Vice-presidential debate moderator Martha Raddatz, who had gained an admirable reputation for her coverage of Iraq war, saved one of her best questions for last, a self-definition question that makes the candidate dig into his soul and come up with something both credible and politically prudent. Both men had presented themselves as Catholics and, we can presume, were selected as candidates to attract the Catholic vote. But, as many journalists have noticed, they represent two wings of the Catholic church. She asked, What role did your religion play in your personal views on abortion?
I had prepared for the debate by reading “On all our shoulders: A Catholic Call to Protect the Endangered Common Good,” a six page document signed by over 150 prominent Catholic scholars from universities all over the country, including many Jesuit schools, which explains the individualistic and anti-government philosophy of Ayn Rand, which Representative Paul Ryan has declared his own and which is contrary to Catholic moral teaching.
They list five principles of Catholic social teaching of which few citizens are aware. 1. The human person is social, not individual. 2. Government has an essential role in promoting the common good. 3. Subsidiarity means that government must act when local communities cannot solve their problems. 4. The “preferential option for the poor” demands both individual and collective action. 5. Economic forces — globalization, deregulation, attacks on unions — can threaten human dignity. I wish the participants had read this document.
Congressman Ryan began by describing his trip to the hospital to see the ultrasound picture of their firstborn child. That’s why he’s pro-life. He said Governor Romney would oppose abortion except for cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. (He did not mention that Romney had added “health of the mother,” which would have been a very big loop hole, but Romney may have subtracted that recently.) He then attacked the Obama administration for denying religious freedom to the Catholic Church and criticized Biden for not chiding the Chinese, during a visit there, for their one-child policy.
Here both Raddatz and Biden passed up the opportunity to ask whether Romney or Ryan would go to China and chastise them for their one-child policy.
Vice President Biden said that his religion defines who he is, and the church had formed his social justice doctrine. “The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can’t take care of themselves.” Meanwhile he accepts the church’s judgment that life begins at conception, but refuses to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews. He repeated the mantra of the “pro-choice” movements that women have an absolute right to control their own bodies.
Biden should have turned to the Democratic platform, which certainly backs the right to abortion but also makes the case that abortion is basically an economic problem. Women are more willing to bear a child when they know they have financial resources to care for it.
The position that grants absolute power to the mother to kill her child in the womb treats a child like property, to be discarded like a garment that has gone out of style. His or her future also belongs to the community, which has an obligation to welcome the child into its midst. At the same time, Biden (or Raddatz) should have asked Ryan, If abortion is outlawed what punishment should the law impose? If it is really “murder” those states with the death penalty, logically, could send either the mother or the abortionist to death row. I have yet to hear a Catholic spokesman spell out how the mother and doctor should be penalized.
One exception. Frank Canavan, S.J., a conservative political science professor at Fordham with whom I often disagreed, writing in the National Review, proposed a law that would deny financial payment to any doctor who performed an abortion. Doctors, he argued, are very attached to their fees. Few would perform that operation as an act of pure charity.
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.