Mirror of Justice , a website for Catholic law professors, has been the forum for some exceptionally thoughtful debates about the implications of Catholic social thought for questions of law and public policy. One question that has been explored in a sustained way since the 2004 presidential campaign concerns the obligations of Catholics and other pro-life citizens when it comes to voting for candidates who support legal abortion. Cornell law professor Eduardo Peñalver, a liberal MoJ blogger, has pressed the argument elsewhere that pro-lifers may legitimately vote for pro-abortion liberals. Indeed, he has suggested that voting for Democrats (even if they are "pro-choice") may be the "pro-life" thing to do, because the Democratic party’s policies on taxation, welfare, etc., could reduce the number of abortions. Professor Peñalver’s MoJ colleague Richard Garnett of Notre Dame Law School has ably responded , pointing out that the Democrats, in addition to supporting legal abortion, (a) support public funding of abortions, (b) oppose judicial nominees who might permit even moderate regulation of abortion, (c) oppose even those minor regulations of abortion that are permitted under prevailing constitutional jurisprudence, (d) support proposals that would compel Catholic hospitals to provide abortions, and (e) demonize opponents of abortion as hostile to women’s rights and civil liberties.
As someone who grew up in a staunchly Democratic family, served twice as governor of the West Virginia Democratic Youth Conference, and who (I must admit) still feels twinges of nostalgia for the party that once understood its mission as looking out for the “little guy,” I can’t help but be impressed by Professor Peñalver’s determination in trying to come up with an intellectually credible justification for supporting Democratic presidential candidates and candidates for Congress, despite their advocacy of legal abortion and its public funding.
But Peñalver’s case is even weaker than Professor Garnett’s damning points against him reveal. Here’s why. Even if Peñalver’s optimism about the effect of Democratic policies on the abortion rate were warranted, it would not justify supporting the Democrats. All the major Democratic presidential aspirants and the Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress (together with the vast majority of Democratic senators and representatives) support federal funding for the creation of human embryos by cloning for biomedical research in which they are deliberately killed. That means that if the Democrats come into power, hundreds of thousands¯over time it would surely be millions¯of human lives will be created and destroyed as a direct consequence. Even if the abortion rate were to drop by 20 percent, the number of lives saved would be massively offset by the authorization and federal funding of embryo-destructive research. If there is one thing we can predict with confidence about the platform the Democrats will adopt at their 2008 convention, it is that the party will not be calling for embryo-destructive research to be “safe, legal, and rare .” On the contrary, the Democrats will promise to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into “therapeutic cloning.”
Of course, there are Republican renegades such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arlen Specter, and Orrin Hatch who side with the Democrats on this issue. But most Republican leaders firmly oppose the creation of human embryos, whether by cloning or the union of gametes, for research in which they are killed. So, however much one might dislike Republican policies in other areas, it’s clear that the death toll under the Democrats would be so large as to make it unreasonable for Catholic citizens, or citizens of any faith who oppose the taking of innocent human life, to use their votes and influence to help bring the Democratic party into power.
I find no cause for joy in this. I wish that it were possible for pro-life citizens legitimately to support Democratic candidates. I wish that the party of my parents and grandparents had not placed itself on the wrong side of the most profound human rights issue of our contemporary domestic politics. I wish that the killing of embryonic and fetal human beings by abortion and in biomedical research were resolutely opposed by both parties so that we could cast our votes based on our assessments of the candidates’ and parties’ competing positions on taxation, immigration, education, welfare, health-care reform, national security, and foreign policy. It is hardly satisfactory that pro-life citizens¯representing a variety of views on the range of issues in economic, social, and foreign policy¯find themselves bound to the Republicans because the only viable alternative is a party that has abandoned its commitment to the weakest and most vulnerable members of the human family by embracing abortion and embryo-destructive research.
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