Forty days for life
According to my Church Bulletin from St. Mary's of three Sunday's passed (I have been hospitalized ), today marks the beginning of forty days for life in the local Arlington and District Catholic diocese. Parishioners are encouraged to pray and fast to end abortion. Presumably, because the election is in 40 days, there is a tie in to the General Election on November 6th.
There are two ways to look at this call. The first is that by personal penance, sacrifice and example, God will move the hearts of pro-choice voters to elect pro-life (Republican) candidates. The second is to get people to eliminate selfishness and be predisposed to see what God will want them to do regarding electoral issues and life.
These are two very different spiritualities. In the prior view, God is a bit of an ogre who demands that we obey, the test of which being eternal life. The the latter view, God is our loving guide who will speak to us if we are open to his presence - the way to do so being self-denial.
Those who believe that God is an ogre who must be placated are unconvinceable on abortion. They are sure that they way is right and, quite sadly, no amount of argument will get them to change their view.
Those who truly use this fasting period as a time of discernment, however, may have a change of heart - but it won't be the change the bishops are desiring. If their fast has them look honestly at the issue of abortion, they will see that there is little that can be done to reverse Roe v. Wade judicially - as a ruling to simply send the matter back to the states undoes most civil rights protections as well as the right to be left alone in some areas by the government - which in essence gives the loudest religious voices an undue influence in our polity. While religious leaders cherish such influence, it is not really what America is about. Voting for Romney for who he would appoint to the Court is also a mixed bag. Bush, Sr. appointed Justice Souter and Bush Jr. appointed Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, both of whom agreed with Justice Kennedy that the Commerce Clause was adequate to regulate Partial Birth Abortion, passing up an opportunity to overturn Roe (which was the real reason the law was enacted in the first place).
A Human Life Amendment is equally unlikely, as anyone who takes the issue to God in fasting can tell you. More than 14 states support abortion, so no such amendment will happen. The meat of the amendment, the extension of personal rights to the unborn, can already be accomplished by Congress (but not by the states - the personhood amendments are an attempt to get another bite at the apple in Court). Of course, to have a chance, such a law would likely draw the line at assisted viability (22 weeks of gestation), the second trimester (13 weeks) or even the start of the fetal heartbeat. At this stage, exceptions for the life and health of the mother are appropriate, however rape or incest exemptions are not as a legally recognized fetus must be considered a person in their own right under the law and receive the full range of equal protection provisions.
Equal protection is why personhood does not meet the smell test. Treating a mother who orders a born child killed and an embryo killed cannot be different if personhood is granted by law. Additionally, embryos who could never survive would also be granted legal recognition under such a scheme, leading to malpractice claims that would damage the ability of women and children to get needed prenatal care before whatever line is drawn in law for personhood. No malpractice policy would allow treatment any earlier.
If there are ways to work around the criminality, police power and tort law issues inherent in protecting first trimester embryos, they should be put into Mr. Ryan's personhood bill and we can debate them - provided that they don't create loopholes that Planned Parenthood can drive a truck through. If prayer and fasting makes Pro-Life Advocates open to working on these issues, they can actually put forward a reasonable bill that Catholic politicians would have to support. Until there is a bill, however, this really can't be considered the primary pro-life issue.
Poverty can be, however. Some estimates show that poverty and fear about the future is the cause of most abortions. It is not enough, by the way, to help women and girls through crisis pregnancies. A system is needed to subsidize all families with children so that economic are never an issue in bringing a child to term. Too often the Church pushes adoption as the solution (they have quite the infrastructure for that). Many girls would rather eliminate the pregnancy instead and so would their very Catholic parents. Until the Church speaks up for an income floor for all families with children and becomes an exemplar for them by paying their own staff in hospitals, schools and parishes such a living wage, it is hard to not find their words hollow.
In this period of discernment, the question must devolve to which candidate and party will most helpful in restoring and improving the safety net and bring about economic justice. One look at the candidates shows what that answer must be - and I suspect that this is why there are more and more vocal Catholics supporting the President this year. Prayerful discernment undertaken honestly should keep increasing that number.