Kaine’s Conscience and His Party’s Hard Line on Abortion

EDITORIAL: The implications of the Democratic vice-presidential nominee’s embrace of his party’s radical pro-abortion agenda, for the nation and for his own Catholic faith.

(photo: Sen. Tim Kaine Twitter)

“I’ve got a personal feeling about abortion, but the right role for government is to let women make their own decisions,” said Sen. Timothy Kaine of Virginia, the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee and a member of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Richmond, Va.

Introduced as a “traditional Catholic” in media coverage of his selection as Hillary Clinton’s running mate, the former governor of Virginia has earned a 100% voting record from NARAL Pro-Choice America since 2012, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Kaine thus follows a long line of self-identified “Catholic” political leaders who have embraced Mario Cuomo’s “personally opposed, but” formulation, which sought to explain how a Catholic lawmaker could support legislation backing abortion without violating his conscience. Yes, back in 1984, Cuomo’s landmark speech, “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective,” made headlines because his effort to segregate his personal beliefs as a Catholic from his public role as a lawmaker was still viewed as something novel.

In the 2016 election cycle, what’s news is that radical elements within Cuomo’s party have moved on. Language in the 2016 Democratic Party’s platform calls for the repeal of critical legislation that acknowledges and respects moral opposition to the direct killing of innocent human life decades after the U.S. Supreme Court made access to abortion a constitutional right.

Kaine made no reference to this striking shift in his July 27 speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia that embodied the Cuomo doctrine, with repeated references to faith and then an assurance that Clinton will safeguard Roe v. Wade, but pro-life activists in  his party raised the alarm.

“The 2016 Democratic platform is a flat-out betrayal of millions of Democrats, undoing policies that have kept us in the party working toward common progressive goals on a host of other issues,” stated Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, and Charles Camosy, an associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, in a July 25 op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times.

“Most significantly, the platform calls for the repeal of the Hyde and Helms amendments, which prevent taxpayer funds from being used to pay for abortions,” Day and Camosy said. “This would force those who object to abortion to contribute to what we believe would be government-funded killing, and it would eradicate policies that have already saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Even as opposition to legal abortion has increased since Cuomo’s day, and polls chart rising support for restrictions on the practice, the abortion-rights movement and its allies in federal and state government have become increasingly intolerant of pro-life values.

As Day explained in her column for the Times, supporters of Roe v. Wade now frame access to abortion “until viability” as accepted belief. Thus abortion supporters view any restrictions on the practice as a threat to the health and well-being of the American people.

This argument provides context for the well-documented push to subsidize elective abortions with taxpayer dollars flowing to health plans covered under Obamacare. It also helps to explain why the U.S. bishops are worried that physicians could soon be forced to participate in abortions or risk losing their licenses to practice medicine.

“The vast majority of medical personnel — 85% of OB-GYNs, specifically — do not want to be involved in abortion,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively.

Their July 13 statement celebrated the passage of the bipartisan Conscience Protection Act of 2016 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Even those who disagree on the life issue should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion,” said Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori.

The refusal to accommodate conscience protections for abortion opponents reflects an aggressive effort to marginalize Americans who respect the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. Indeed, even Kaine has come under scrutiny for his previous support of parental-notification laws for minors seeking abortion and funding of crisis-pregnancy centers in Virginia, while he served as governor of the state from 2006 to 2010.

Back in 2008, when Kaine was on Obama’s short list of running mates, Kaine told Charlie Rose, “There’s a moral gravity, I think, to abortion as an issue that has to be respected.”

That kind of talk raised questions after Clinton announced that Kaine would be the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate.

“[P]ro-choice folk” are now “less friendly to the old ‘personally opposed to but’ pivot, or to any other attitude that condemns abortion morally while tolerating its legality,” explained a New York magazine story about Kaine. The article traced the shift in the Democratic Party platform’s language from Bill Clinton’s 1992 pledge to make the procedure “safe, legal and rare” to the 2012 platform, which dropped any reference “to abortion as a bad thing that needed to go away as much as possible.”

Abortion-rights supporters within the party and within the Catholic Church once challenged moral absolutes that barred the direct killing of innocent life as outdated moral dogma that ignored the realities of modern life. Now, they seek to impose a constantly evolving alternative belief system, defined by the separation of truth from human freedom, without admitting as much.

As Mary Eberstadt explains in her new book It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, we are witnessing the rise of “a rival faith, rooted in the sexual revolution.”

Catholic teaching on abortion is clear.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, is a ‘criminal’ practice (Gaudium et Spes 27 § 3), gravely contrary to the moral law” (2322).

The responsibility of Catholic political leaders to defend the right to life of the unborn child is also clear. “When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility,” reads a 2002 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding “The Participation of Catholics in Political Life.” 

“This is the case with laws concerning abortion.”

What will Kaine do if a future Clinton administration advances policies that attack the conscience rights of physicians or force the closure of Catholic hospitals?

Pro-life Americans will be watching to see if the vice-presidential nominee will finally step up to challenge his party’s direction on abortion and conscience. If he fails to draw a line, Kaine may one day find himself on the receiving end of the new orthodoxy, as a party of “tolerance” quashes all surviving traces of resistance to Roe v. Wade.

Aaron Baer, President of Center for Christan Virtue, listens to speakers at a pro-life canvasing meeting at Columbus Christian Center in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 4.

Pro-Life Political Setbacks and a Look at Christians in the Middle East (Nov. 11)

The pro-life movement experienced a few setbacks this week in three states’ elections, including in Ohio, where voters decisively approved a ballot referendum that expands abortion access and adds a new right to abortion to the state constitution. We talk to EWTN’s Prudence Robertson about Nov. 7 election results, the latest GOP debate and the formidable challenges the pro-life movement faces ahead. Then we turn to a very different kind of crisis — the one faced by Christians in the Middle East. We talk to Lebanese journalist Elias Turk from EWTN News’ Arabic language news agency ACI Mena about the impact of the Israel-Hamas war on the Christian community in the region.