daschle's expertise is in this area. Passing legislation is not ''expertise.'' As to your further claim that ''Far too often Catholic voters are swayed by the Republicans that the only way to be pro-life is to overturn Roe v. Wade.'' that is simply a false statement. Show me one pro-life organization that has as it's sole mission overturning Roe v. Wade. Nobody actively involved in pro-life work believes that overturning Roe v. Wade is the end of our work. Finally to suggest that Mr. Daschle will do more good for pro-life that Republicans or even other Democrats is simply absurd as Doug Johnson has clearly pointed out. The major effort of the Democrats, as I mentioned above, is to greatly increase funding for birth control and defund abstinence only programs. Now since birth control is intrinsically evil and abstinence education is more in line with the Catholic virtue of chastity how can you possibly suggest that what these people are doing is more consistent with Catholic teaching.
Anonymous | 11/25/2008 - 1:10pm
I have read the social encyclicals and I have spoken with poor women seeking abortions -- just to set the record straight. It is true that poverty can be one of the problems a woman faces when she becomes pregnant, but in our experience it is usually a situation more grave than finances that drives a woman to abort a baby she may very much want. It is more often pressure and non-acceptance by a boy friend, husband or parents, encouraging her to abort her pregnancy. We try to talk with the ones pressuring her,if we can, in order to prevent her from the life-long regret of destroying her child, ruining her life, and driving a wedge in her relationship with those who are encouraging the abortion. As for whether Daschle's cup is half-full or half-empty regarding his position on abortion, I've never been one for seeking half-measures when the subject is innocent human life, but I do know that God can write straight with crooked lines. We'll see. In Christ. Joe Scheidler, Chicago.
Anonymous | 11/25/2008 - 1:02pm
DaveP, Kind of hard to care much about Obama's fresh start when millions of innocent lives are being slaughtered. If you just want to sweep that under the carpet and pretend it doesn't exist so that you can have your desired "fresh start" then go for it. Those of us who care about the slaughter of the innocents will remain as vocal as ever. Funny that you say we're stoking the fires of culture wars. Would someone who opposed the Nazi genocide be accused of stoking the fires of culture wars? What about someone who fought to end slavery? What about someone who fought for other civil rights movements? Perhaps they would, but if they were they would be wrong then just as you are wrong now. This isn't stoking the fire of culture wars. This is fighting against an injustice more egregious than any our nation has ever known. Please stop attempting to minimize it and recognize this for what it is. If you then still want to dismiss it, at least you are dismissing it with proper gravity.
Anonymous | 11/24/2008 - 12:16pm
The national right to life movement is incapable of any kind of political compromise, which is why no one is bound to take it seriously.
Anonymous | 11/22/2008 - 4:54pm
Thank God someone has a clear head about this. Thank you, I was beginning to worry that no one was seeing the bigger picture here. Far too often Catholic voters are swayed by the Republicans that the only way to be pro-life is to overturn Roe v. Wade. While I don't claim Daschle as a savior or a champion of the pro-life movement, I would say that he'll do a lot more good than his Republican counterparts have or any other Democrat would have. As for Jean Richard, if you don't know Daschle's record on health care (either his expertise or lack of it) then how can you adequately comment on it here on this blog? Do your homework, he's got a solid record of passing health care legislation and working between the aisles
Anonymous | 11/22/2008 - 10:49am
I'd like to add that Tom Daschle was such a close and valued ally of NARAL, that shortly before the 2002 election, NARAL supporters across the nation got an e-mail solicitation urging them to make donations to NARAL -- a solicitation signed by Tom Daschle. The e-mail read in part, ''From: Tom Daschle, U.S. Senate Majority Leader. Rarely has so much been at stake for a woman’s right to choose in a U.S. Senate Election. If you and thousands of other pro-choice Americans like you don’t act today by giving to NARAL’s Save the Senate Campaign, the U.S. Senate could fall into anti-choice hands on November 6th -- the first day after the election. . . As the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, I’ve stood up for a woman’s right to choose, and the pro-choice leadership of the Senate has made a difference by safeguarding women’s rights from the anti-choice agenda of the Bush administration. Please give to NARAL today, so NARAL can mobilize the resources to get out the pro-choice vote on Election Day.'' Douglas Johnson Legislative Director National Right to Life Committee Washington, D.C. www.nrlc.org legfederal //at// aol.com
Anonymous | 11/21/2008 - 5:31pm
Sean, indulge us please. Why are you so sure that FOCA hasn't a chance of passing? It has the support of the president elect and the Democrats will control nearly 60% of both houses? Is it because it's not mentioned in the Democratic Party Platform this year? Please share, as I'd love to be so sanguine.
Anonymous | 11/21/2008 - 10:22am
''Those are the words of a man who has never spoken with a poor woman facing a crisis pregnancy and who has evidently never read a papal encyclical on social justice. These voices can be counted upon to denounce the Daschle appointment.'' But I have and I sit on the board of an inner-city crisis pregnancy center. Of the women that came to see us last month at least 3 out of 4 were unmarried. How do you think that the economic plan is going to help them? Obama has also stated that another way he intends to reduce abortion is through greater spending and distribution of articficial birth control. As a Catholic how do you feel about this proposal to promote intrinsically evil acts? Since my previous post was deleted because I didn't include a last name I will repeat it. What exactly is Daschles ''expertise'' in healthcare?
Anonymous | 11/21/2008 - 12:06am
1. Obama and the press have not mentioned the FOCA: Mr. Winters interprets this to mean that Obama does not want the FOCA to pass. I hope you are right. I fear that he and the press have not mentioned this because they wanted that ''Catholic vote'' in the general election. The bishops are rightly keeping pressure on the Democratic Party and Obama, letting them know that we are watching them. 2. Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health: I am a physician in Illinois. I have great fear about a day when my ''rightly formed'' conscience will not be respected. I will have to either play ball or get out. I hope Winters is right that I can count on fellow Catholic Daschle to defend my right to practice medicine and not violate the most basic of human rights. 3. Daschle's 50% NARAL rating: Winter is an optimist? 2000 humans killed legally on average each day in the US. You most certainly are an optimist!
Anonymous | 11/20/2008 - 9:57pm
Triple A-- "about abortion--always" keep up the drumbeat, folks... keep the Catholic culture war fires burning .. don't give this President and new administration any quarter to do anything good that we so desperately need in attempting some semblance of a fresh start... keep it up...pile it on...more indulgences for everyone!
Anonymous | 11/20/2008 - 5:01pm
''The press is not discussing [Daschle's] position on FOCA because they know that FOCA will never pass Congress ...[FOCA] is a phantom issue.'' The press knows that FOCA will not pass? I guess I've missed such commentary for the most part. I think FOCA is not being discussed except in ''the Catholic press and blogosphere'' (thank goodness they've kept the issue on the radar) because abortion was, unfortunately, far down on the list of election issues. As Catholics, I think we have an obligation to raise public consciousness about the issue, not by invective and shrill speech, but by working towards changing hearts and minds, by working towards legal solutions, and by gathering support for safety nets that may dissuade pregnant women contemplating abortion from going through with termination of their pregnancies. All of these efforts are equally important. Beyond FOCA there are still the issues of federal funding for abortions and for destructive embryonic stem cell research. Secretary-Designate Daschle will play a major role in effecting the new administration's decisions regarding these issues. Let's hope he's up to the challenge, though I'd feel more comfortable if we were dealing with someone who wasn't a 50/50 toss up. And I say this as a pro-life liberal.
Anonymous | 11/20/2008 - 2:15pm
This post signifies why optimism is not a theological virtue. One can hope and pray that Tom Daschle will be a HHS Secretary who will not oppose prolife efforts, but there are legitimate concerns about his legislative record, which indicates among other things support for taxpayer funding of abortions. So, not surprisingly, NARAL's president Nancy Keenan has shown her support for this apparent nomination: "Sen. Daschle will bring thoughtful progressive leadership to the Department of Health and Human Services. We appreciate his recent efforts to help defeat two abortion bans in South Dakota. We had a good working relationship with him during his tenure as Senate leader and look forward to continuing that relationship as he assumes this pivotal role in the Obama administration." Lastly, FOCA is not something prolifers are thrusting upon the world. It is a Democratic bill that was given full sanction by then candidate Obama's promise to enact it. There are many strategies to abortion reduction, including legal ones, yet FOCA overrides them all. I hope the silence on FOCA from the left so far indicates their acknowledgment that there is no mandate for it, yet I fear what we will see is piece meal enactment of the statutes in FOCA, the impact of which will be equally Draconian. By the way, I write as an independent voter who has no love lost for the GOP. I try my best to follow the Christian faith and be a part of the Body that Christ has called me to. It's unfortunate when that is construed as a "burden" upon the Church.