In the last two years, abortion as a public issue has changed in at least four ways. First, the formerly abortion-should-be-safe-and-rare Democratic party culminated recent years of expanding its abortion advocacy by establishing abortion as fundamental and declaring that Roe v. Wade should be codified into federal law, Second, Catholic Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, and, thus, the current leader of the Party, likewise became aggressive in his support of abortion. Third, an American Catholic cardinal criticized one-issue voting and said that it was morally acceptable for Catholics to vote for Joe Biden. Fourth, the actions of Virginia Governor Northam and especially New York Catholic Governor Cuomo caused abortion-as-infanticide to be publicly discussed for the first time.
All or almost all of the twelve or so Democratic candidates for president were strongly supportive of essentially unrestricted abortion. According to its 2020 party platform, the Democratic Party believes “unequivocally” in “safe and legal abortion.” Democrats will “overturn federal and state laws” that limit abortion, and will “respect and enforce” Roe v. Wadeas a “foundational precedent.” Joe Biden has said that he will support codifying Roe into federal law and repealing the forty-year-old Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding of abortion. On August 9, Biden released a campaign promotion celebrating his Catholic upbringing and featuring his meeting with Pope Francis together with a video of him with Francis.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, a Francis appointment who has downplayed abortion as a decisive issue, stated recently: “I think that a person in good conscience could vote for Mr. Biden,” adding, “I, frankly, in my own way of thinking have a more difficult time with the other option.” Tobin later insisted he was not endorsing Biden, but he also wouldn’t state that a Catholic in good conscience could vote for Mr. Trump.
In an important way, the scene for 2020 presidential abortion politics was set in 2019 concerning the issue of infanticide in the new abortion legislation codifying Roe/Bolton and enacted in the state of New York and strongly promoted in Virginia. Governor Cuomo, describing himself as a person with “Roman Catholic values” and a “former altar boy,” could not have been further away from the old-style Catholic politicians’ soft-pedaling of their position on abortion. He was an open, aggressive, and unapologetic proponent of the bill of the new state law law legalizing abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy. In a New York Times op-ed on February 6, 2019, he criticized Cardinal Dolan by name and the Catholic Church as “anti-choice” and pointed out that recent polls in New York showed that “59 percent” of Catholic New Yorkers support abortion. While saying that his “Roman Catholic values” are his “personal values,” he did not say that he was personally opposed to abortion.
The next day in the Wall Street Journal, Dolan,
In his acts and words, Andrew Cuomo has now broadened the legacy and consequences of the speech of his father, former New York governor, Mario Cuomo, delivered at Notre Dame University on September 13, 1984. That high-profile speech — attended and promoted by Notre Dame president Fr. Theodore Hesburgh — established the moral basis for being personally opposed to abortion and justified past Catholic politicians’ stances while establishing the talking points for future Catholic politicians. Mario Cuomo said that Catholics should not regard abortion as of “preemptive significance” or as an “exclusive litmus test” in public advocacy and in the law.
Indeed, beginning in 1983, Cardinal Bernardin, taking over the phrases “consistent ethic of life” and “seamless garment” that had initially been proposed by others, expropriated the word “life” to mean anything human. He later authored a book entitled The Seamless Garment. Bernardin established the more or less predominant Catholic position continuing to this day using the term “life” as an abstract technique of labeling nearly any preferred issue as a pro-life issue. Its primary effect has allowed for the ignoring or downplaying of abortion. Now, four decades later and continuing to the present day, many Catholic politicians have justified themselves as Catholics and as pro-life by mentioning every issue but abortion.
We are now well beyond that. Catholic Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, third in the line of succession to the Presidency and the most powerful woman in America, declared in August that the House of Representatives will no longer agree to the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding for abortion. And one year ago, she spoke of her “privilege” to deliver a speech to the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, passed by the Congress in 1994, prohibits the use of physical force and threats at abortion clinics. With federal prosecutions and their criminal penalties, it effectively ended what had been a growing “civil disobedience” and “direct action” movement at the clinics themselves. If the nine-months-of-abortion of Roe/Bolton is enacted into a federal statute, as the Democrats have promised to do, it will not only cause the overturning of all state laws not in compliance, it will also make “sidewalk counseling” a federal matter to be investigated by federal agents.
Is the Cuomo family, including son and brother Chris (“reproductive rights”), the first family of Catholic public officials and persons? And have they had more influence on the Catholic response to abortion than the American bishops?
The fundamental problem here is that there is no Catholic “position” on abortion. Nor is there any such position by evangelical Christians and several Protestant churches. Instead, it is simply the Fifth Commandment, which formerly was the norm in public law and constitutions. “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the Catechism states, “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life” (par 2270). For the United States Constitution, as well as all state constitutions, guarantees a public and political right to “life.” And those constitutions are secular, not religious, documents.
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