He’s known as the most passionate advocate for unborn children in Congress, leading the pro-life caucus in the House of Representatives.
Yet despite the challenges and struggles that have increased under the current administration, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. remains undaunted in his defense of life in American politics.
In an interview with the Register on May 18, Congressman Smith discussed the controversy over pro-life Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who was recently criticized by more than 80 academics, including 30 Catholic ones, for his approach to budget cuts (they signed letters saying he had ignored his moral obligation to make protecting the poor a priority). Smith also gives his assessment of the current state of the pro-life movement in the U.S., the Defense of Marriage Act and the Obama administration’s relentless push to make same-sex “marriage” a key aspect of U.S. foreign policy.
Smith was speaking in Rome on the sidelines of a conference on combating human trafficking, a cause he has spearheaded in Congress for many years.
Congressman, what is your view on the controversy over John Boehner and the students and staff of Catholic University [they signed letters opposing an invitation for Boehner to give a commencement address there in May, claiming his approach to budget cuts showed he cared little for the poor]?
I think it’s very unfortunate. I’m no John Boehner; I’m not the Speaker; but I gave the commencement address to the law school once, and it is a privilege of the highest order. Knowing John Boehner, he’ll have seen that as a great privilege too. He’s very tough; he can take the hit.
But it’s very disappointing in the extreme for the students to give him a standing ovation after the fact and to have written that letter. We are facing the most monumental deficit: That is an economic tsunami that will undermine everything we do — our whole economic way of life. It has rapidly risen in the last six years, especially in the last three. It [the national debt] is now at $14.3 trillion, and it’s on course to reach $25 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, by 2021. Just 10 years from today it will have doubled. That’s an exponential increase that is completely unsustainable. If [Ben] Bernanke [Federal Reserve chairman ] just prints more money, our currency will be devalued. Everyone’s 401k and home values, which are already eroding, will become a joke. A cruel joke.
Our administration is not taking seriously deficit reduction. He [President Obama] mouths talking points that sound good, as we saw with the resolution a few months ago. He was willing to risk a government shutdown to continue funding Planned Parenthood, which carries out one-fourth of all abortions in America. That was the issue. I know that as I talked to all the negotiators. So that was on the policy side; and on the money side we made a modest — and I mean modest with a small “m” — dent in the deficit on what we were able to achieve on the CR [Continuing Resolution]. You would think from some people’s perspective we were robbing from food stamps, assisted housing, veterans.
I used to be veterans’ [committee] chairman, so I watch that budget like a hawk, and nothing could be further from the truth.
Would you like the Church to speak out more about this, because it is a moral issue?
It is, but I think there needs to be a balance about what is achievable if we truly want to be responsible. I’d like to give all my money to this charity or that one, but I’ve got to pay for my two mortgages because I’ve got a house in both places; I have to pay my insurance. You just have to be responsible. It’s easy when all you have to say is: “How much do you want? I’ll write you a blank check.” So Boehner looks like he’s the heavy when he’s really fighting for those poor programs which will get cut. The only word I can say [about the university controversy], therefore, is that it’s disappointing; because here’s a man who led the effort on Obamacare to ensure it was pro-life. It’s not; we lost. But he tried. Here’s the man who believes passionately in Catholic teaching and cares about the poor — he really does. So does Eric Cantor, our majority leader. But you have to have the funds to do it. It’s just like Bush. He never got credit for his PEPFAR [President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief], malaria and tuberculosis programs. Obama comes in, and he pushes the Bush initiatives into the Global Health Initiative, and people are acting like it’s brand new. Yet these are all Bush initiatives. Ask the same people at Catholic University about the humanitarian work that was transformational that George Bush did. He is loved in Uganda, Tanzania and all these other places because of the work he’s done. So I wish there was a balance there. And what specifically are they talking about? Housing hasn’t been cut. We have to slow the growth and make hard choices. And when you make those hard choices, the other side — and I’m talking about members of Congress — is in the peanut gallery saying: “Oh look at this: You’re uncaring; you’re this and that.”
What is your assessment of the pro-life situation in the U.S. at the moment?
I’ve recently made two speeches about this. The pro-life movement has never been stronger. Never. I’ve been in it 38 years, and it’s never been stronger. Also, polls show our young people are trending. I see it at the March for Life every year. I see it in high schools where I speak. I used to be booed in the ’80s because I’d get a question about abortion. Now they break out into applause and come up and shake my hand. These are high-school students.
Would you say young people are leading the way?
They are really seeing it’s a violence issue — violence against children and mothers — and one-third of the kids in their schools are missing because of abortion. So maybe that somehow creeps into their thought processes as well. I’m a sponsor of H.R. 3 [No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act], and we had 227 co-sponsors on conscience and no taxpayer funding anywhere. If you “google” my name and put in “H.R. 3” or even “rape” in there, you’ll see how the left has attacked me with unceasing venom, which says to me, in an odd way, that we’re making progress. I wish it wasn’t like that.
Do these attacks sometimes get very personal?
The New York Times wrote an editorial [May 10] and used my name four times, which is unprecedented in one editorial. So I called them and asked if I could do an op-ed. I submitted it, and I’m waiting to see if they’re going to use it [as of May 25, they hadn’t]. I said: “You used my name. You attacked me by name. If you just talked about H.R. 3, you could say ‘get in line,’ but you made it personal.” So I hope it gets in. My opening line is: “The pro-life movement is stronger than ever.” The National Right to Life carried my first recent speech on the paradigm shift that I think has happened in the movement. It’s happened for a number of reasons: ultrasound, all the pro-life laws that have been painstakingly passed throughout the country, especially form of consent , parental notification, waiting periods, no funding, prohibitions and pregnancy-care centers (which are the greatest expressions of love ever because a lot of those women are post- abortive and helping women).
And then there is the Silent No More awareness campaign and other post-abortive groups of women telling their story. We think it’s why Justice Kennedy voted with us on the partial-birth abortion bill: the 2,000 or so (I forget the exact number) of women who told their stories. These stories are just beginning to come out, and I think they will continue to push the message that it [abortion] is not just bad for babies and is violence toward babies — it’s violence against women as well.
And regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), how is that playing out at the moment?
Not so well. It’s playing out well among my age group, but not so much among young people. There’s something of a disconnect, perhaps because of the way Hollywood has portrayed the homosexual agenda. Both Obama and [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton are pushing the gay-rights agenda in all of our foreign policy. It is integrated into our human-rights reporting and human-rights data calls. It’s displacing in prioritization all the traditional human rights, like torture, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and all the others. [President Luiz] Lula’s successor in Brazil and Obama just signed an agreement to set up a special rapporteur within the Organization of American States to monitor homosexual rights. We have to push back what Obama did with the military, which was a huge step backwards. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [policy] was a compromise, and it seemed to have been working.
How do you respond to liberal critics who would label you as homophobic because of your position on this issue?
I take the view of Mother Teresa: Hate the sin; love the sinner. There’s no animosity. I get so tired of people who say that if you’re against that agenda you’re homophobic. There’s nothing further from the truth. I hear it from members of Congress, but it has nothing to do with it. It’s about reverence for marriage and the importance of marriage. Look at what’s happening in D.C., where Catholics have been forced out of the adoption business; ditto in Massachusetts, where if you refuse homosexual adoptions you’re out; you can’t do it. So it is very serious.
Yet, in spite of all of this, do you remain optimistic about the future?
Stay tuned on that one. I think we’re going to win the right to life globally. Ultrasound, science is on our side. The Church, especially John Paul II and now Benedict XVI, although he has not been around as long, have been strong with their culture of life versus the culture of death. They have really given a magnificent defense, and that gives hope to all: lawmakers, policymakers, and especially to women who might be contemplating abortion. And who provides the love and a path to reconciliation? It’s not Planned Parenthood; it’s the Catholic Church, the other Christian churches, and the ministries they have created.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.