Sunday, March 12, 2006

Going on the Offensive

From Publius via LG&M:

I'd actually go a couple steps further. I would ask every single Republican candidate up for re-election in 2006: "Do you support imprisoning doctors for performing abortions following rapes, as South Dakota’s new law demands?" If they hid behind the rape exception, then you could follow up with Oliver’s question about whether doctors should be thrown in jail for performing abortions more generally.

The combination of the Alito and Roberts confirmations along with the South Dakota law is, I think, a watershed moment in the abortion wars. The South Dakota law in particular should serve as a wake-up call to the pro-choice movement that its tactics aren’t working and that it needs to make some changes in its long-term strategy. To develop Oliver’s point, if I were a consultant, I would recommend that the pro-choice movement make two major changes: (1) It should shift its emphasis from a defensive legal strategy to an offensive political strategy; (2) It should shift the debate away from abortion itself – and the abstract questions of when life begins – and focus on crime and punishment. In other words, the movement should aim to make an abstract debate more concrete by focusing on criminal sanctions and the imprisonment of doctors and women.

This sounds about right to me, and long overdue. This Fox News poll seems about on par with most others I've seen in terms of capturing the public sentiment on abortion. Those favoring (albeit restricted) abortion rights tally about 55% and the no-abortion crowd gets about 40%. I don't think adding the criminal penalties for abortion providers and receivers is going to increase the odds for the anti-abortion crowd. Indeed, as Digby as documented, even the most radical anti-abortionists haven't even thought about it.

Republicans have skillfully put Democrats over the barrel on the abortion question for about two decades now. It's high time Democrats started to fight back. And while it's heartening that after some hemming and hawing Sherrod Brown ultimately posed this question in his interview with Matt, I wasn't reassured that the Ohio Senate candidate seemed locked-in to an economically populist campaign strategy in '06. Like many Democrats, Brown seems scared of confronting cultural issues. As long as Democrats are defensive about this, they'll continue to lose seats and power, and what's worse, they'll continue to struggle with articulating a political philosophy and party rationale.

Nevertheless, I don't think Democrats should at the same time be required to back an abortion-at-any-cost strategy either. I think this has hurt the party both in immediate terms for having to oppose very late trimester abortion procedures that most feeling people consider repugnant--and with the availability of birth control--unnecessary as well as in more deeply seated views of the party's cultural sensitivities nationally.

Speaking of birth control, you might remember I penned a post a week or two back highlighting a religious freedom statement put together by 55 of the Catholic Democrats in the House, some officially "anti-abortion" and others "pro-choice". I caught an article in the Catholic Standard the other day that had Theodore McCarrick of the Washington, D.C. Archdiocese responding to the Democrats' effort. McCarrick sounded what seemed to me a nuanced reply, noting that he and the group were likely to agree on some things, disagree on others, but which put the abortion issue in a broader light, seemingly not making it an article of faith that Catholic legislators oppose any and all abortion restriction bills. I wish I had the actual article on hand because I couldn't find it online.

Anyway, and regrettably, yesterday's Post had a short item with the headline "Catholic Democrats Scolded on Abortion":

Top U.S. Roman Catholic leaders told Democratic lawmakers yesterday that there is no wiggle room in church teaching on abortion and that they are duty-bound to work against "the destruction of unborn human life." The statement by three top leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is a response to 55 Catholic Democrats in the House who issued a public statement Feb. 28 asking for room to disagree on abortion.

The bishops, in turn, said they were willing to work together on issues affecting the "poor and vulnerable" but would not budge on church teaching that says abortion is gravely immoral.

"While it is always necessary to work to reduce the number of abortions . . . Catholic teaching calls all Catholics to work actively to restrain, restrict and bring an end to the destruction of unborn human life," the bishops said.

The three bishops who signed the statement were Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, head of the bishops' Pro-Life Activities Committee; Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, who heads a task force on Catholic politicians; and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, chairman of the bishops' Domestic Policy Committee.

Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), who spearheaded the letter on Capitol Hill, said in a statement that she appreciated the bishops' response but did not address the bishops' rejection of Catholic lawmakers' request to respectfully disagree with the church on abortion.

The bishops note the Catholic legislators responsibility to "work actively to restrain, restrict and bring to an end the destruction of unborn human life". Maybe destroying born human life is OK. In any event, one way to of course bring about the "restraining, restricting and ending" of abortion is to provide and practice birth control. But the Roman Catholic church opposes this, too.

It's beyond the author's ability and space of this website to attempt to dissect the Roman Catholic church's opposition to birth control. But according to Garry Wills, himself a lifelong and continuing Catholic, the church's reasonings have varied over the years, being consistent mostly for the fact they feel the need to reaffirm whatever was taught by the church for centuries, even if the underlying rationale for the doctrine changes and even if science and common sense has debunked the myths and superstitions of past eras.

Writing in Papal Sin, Wills notes that the great church father, Augustine of Hippo, opposed the contraception methods of the time--what would be called in later years, the natural "rhythm method". This largely had to do with the fact that groups and broader heresies Augustine opposed practiced this method. The early church also opposed contraception due to the magic and potions that were believed to be used in its behalf.

By the time of revered Catholic theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, the church condemned, on natural law grounds, the interference with the "integrity" of the sex act that any form of contraception was believed to prevent. Aquinas, in the logic of the era, considered masturbation worse than incest since the latter preserved "the integrity of the act" (that is, fertilization). The church did, however, authorize the coitus interruptus method of contraception in order to placate the lust of the woman and the man's responsibility in marriage.

Still later, the coitus interruptus method itself came under fire, linked by Pope Pius XI in the 1930's with the grave sin of Onus in Genesis 38 where God is said to have killed the son of Judah for not marrying his deceased brother's wife and bearing his brother's seed through her, instead ejactulating on the ground.

The "natural rhythm method", opposed by Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries, gained greater favor in the church as a natural means of contraception after its science was published in greater detail in the 1940's. After a Vatican commission set up by Pope John XXIII during the Vatican II conference in the 1960's recommended that the church's reliance on the natural rhythm method and its natural law origins be abandoned, due in part to the now presence of oral contraceptives, Pope Paul VI responded by instead affirming the church's opposition to contraception in his encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, a widely derided document that many bishops felt obliged to ignore. Despite the fact that the Vatican commission had received survey data from devout catholics indicating the flaws, natural and relational, from the rhythm method, Pope Paul VI helped ensure the practice's at least official blessing and authority.

Paul VI's successor, Pope John Paul the First, who lasted a month in office before dying in 1978, issued a statement praising the in-vitro-fertalization (IVF) of a couple, leading Wills to conclude that had he lived, Pope John Paul the First would have revised the church's teaching on contraception. Instead, his passing led to the election of Pope John Paul II, and the rest, as they say, is history. Pope JPII, more than his predecessors, understood the need to stack the deck, so to speak, by appointing as bishops and cardinals, those who shared his philosophies, ensuring that in his aftermath, conservative popes would continue into the 21st century.

Hence, we have, the conservative Catholic opposition to both abortion and "artificial" contraception. So Democratic Catholics are damned if they do, damned if they don't. To "restrain, restrict and end" abortion, they could back greater efforts to educate and provide for means of birth control, but this the church also opposes. The Democratic Catholics who support birth control but would allow--for reasons Publius, Matt, Digby and others have pointed out--some abortion choice, could of course, leave the church and cease to be catholics.

But the church would then be left with still declining numbers and shrinking parishes, and a clash between conservative political correctness and the advances of modernity and progressive governance in the war of civilizations so embraced by leading figures on the right, but one not just between Islam and the West, but within the West itself, as radical Islam and radical Christianity find common ground.

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