Presidential Hopefuls 2016: Hillary Clinton

Some of the Democratic frontrunner’s positions on social issues appear to overlap with Catholic teachings, but a wide chasm remains in the crucial area of sexuality and the sanctity of human life.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks after receiving an endorsement from Planned Parenthood Action Fund at Southern New Hampshire University Jan. 10 in Hooksett, N.H.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks after receiving an endorsement from Planned Parenthood Action Fund at Southern New Hampshire University Jan. 10 in Hooksett, N.H. (photo: Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Register articles profiling the leading presidential candidates in the 2016 election campaign. The Register has also profiled Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz.


WASHINGTON — After a series of undercover videos last year revealed that Planned Parenthood was involved in the sale of body parts from aborted babies, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton solidified her pro-abortion rights bona fides by standing firmly with the nation’s largest abortion provider.

“I will always defend Planned Parenthood, and I will say consistently and proudly: Planned Parenthood should be funded, supported and protected, not undermined, misrepresented and demonized,” Clinton said at an event in Hooksett, N.H., in January, where she became the first presidential candidate to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood in a primary.

“As your president, I will always have your back,” Clinton said.

Clinton has a lifelong record of pro-abortion-rights advocacy, according to Paul Kengor, a professor of political science at Grove City College and author of the 2007 book God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life. As first lady, she pushed for a global right to abortion and contraception at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Kengor said. She also championed women’s so-called reproductive rights as the leader of the U.S. delegation to the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing the following year.

Domestically, her failed push for health-care reform would have expanded access to abortion, according to a Heritage Foundation analysis of the plan. While in the U.S. Senate, she voted against the ban on partial-birth abortion, and she has called for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment that bars the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortions.

As president, Clinton would be “absolutely devastating” to the pro-life cause, according to Kengor. “She is an abortion fanatic,” he said. “She is at the extreme of extremes. You can’t get more radical on abortion than Hillary Clinton.”


Court Appointments

The greatest concern pro-life advocates have is the kind of appointments she would make to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Carol Tobias, the president of the National Right to Life Committee. Though Clinton can say that she won’t have a litmus test for a nominee, there’s no chance her choice would not be a supporter of Roe v. Wade, Tobias said.

“She said she thought Barack Obama would be a great nominee,” Tobias added. “That is her kind of example for who she would appoint.”

Clinton is able to reconcile her abortion-rights advocacy with her Christian faith, Kengor said, because the United Methodist Church to which she belongs is itself pro-abortion rights. Just how comfortable the church is with abortion became evident to him, he said, in speaking with Clinton’s former gynecologist, who saw no conflict between some 20,000 abortions he had performed in Arkansas since the 1970s and his Methodist faith.

While Clinton has long been at odds with social conservatives on abortion, her positions on marriage and religious freedom at one time were more in line with their values, according to Kengor. Clinton once espoused the traditional definition of marriage. And as a U.S. senator in 2005, she partnered with then-Republican Sen. Rick Santorum to sponsor the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. 

But, as the Democratic Party has moved farther to the left on social issues, embracing the cause of same-sex “marriage,” so has Clinton. Soon after Obama came out in favor of a national redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples in 2012, Clinton followed suit.

Her position on religious liberty has likewise shifted. She adamantly opposed the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which affirmed that employers do not have to pay for insurance coverage of contraception. “I disagree with the reasoning as well as the conclusion,” Clinton said at a forum in Aspen, Colo. “I find it deeply disturbing.”


Other Issues

While there seems to be no common ground between Catholics and Clinton on abortion, marriage and religious freedom, there might be some on other issues.

Clinton has backed a proposal to allow 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave that would allow workers to care for a sick relative or a newborn child and retain two-thirds of their paychecks up to a certain point.

“Hillary Clinton’s support of paid family leave is consistent with Catholic social teaching,” said Julie Rubio, a professor of Christian ethics at St. Louis University, noting that most other developed nations have paid family leave.

She pointed to Pope St. John Paul II, who, in the 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, called for women’s roles at home and in the workplace to be “harmoniously combined.”

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act, ensuring that workers can take time off for work without losing their jobs.

“However, many cannot afford to take unpaid leave,” Rubio said. “This is why Pope Francis expressed strong support for paid family leave last fall, affirming the societal duty to help women in their ‘dual task’ of work and motherhood. This support for family leave can be seen as a natural extension of Catholic social teaching’s insistence on the rights of workers to a just wage and humane working conditions.”

In a departure from other similar proposals, Clinton would not fund her plan through an increase in payroll taxes, easing the potential burden on small businesses. Instead, she has said she will seek increased tax revenues from the wealthiest payers, though she has not elaborated on her specific funding mechanism.

Some of Clinton’s other positions are in line with Catholic social thought as well, according to Rubio, including her support for labor unions, comprehensive immigration reform, disability rights and more effectively dealing with sexual assaults on college campuses. “Her focus on criminal-justice reform and racial justice can also be seen as responses to Catholic social teaching’s ‘preferential option for the poor,’” the St. Louis professor said.


Praise for the Pope

Moreover, Clinton has invoked Pope Francis’ teaching in the encyclical Laudato Si to bolster her own proposal for dealing with climate change. “Pope Francis is right. All countries and all people are responsible for preventing the worst impacts of climate change. But countries like the United States have a particular role. We are rich, powerful and blessed with many advantages. We must lead the charge,” Clinton wrote in an op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter last September.

When Pope Francis spoke before Congress last year, Clinton said she hoped the Pope “pricks the consciences” of Democrats and Republicans alike.

“One cannot read the Sermon on the Mount without thinking that we all have to be more humble,” Clinton said in an interview with ABC News at the time of the papal visit. “We all have to try to do more to help our fellow men and women. And I think that the Pope is emphasizing the words of Jesus Christ: emphasizing the high priority given to the poor; the priority of caring for those who are in trouble, whether they are on the side of the road or whether they are in prison.”

While Clinton’s concern for the poor is a principle of Catholic social thought, her approach may not be, according to Kengor.

“I would argue that her approach to that is less of a Catholic subsidiarity approach,” Kengor said, alluding to the principle that society should not take over tasks that can be carried out by smaller units, such as local and state governments and organizations in the private sector. “She probably supports more of a central federal-government approach to helping the poor.”


Big-Government Bias?

Clinton’s policy proposals are also targeted to helping specific groups that make up the Democratic coalition, rather than focusing on creating the conditions conducive to economic growth that benefit everyone, according to Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank based in New York City.

Overall, Clinton would increase regulations and raise tax revenues, particularly through increases in capital gains and estate taxes and a surtax on high-income earners, according to Cass, who described such policies as undermining economic growth. 

He singled out her $350-billion plan for alleviating the student-debt crisis because it fails to address the two biggest problems facing American higher education: costs that are “spiraling out of control” and “terrible outcomes” in terms of the graduation rate and job placement for those who do graduate.

“We know that the primary driver of spiraling college costs is the degree to which they are subsidized by government. So it just does more of that,” Cass said. “And then, instead of placing more pressure on the institutions and the students to make sure you’re actually getting an economic return on the investment, it reduces that pressure.”

While her emphasis on renewable energy may be laudable to environmental advocates, those sources of energy are most expensive. Those higher costs would hit companies in the energy industry itself as well as manufacturers with high energy bills. It would also affect poorer households where electric bills consume a higher share of incomes than in wealthier ones, according to Cass. “It ends up actually being exceptionally regressive,” he said.

“At the end of the day, she’s trying to significantly increase the size of government, raising significantly more tax revenue out of the economy to redirect into a series of government programs,” Cass said.


Catholics and Abortion

But however faithful Catholics assess Clinton’s stances on a range of other issues, the stridency of her support for abortion rights could be a deal-breaker in terms of garnering Catholic support.

In November, when the U.S. bishops updated “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their quadrennial statement on political responsibility, the bishops reiterated that key issues like abortion and euthanasia are “intrinsic evils” that Catholic voters must always oppose.

And in January, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington stressed that abortion remains the most important issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think it remains the fundamental basic issue,” the cardinal commented in a Jan. 11 interview with Newsmax, without referencing the position of individual candidates. “One reason it strikes me, one reason why we are so casual in our country with violence, we see violence exercised with such ease, such disrespect for human life.”


Stephen Beale writes from Providence, Rhode Island.

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