Where to begin? Mr. Kmiec has a long history of faithful public service and has been unapologetic in his witness to the sanctity of human life. He has now become a voice for Catholics who wish to back for president a candidate who has a long history of unqualified support for the unlimited abortion license imposed by the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.
His effort to justify his position as a faithful Catholic is, I believe, deeply confused.
Mr. Kmiec argues that we can’t rank abortion as greater evil or a more pressing social and legal concern than racism because they are both intrinsic evils. But Mr. Kmiec has misunderstood the meaning of the term intrinsic evil, and the nature of our political moment.
That two actions are both intrinsically evil tells us nothing about the relative gravity of each action. Telling a lie is intrinsically evil. So is rape. They are not equally grave. Except for instances such as perjury or libel, lying is not a crime.
Racism is an attitude that may lead to acts we call racist. But nobody pertinent to our political life today advocates racism or racist acts. The intentional killing of a member of the human family — which is what happens in every abortion — is the most pressing social justice question of our time. Mr. Kmiec’s candidate advocates an unlimited right to abortion.
The question is that of justice for unborn children. When one candidate supports the unlimited abortion license and another wants the abortion question returned to the states, it is disingenuous to suggest that they are equally pro-choice. And to say that the first candidate’s position is closer to a Catholic understanding of subsidiarity is, I am sorry to say, risible. Catholic teaching and the mandate of justice is that all members of the human family, born and unborn, be protected in law. To deny that protection is a grave injustice.
The candidate who would return the abortion question to the states so that citizens working through their elected representatives can enact laws protecting the unborn is, in taking that position, pro-life. The candidate who, by supporting Roe v. Wade, would deny to citizens that opportunity is pro-choice. It is a great disservice to try to obfuscate such an obvious distinction.
As I am sure Mr. Kmiec knows, the law also has a pedagogical function. As does the “bully pulpit” of the presidency. Many people believe, wrongly, that if something is legal it is morally acceptable. That is among the reasons why the Supreme Court is so important in this discussion.
And that is among the reasons why it makes a very big difference whether a president takes the position that abortion is grave injustice or takes the position that abortion — including partial birth abortion and the denial of care to a baby who survives the abortion procedure — is a constitutional right.
As for the Court, Mr. Kmiec claims that no justice believes that everyone has a right to life from the moment of conception.
I have no reason to think that the Catholic members of the Supreme Court dissent from the Church’s teaching on that point. Does Mr. Kmiec? That the justices think there is a moral right to life need not entail the conclusion that there is a constitutional right to life. It seems that Justice Thomas does think there is such a constitutional right. So Mr. Kmiec is simply wrong as a matter of fact.
Justice Scalia’s oft-stated position is that the Constitution does not settle the abortion question one way or the other. It therefore falls to the citizens, acting through the means provided by this constitutional democracy, to decide what the law should be. Again, the overturning or effective nullification of Roe v. Wade is a major step toward achieving legal protection of the unborn and other endangered members of the human family. (The lethal logic of Roe v. Wade is extended, for example, to euthanasia.)
It is deeply regrettable that Mr. Kmiec cites Archbishop Chaput’s 1976 support of President Carter, who endorsed Roe v. Wade, as evidence that one can rightly support his preferred candidate today. Archbishop Chaput can speak for himself, and he has, both on the First Things website (May 20) and in his new book Render Unto Caesar. He makes it unequivocally clear that he regrets that 1976 decision, which he rationalized at the time along lines very similar to those now employed by Mr. Kmiec.
The archbishop says that he does not believe there is a proportionate reason — a reason he will one day have to give to the aborted babies — to justify support for a pro-choice candidate. Nor has Mr. Kmiec indicated such a proportionate reason. Mr. Kmiec claims his candidate wants to reduce the number of abortions by reducing the incidence of unwanted pregnancy, and he will do that by encouraging “responsible sexual behavior.” One may be permitted to point out that four decades of sex education, including the massive promotion of contraception, has not been a great success in reducing unwanted pregnancies or abortions.
I do not know what has prompted Mr. Kmiec’s current advocacy, and I take him at his word that he has convinced himself that his position is consonant with being a faithful Catholic.
The fact is, however, that, after all the tortured reasoning and misrepresentation of the positions of others, Doug Kmiec has put himself into the position of supporting for president a candidate whose track record and publicly stated views represent the extreme position of pro-abortion advocacy against the Church’s repeatedly stated teaching, at the highest level of magisterial authority, respecting the moral and political imperative to protect innocent human lives.
Father Richard John Neuhaus is editor in chief
of the journal First Things.