[digg-reddit-me]I haven’t written about this issue before because it is not an issue on which I have strong feelings.
But reading George Weigel in Newsweek explaining that Democrats were ignoring science and theology when discussing abortion, and reading Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard explaining the Catholic Church’s consistency in understanding human life as beginning at conception – it’s pretty clear that neither of them has either the patience to understand or the honesty to write anything but hack opinion pieces on this issue.
The fudging is a subtle one – but one of enormous consequence.
When I watched Nancy Pelosi on Meet the Press, I realized that she had made a mistake:
REP. PELOSI: I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator – St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child – first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There’s very clear distinctions. This isn’t about abortion on demand, it’s about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and – to – that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don’t think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who’ve decided…
MR. BROKAW: The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it…
REP. PELOSI: I understand that.
MR. BROKAW: …begins at the point of conception.
REP. PELOSI: I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That’s why we have this fight in Congress over contraception. My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must – it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case. So we have to take – you know, we have to handle this as respectfully – this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been – and I’m not saying Rick Warren did, because I don’t think he did, but others will try to.
There are two confusions in what Pelosi said. First, although she acknowledges it in the end, she at first seems to state the the Catholic Church has not decided when life starts. In the past fifty years or so, the Church did make a decision regarding this – a decision that seems to be based more on politics than theology – but that is an issue for a different day. The second confusion was when she said:
…so I don’t think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins…
The problem here is that she was trying to express a perfectly reasonable and true fact – but using the loaded language of the question itself. And in doing so, she mis-spoke – although what she meant is clear to anyone with an understanding of the science of embroyolgy.
If someone asks you: “When does rose life begin?” the answer is far from clear. Is a seed a rose? It contains all the same genetic material and certainly can become a rose, given appropriate conditions. But it lacks all of the characteristics of a rose – and does not function as one. As it begins to grow, it acquires more and more characteristics ofa rose – the roots, the stem, the thorns, the buds, the flowers, the scent. At what point does the seed become a rose? Science can explain the process. Philosophy or theology can define the terms. And while making the case against abortion, pro-lifers ask: “When does human life begin?”, a more appropriate question to guide policy-makers is “At what point does an embryo become an individual protected by the law?”
And while Weigel and Barnes correctly note that the Catholic Church has always opposed abortion – there has been debate over what constituted an abortion. By acting as if making this point demonstrates how ignorant Nancy Pelosi is, they demonstrate their own ignorance – and, just as they accuse Pelosi and Obama of doing, they dodge the question.
The true rationale behind their political attacks disguised as recitations of unquestioned science and theology is to blunt the Democratic Party’s efforts to woo Catholics and other religious groups.
While Bill Clinton did not allow Governor Bob Casey to speak at the 1992 Republican Convention because of his opinions on abortion (a slight many Catholics still remember), Barack Obama asked Senator Bob Casey, the Governor’s son, to speak at this one. This Democratic Convention was inagurated with a prayer. An unabashedly liberal prayer. And Barack Obama speaks eloquently and from personal experience about his faith – while John McCain’s only story of faith seems to have been cribbed from Chuck Colson.
The Republicans are scared – and they are willing to use religion, once again, as a wedge issue. Although they seem to have no intention of overturning Roe v. Wade (Seven of the nine justices have been nominated by Republicans after it became the official policy of the Republican Party to overturn this precedent.) – the Republicans will continue to use abortion as their primary tool to get out the vote.
What Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama have acknowledged is that the issue of when a collection of cells becomes a fully-human human being is complicated – theologically and biologically. This is clear to anyone who has taken the time to thoughtfully look at this issue. The counter-attacks by the Republicans have been misleading and factually false – and while they accuse these Democrats of dodging this issue, they have yet to make their case. Their attack itself is a dodge.