This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Archbishop Burke still has it wrong

Archbishop Raymond Burke was recently in Washington speaking at the InsideCatholic.com dinner. Presumably he was speaking as an American bishop rather than as Apostolic Signatura. You can find his remarks here: http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6937&Itemid=48

His main error is equating any politician's stance on Roe v. Wade with advocacy for abortion. The two are not the same thing. Indeed, because Roe was decided on constitutional grounds, politics has been taken out of the equation - at least at the state level. The opinion of most politicians on Roe v. Wade is as important to the disposition of the final issue as their opinion on National Peanut Day. This is not Europe. There is no law which permits abortion, therefore any stand on such a law is irrelevant. If a Catholic politician spoke out in disagreement with the Church on the morality of abortion, stating that it is a viable birth control option, he or she would be breaking Canon Law. Few, if any, do that (Speaker Pelosi being the exception because she misunderstood something she heard in Ethics class 40 years ago).

One can oppose reversing Roe in such a manner as to give states control of this issue without actually advocating abortion. The Fourteenth Amendment is quite clear on the fact that the federal government is the final arbiter of equal protection issues, especially with regard to who is and who is not granted legal status under the law. To say one is in favor of overturning Roe is to say that one is ignorant of both Roe and the 14th Amendment. Worse than that, many who dislike Roe on jurisdictional grounds dislike federal power on this issue generally, including on matters of race. I consider that an unconscionable position and urge anyone who is serious about life issues to consider the caliber of some of the folks they are aligning themselves with.

Using Roe as a litmus test is both polarizing and a distraction from what can be done in the national legislature to limit abortion - and to even have a debate about whether it can be eliminated in the first trimester. Of course, to have this debate, the Right to Life movement would have to deal with serious questions concerning state intrusiveness during the first trimester. Starting life at conception (which is ignorant of embryology) or even gastrulation is much different than simply regulating abortion as a medical issue - which was how it was done before Roe. Doing so would make every pregnancy a public event from when the law recognized it, requiring recordation, possibly investigation and opening up the door for a tort action any time a child is lost - which would seriously harm the practice of obstetrics during that time period. To say that these things would not occur is to live in denial.

It is troubling that Archbishop Burke, given his position as Signatura, does not appreciate the difference between advocating abortion as a birth control option, which is illicit under canon law, and having a position on Roe that the pro-life office does not agree with, mostly because they are badly advised on the constitutional and legal issues involved (in much the same way they were badly advised over how to deal with the sex abuse issue). Until a bill is introduced and advanced in the correct venue (Congress), Catholic politicians are fairly free to say what they want about Roe. Indeed, it is a shame more have not come forward to instruct the Church and the movement on its persistent misunderstanding of the issue - although it is likely because they don't want to be seen as quarreling directly with the bishops in fear of retaliation by Catholic voters.

I would suggest that the Archbishop seek out the counsel of those who disagree with him, rather than condemning them for their disagreement. There will be no progress on the issue until this is done.

Roe v. Wade is mostly about electoral politics - indeed, it is a reliable vehicle to mobilize some voters. Dealing honestly with the issue would take away that electoral power, which is waning among most American Catholic voters and will continue to do so as the generations shift. Continuing to align the movement with those who would use the issue in this way increases polarization, discredits the Church (or at least some bishops - including and especially Archbishop Burke) and postpones a solution that would lessen abortion.

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