The National Catholic Review

First, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi demonstrated that she wasn’t paying attention during theology classes when she matriculated at Trinity College. Now, Sen. Joe Biden has managed to wade into the treacherous waters of making pronouncements on what the Church does, and does not, teach about when human life begins. The Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate, who has a mixed record on pro-life issues, went further than he needed to go on "Meet the Press" yesterday, mentioning Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica as if he were an expert, but quickly demonstrating that he is no theologian.

Note to Democratic candidates: You are not running to become theologian-in-chief. And, in the event, the platform you just adopted has something genuinely new and important to say about abortion, and theological speculation is just going to step on that platform.

The Democrats, for the first time, called for policies that will reduce the number of abortions by preventing crisis pregnancies in the first place and by providing assistance to women facing crisis pregnancies so that they can carry their child to term. The GOP removed similar language from their platform, keeping their traditional but so far unsuccessful call for overturning Roe v. Wade. Seeing as seven of the nine justices on the Supreme Court were appointed by Republicans, pro-life advocates need to ask themselves how effective they think the GOP approach is ever going to be.

In fact, a new study undertaken by the group Catholics in Alliance For the Common Good shows that overturning Roe would have a minimal effect on reducing the number of abortions because the states likely to enact restrictions on abortion are also the states that have the fewest number of abortions. Conversely, providing pre-natal health care to poor women and making adoption less onerous and expensive might actually produce dramatic decreases in the number of abortions.

This is what the Democrats should focus on. The debate over Roe is stale and divisive, but all Americans can agree that reducing the number of abortions is an important societal goal. What will work to achieve that? The Democrats have a plan. The GOP has a 35 year record of unfulfilled promises. And, the next time someone in the media asks when human life begins, tell them to call a theologian.

Michael Sean Winters

This post also appears at America’s new special election blog, found here.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 9/9/2008 - 12:55am
''And, the next time someone in the media asks when human life begins, tell them to call a theologian.'' I also object to this sentence, but on other grounds. The problem that Pelosi, Biden, and Obama seem to have is that they think it takes a theologian to answer this question. It does not- it only takes a biologist. In fact, it doesn't even take that. It really only takes someone with a passing knowledge of biology. The statement that a new member of the human species (i.e. a new human life) comes into existence at the moment of conception is incontrovertible (attempts to redefine conception notwithstanding). Yet Biden, et al. continue to pretend that the beginnings of life are a great mystery and that some subjective and unverifiable religious belief is the only basis on which to assert that life begins at conception. By dragging the issue of ensoulment into the question and insisting that theological dispute over the question of when the body receives a soul has some bearing on the rights of prenatal human beings, it is THEY who are injecting religious belief into the debate.
Anonymous | 9/8/2008 - 10:43pm
I'd wanted to address your your last line: And, the next time someone in the media asks when human life begins, tell them to call a theologian. I would say: How about consulting an embryology text? At fertilization, there is a new organism with a distinct genetic code- this is a new life. Disputing that requires a membership in the Flat Earth Society. You want to know when that organism is ensouled, then fine, call the theologian. Otherwise, embryology has already told us when human life begins. What Sen. Biden really should have been asked is this: when is in-utero human life worthy of legal protection. That is a question which should not be above any thinking person's pay grade.
Anonymous | 9/8/2008 - 11:29am
Quote: ''And, the next time someone in the media asks when human life begins, tell them to call a theologian.'' I don't think so! Excuse me, but when the Supreme Theologian Pope Paul VI, following 2000 years of Catholic Church teaching repeated this teaching in the encyclical Humanae Vitae Charles Curran and Robert McCormick, SJ among others quickly got on their platforms and recruited signatures of dissent among theologians and publicized the ''movement'' to the confusion of the whole Church. ''America'' still seems to laude these dissenting theologians by gushing praise on what they said and promoting their works still. When Pope John Paul II repeated the teaching of when life begins (and ends)in the encyclical, The Gospel of Life, ''Evangelium Vitae'', How was his work greeted? Mainly by silence by theologians tooting instead their own horns of disagreement. Call a theologian? Distinguish!
Anonymous | 9/8/2008 - 11:28am
Mr. Winters, You have made salient points on how to reduce the number of abortions, something that all Catholics should support. But I am wondering why you seem to consider the two approaches to abortion reduction- granting comprehensive pre-natal medical care/social support and restricting the fiat to abortion on demand afforded by Roe v. Wade- mutually exclusive? In every case where individual states have sought to restrict abortion, the attempt to do so has been overturned by the federal judiciary by appealing to the precedence set by Roe. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, then at least the matter will be turned back to the states, where pro-life advocates can work at judicial change and not face the same legal hurdles that Roe currently sets in place.
Anonymous | 9/8/2008 - 10:58pm
It may be asking too much to suggest they call a theologian. I'd be happy if they just consulted a medical school embryology textbook. When human life begins is (contra Obama/Pelosi/Biden) no more a matter of faith than what my blood type is. It's a matter of medical evidence. Their unwillingness to even acknowledge this is a problem of the most fundamental kind.
Anonymous | 9/8/2008 - 6:53pm
I'm very sympathetic to your judgements and those of Douglas Kmiec. But there is one argument (formulated by Hadley Arkes) you should address: ''It is not a virtual certainty, but a dead certainty: A President Obama will do on his first day what Bill Clinton did on his. Clinton rescinded the Mexico City Policy, installed by President Reagan and renewed by the second President Bush. That policy barred public funds from any agency in the United States or abroad that performed or promoted abortions. Obama would enlarge the public funding of abortion, to make abortion not a regrettable choice, but a positive good to be promoted and expanded, with any lingering reservations swept away.'' As a German, I do not know, whether it is a plausible scenario.
Anonymous | 9/8/2008 - 4:42pm
Mr. Winters: you claim that overturning Roe would have a minimal effect on reducing the number of abortions. Really? The majority of states, if allowed, would impose serious restrictions on access to abortion; how can this be said to have a minimal effect? In what sense do you mean "minimal"? In the sense of, "not total". That is not how I understand the term. If we could reduce the number of abortions by a third by a simple sanation of Roe, why not do it? (This does not even touch the legal implications of Roe and the right to privacy, now understood as the right to define the meaning of existence courtesy of Justice Kennedy.) What harm, politically, could come from returning the matter to the states?